Last year, I attempted gamification of my classroom on several occasions (see earlier posts). Most of my students didn’t buy in, and I was on the fence on whether it was intrinsic or extrinsic reward, but I’m not one to give up, so I’m trying again this year.
I have a new teaching partner, Jennifer McKenzie, who is open to gamifying our classes, and we started today! A little background information: our Board, HWDSB, is in the midst of the Transforming Learning Everywhere initiative, and our schools are infusing technology to support the collaborative inquiry model of learning, to engage and to prepare them for their digital future. In a few weeks, each of our students will be issued an iPad mini that they will be responsible for. A big job for our little guys, but I think they can handle it. Jen and I considered how to ensure that our students will be ready and we came up with a list of how they could show responsibility, caring and independence.
We took our list and turned them into tasks, then took the tasks and turned them into a quest. Once students complete the quest, they become masters and we would know that they have the skills to be responsible for their ipads and any other technology that they would be using through the year.
Each task involves experience points; after achieving 1000 points, they level up. Our goal is that, by the time the iPads are issued, all our students will have completed 7 levels, mastering the necessary skills and feeling good about their accomplishments.
This I know: these grade fives are all gamers and they are all enthusiastic about earning XP, levelling up and being at the top of the leaderboard. Last year, that was not the case. I have a feeling this will be a more successful year in gamification.
About a month ago, I blogged about the latest in my gamification journey. After being uncomfortable with attaching public badges to academic achievement, I went another route: make quests based on acquisition of technology competencies. These skills are important to students, so motivating them to develop and refine these skills is worthy and important. With that, I felt better.
After I constructed the quests and badges, I reintroduced the idea to our students. Working through quests is voluntary, so the reaction was mixed, as expected. Some are going to be into it, others not so much. I gave them a period to navigate the quest page and start earning. By the end of the period, my class had earned 84 badges! Now, many of them had already acquired said skills and only had to send me a message proving they had completed the step, but still, the motivation for mastery was there. I would say that 2/3 of my students decided to earn badges that day. An added bonus was that some students spent time constructing their own quests for apps/programs that they had already mastered. I quickly added them to our quest page.
Gamification is meant to motivate and engage, and this seemed to be accomplished. I was pleased. So where am I at now?
A few things are cause for reflection:
1. There have not been many opportunities for my students to share their expertise with others, that is, use their special powers. It’s unfortunate that there hasn’t been much interest from others at our school in having grade 5 students show them how to use the apps. I’m sure it has caused some decrease in engagement.
2. I haven’t been giving time for students to work through the quests. We have been using many of the apps in our quests, so I know our students could be earning badges, but I haven’t given them the opportunity to do so. Should I give them 15 minutes every week to work through quests? Should I be incorporating it more naturally by giving a few minutes after we use the app so students can record that they’ve completed a step?
3. I wonder if my lack of enthusiasm shows through. I was really excited when I revealed the new quest layout, and many students responded positively. But since I’ve been really thinking critically about gamification, maybe my feelings are affecting the students’ motivation. If I’m not regularly giving students time to earn badges, what am I saying about the importance of doing so? I know that in other cases, my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for a certain topic can affect my students’ enthusiasm. Is this happening now with our gamification project?
I’m not giving up. I’ll set a goal to give some time for quests and see what the response is, then reflect and move forward. I’ll keep you posted.
Yesterday I was at Nipissing University (Brantford Campus) to present to teacher candidates who will be graduating in April. A great little setup there: a bunch of classroom teachers doing something different in their classrooms, sharing with the future of our profession. I felt fortunate to be a part of it.
I chose to present on both game-based learning and gamification. I know that these ideas can be considered outside-of-the-box, not your typical teaching strategies. And I know that these new teachers are trying to become comfortable with just getting through a teaching day, never mind asking them to consider trying something innovative. They are not at the point of taking risks in their profession, they are conservative and safe. I remember being there, treading water, not even thinking about rocking the boat.
So I went in with low expectations, not looking to convert anyone, but certainly hoping to plant some seeds of interest. The end result? Well, several audience members asked thoughtful and relevant questions about iPad configuration, purchasing apps and equity in technology. A few came up to me afterwards to ask about assessment and using games as reward for finishing early. Many were having fun playing the games on the iPads I had distributed (immerse them in the idea and they might think further about it’s application!).
And I had one teacher candidate who got it. She approached me after the presentation and was excited. She wished she had this when she was in school because there were math concepts she struggled with, and she thought that having more practice using games for engagement would have helped her tremendously. She said she would be contacting me in the future to learn more.
Does that make a successful presentation? You bet! I was thrilled to be able to affect others, for them to now at least consider that games and gamification can be useful in the classroom.
The gamification piece has definitely been a huge psychological struggle, as detailed in other blog posts. Part of being a good teacher is not only doing what is best for one’s students, but also doing what is in the best interest of said teacher. Even if giving out badges based on marks was good for my students (and that’s a big IF), it’s never going to work if I’m not comfortable with it.
In my last post about gamification, I briefly explained that achievements would be earned via students becoming experts using certain apps. I’ve now got it all organized and ready to introduce to the students, so let me show you what we’ve come up with. (If you’d like to see the students’ blogging area, and where the badges are given, it’s here.)
Before I do that, let me say a few words about Fiero.
No, I don’t mean the cheesy sports car from the 80s. Fiero, according to Jane McGonigal, is an Italian word that doesn’t have an English counterpart. But the feeling and physical reaction is clear: it’s intense pride and satisfaction and usually looks like jumping up with hands over head. Hopefully you’ve felt it: it may be crossing the finish line, it might be getting the job you’ve wanted, it could be your Leaf team winning the Stanley Cup (a girl can dream, can’t she?). It’s a feeling like no other. It’s a feeling I want students to experience in my classroom. That’s what this whole badging/quest thing is about for me. Fiero is not like a certificate where someone else is giving you praise–extrinsic. Fiero is a motivator, because everyone wants to experience it. That’s why I continue to believe that true gamification is intrinsic.
Okay, now onto what I did today. I chose 5 apps/websites that we have showed the students (some of them have used them to create a presentation already). They are all creation/collaboration apps that students could use frequently.
They can choose to become Masters in whatever app they want. They can also choose to become a Master of nothing. It’s up to them.
If they do choose one, they will enter into a quest, which is basically a number of tasks that, when complete, will have them earn a Master badge. Earn a Master badge and receive a special power:
Students love to be in charge! They earn the power to be the teacher! Another motivator perhaps? I’ve chatted with other teachers and they would love to have some student “experts” help mentor others in using these apps.
Will this work with all students. Probably not. But does any teaching strategy? I do think it will be positive for some of our IEP students who are rarely “the best” at anything. How proud will they be!
P.S. The only other person at HWDSB that knows about gamification (that I know anyway) is Jared Bennett. He’s been a splendid resource and I know without him, I would have stopped pursuing it long ago. Thanks @mrjarbenne!
Our first stab at gamification made me uncomfortable.
I had this brilliant idea that, to make it easy on us, I would attach our badges to the success criteria. Students would have a clear idea of how to obtain the badges. And boy oh boy would they be motivated!! Students would be craving that next badge, and they’d know just how to get it.
I was wrong.
The students had no inclination to achieve those badges. They didn’t care. Sure, they appreciated having clear success criteria so they knew what the expectations were. And they did very well in that Human Body unit. But it had nothing to do with the spiffy gamification that had been put in place.
Not only did the students react indifferently, but it went against my grain. I don’t like external reward systems, and I am not sure if badging is an external reward, as I have blogged about previously. So, I went into this whole thing quite tentatively, but willing to take the risk to see if it was good for my students.
What I realized, near the end of the unit, was that giving badges relating to success criteria was like giving grades. Okay, not ideal, but so be it. The upsetting thing was that I was going to make that public—the students’ badges would show up on our blog page. Yikes! The hard work that my entire class had done in being comfortable with trying our hardest, taking risks and doing our best was about to be thrown out the window with this public display of our grades. A fake sense of competition.
I scrapped it. I didn’t give out one single badge. And the students didn’t ask about it.
So yes, our first stab at gamification made me uncomfortable. A complete failure.
But failure is what we hope for. Failure begets reflection. Reflection begets new approaches and trying again.
And so this is where I am. Trying again.
This time, I’m not going to connect badges to curriculum. Students can earn badges, as many as they choose, by becoming experts at using certain apps. 5 skills—5 badges—make them experts in that app, thereby finishing the quest and earning the Master badge. I’m hoping that the voluntary aspect of this helps create the intrinsic motivation. As a side benefit, I will have student experts at apps that I’m not sure how to use. Could this promote student leadership in the school?
Fingers crossed that this small, contained use of game mechanics will show some success so I can continue to reflect, make changes and try again.
So we are just starting our second unit within the game-based learning/gamification project. The topic is brand new to us in grade 5 land due to curriculum changes here in Ontario: First Nations and Early Explorers in Canada (pre-1713). Here are some neat things that are happening, and some others that I hope will happen soon.
1. Finding the game. We spent hours looking for games that might be suitable for this topic. Of course, it’s such a specific point in history, it was a difficult task. Then we shifted our thinking away from the certain era and instead thought about what we wanted our students to learn. We wanted them to understand what it was like to explore and settle in a new environment. This made it much easier and we found a few games that could connect. Then Greg found it: New World Colony. If you’ve ever played the board game Settlers of Catan, it’s quite similar (even down to the hexagonal tiles).
2. Success with the game. Having students play New World Colony was great for our students. The game was one of our provocations for the unit’s start. As the title alludes, students are settlers in a new land where they need to compile resources, build settlements and battle to gain more land and resources. Students began to grasp the idea that early explorers in Canada had little and had to work very hard.
3. Student reflections. At the end of our last gbl-based unit, we had students reflect via blogging how apps and games helped them learn about the topic. The reflections were poor, in that they felt the games didn’t help them at all. I was shocked: they were so engaged that they had to be learning something. Then it hit me: they had learned so much via inquiry throughout the unit that, looking back at the basic information obtained through the games, they felt they didn’t really learn a lot from them. So, in this unit, we got them to blog right after playing the game, before the inquiry begins. This is what we got. Much more reflective than before, and a great assessment piece for the schema that they are developing.
4. Gamification. I’ve been reflecting a lot on game mechanics as opposed to awarding badges. I want this unit to look different. Have quests and achievements. Celebrate progress. Get the kids excited. Explore our platform with the help of Jared Bennett. Continue to use Twitter and blogs to further my understanding of this. And being okay with this piece of the project being a work in progress.
Good teachers have high, albeit attainable, expectations of their students. I do. Matter of fact, I have high expectations of everyone–my family, my colleagues, myself. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes, not so much. Go figure.
Confession: I thought we would jump into this project, being noobs at game-based learning and gamification, only having a rudimentary idea of what it was all going to look like. And I thought it was going to go perfectly. High–unattainable–expectations.
I don’t expect this of my students. I know they need background knowledge. I know they need time to explore. I know they need to make mistakes and things might need to go badly so they can reflect, learn, make changes, try again.
So, why didn’t I have the same expectations for myself and this project? I don’t know. But I have been disappointed in how things are going. Frustrated with the lack of high-quality games that connect to grade 5 curriculum. Bummed that the streamlining of badge distribution is just not working. Downhearted once I realized that my badge distribution layout I was once so excited about, isn’t true gamification.
And then I reflected.
Figuring out how to learn from my mistakes and move forward in a meaningful way. Taking stock of the good things that are happening in in the project. Allowing some pride in the achievements so far. Realizing that it’s a journey, and that good things take time.
Revising those high expectations into realistic expectations. It’s a struggle for me.
It’s been two days short of a month since I last blogged. Thinking back to an initial post, I have not listened to one of my reflections: blog often because the memory ain’t what it used to be.
But I digress.
The exciting news is that we have started our first gamification/game-based learning unit on the human body. My last post described the layout of the badges, which I’m already rethinking. Yes, I would like students to earn badges for the academic achievements aligned with the curriculum. But I want the them to access more: easter eggs that students have no idea they can achieve, character badges such as showing improvement, showing innovation in publishing and giving effective feedback, and badges based on achievements within the apps/games they are playing. So much possibility! So little time to design them all!
The apps/games we are using are working out well for the most part. In science, we first introduced Tiny Bop’s Human Body which was the perfect app to begin the unit.
Engaged from the first seconds, students explored the interactive organ systems. Best part for our IEP students and ESL students: no text, nothing to read. This evened the playing field for everyone in that all students had the same entry point and all could independently explore the app. And boy, did they ever explore! After 20 minutes the students were begging for more! Even now, two weeks in, this is their favourite science app.
We had to chat with the students about these two apps because they include the reproductive systems for men and women. We will eventually explore that system later in the year when we do our health unit on growth and development, but for now, we’re leaving it alone. Now, these aren’t games, but they are engaging and interactive informational resources. They are used right now to evoke questions, curiosity and inquiry for when they do their research project, much more true-to-life than any textbook could be. And we will be introducing the Human Defense app, a Pokemon-like game that teaches about the immune system, soon.
In math, we are focussing on adding and subtracting, with and without decimals. While this is mostly done through pencil and paper practice, we do allow the students time to practice fact fluency so that they can solve equations quickly. We have found several fun ones: Math vs. Zombies is exactly as it sounds; you have to transform the zombie into a person by solving math equations quickly.
Similarly, Sumdog is a game where you have to quickly answer the math equation to gain snowballs to hit down ice towers, akin to Angry Birds. Sumdog is web-based and completely free, and students have been playing at home so they can level up and gain XP (experience points).
3D Math Racing is a great little app that has users in a truck rally where you have to solve math facts quickly to remain in the race. The equations are changeable (1’s all the way to 15s, easy/medium/hard levels) so everyone can participate.
The common thread in all these apps/websites is that speed is a factor. The faster the number problem is solved, the longer you get to stay in the game and the more points you earn. Using these apps, we hope, will improve fact fluency and quick problem solving.
Further, as our year progresses, we will be using Prodigy more frequently.
This is a wonderful, FREE, interactive math game that has participants battling mythical figures by answering math problems correctly. Teachers can align questions with grade level curriculum and the specific expectations of a math unit and they can analyze results of each student when they are finished playing the game. This can inform next instructional steps, and see where specific weaknesses lie. Also, it can be played for free at home as well. The motivation is there for many students to play this game on their own time, so they can earn virtual rewards, level up and gain XP. The single limit to us using Prodigy daily is that it is not yet tablet friendly, as it relies on Adobe Flash technology. In the near future, our hope is that Prodigy will issue a Flash-free website that can be used on our iPads.
If anyone has any other iPad apps or websites that might relate to what we are doing, please let us know. Our next foci are Early Civilizations/First Nations People, and Data Management & Multiplying/Dividing.
We finally were in a place and time where we could start considering what gamification was going to look like in our classrooms. I had a difficult time wrapping my head around it…no matter how many articles I read, how many videos I watched (oh how I love you, TED), it was an abstract idea. Until last Wednesday.
Dave and I wanted to start small. Last thing we wanted was for the entire venture to go pear-shaped because we bit off more than we could chew. We brainstormed a few questions. When do we want to start? October 7th. Check. What did we want to gamify? Math and Science TLCP. Check. How are we going to award badges? Well, that was the abstract idea that I had to get down on paper to understand. Yes, I’m a visual learner ;).
What seemed to make the most sense was using the Success Criteria (shown below, from Growing Success document, Ontario Ministry of Education) from our TLCP to inform our badge distribution.
Since we use the Success Criteria to make up a rubric/checklist for summative assessment, it seemed to make sense to use it to award badges. As we award badges for achieving one criterion, we could easily use it to formatively assess how students were doing in the task. That is, if students aren’t getting badges, we know they are struggling and need support.
So, Dave and I created the Success Criteria for our TLCP, then put them into four levels: level 1–early stages of success, level 2–approaching grade level standards, level 3–grade level standards, level 4–above grade level standards. Slapped on some spiffy names, and bob’s your uncle.
What we are considering is these levels will be displayed as anchor charts, in conjunction with Success Criteria, so students will be able to self-assess; to determine where they are on the spectrum of success.
Conclusion: I think we can easily incorporate badges into our daily teaching. The only addition to our workload is laying out the badge distribution (which is based on the Success Criteria). Considering how much I think the badge layout is going to assist students in being more successful, it’s a small price to pay.
Next step: Creating the badges! This is going to be fun ;).
While researching gamification and game-based learning this summer, I’m finding there is a spectrum of delivery methods. Some educators are using commercial software for language or math activities while others create a specific theme in their classroom in which the students participate to complete daily, weekly or monthly quests.
While sitting outside on my deck at 6:30 am to avoid the humidity of the day, I found a website that boasts a “plug and play” learning game with a poker chips structure. Apply the 11 steps to any subject, concept or social skill and then let the students do the learning. John Hardison explains the process and provides a number of examples on his site 11Steps to Gamify Your Next Lesson.
This is not a strategy with avatars or badges as I’ve enjoyed reading about in other articles, but an opportunity to use gamification in everything from teachable moments to higher order thinking concepts. You can follow the voting chips conversation on Twitter by commenting on #votingchips. Maybe I’ll see you there.