Today, we present the experiences of three teacher experts who have incorporated gamification in their classrooms. They bring a variety of experience to our discussion, and we're excited to introduce them to you!
Meet Our Experts
Anne is a 7/8 teacher in an elementary school in Ontario, Canada. She first learned about gamification in one of her university classes toward her Masters degree in Educational Technology. She says:
"I first instituted gamification in the classroom [because] I had a lot of adolescent boys who were gaming at home and totally disconnected from school. I felt that this might be a way to engage them in what was happening in the classroom. I hoped it would appeal to their gaming nature."
TJ, a 7th grade math teacher in southern California, first became interested in gamification when she saw a picture of the book The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon posted on social media. After reading the book, she decided to implement some of what she learned in her classroom. She says:
"Math has traditionally been considered the hardest subject for many people, and motivation was not very high for my students. I often felt I had too much to teach in each school day, so we were constantly pushing through content. As a result, we didn't do too many fun things in math, which I felt fed into the stereotype that math is boring. I wanted to find some way to motivate my students. I wanted to enjoy teaching and have the students enjoy learning."
Ashley, a high school Spanish I and II teacher in Illinois, first read about gamification as part of a methods class. It piqued her interest, so she found an Edmodo group of teachers who were using it in their own classrooms and kept reading and learning from them. She first implemented gamification in her 7th grade world languages class. Ashley says:
"I loved the idea of gamifying my middle school class because to me, the course felt very shallow -- it was required for all students, and we taught four different languages in a 9 week class. My first days in the room, my department chair told me it wasn't about them retaining the language, it was about them being exposed to it. I wanted the students to be as engaged in the various languages and cultures as possible and not feel like it was a waste of time jumping from language to language.
An introduction to gamification in the classroom created by Anne.
How Our Experts Implement Gamification
Anne implements gamification in her classroom through physical components (like her interactive bulletin board pictured in the gallery below) as well as an online feature using Classcraft for cooperation and collaboration. Students work together in small kingdom groups, and at the beginning of the year, they create a hero for their kingdom with a picture and description.
As part of the gamification story in her classroom, an evil wizard captures the heroes throughout their journey and puts them in peril. To help the heroes escape, students must receive passing scores on academic tasks such as quizzes, tests, and culminating assignments. In another component, each group must find their district's magical sphere. To do so, they complete critical thinking activities with their group such as coded puzzles and riddles. Each group's hero must find its magical sphere; when all five spheres are together, there is enough magic to defeat the dragon and destroy the Well of Spells.
Physical gamification elements in Anne's classroom.
When she first decided to use gamification, TJ found a fellow teacher who was also interested in gamifying her classroom, and they worked together to decide how to best implement it for their students. One way to gamify the classroom is to have students earn experience points (XP), so TJ decided to tie student grades to how much XP they earned. In order to make this work, she planned ahead for the whole semester, deciding which assignments and assessments she was going to give and how much XP each would be worth so that the final weighting would be correct. Then, she wrote her class syllabus as the manual for the game. This helped students get excited from day one and see how the gamification aspects would guide the structure of the class.
Another element of gamification is earning achievement points (AP). TJ wanted student grades to reflect what they could do academically, so she didn't want to award XP for anything but schoolwork. However, she did want to reward students for good behavior, work ethic, positive attitudes and character, etc. She uses Class Dojo to manage student AP; what she likes about it is that it has an app, so she can carry her phone around the room with her and award points without having to be at the computer. Students can create accounts and log in at home to see their progress, change their avatar, and more.
Her classroom model utilizes a low tech approach. For example, students earn squares to fill the pictures for each task when they pass a mini-quiz, and she has students keep track of their progress on mastery profiles. They earn a badge (sticker) for each quiz or test they pass; this also helps them keep track of which quizzes/tests they can retake for credit.
TJ's class syllabus as the "manual" to the game
Ashley decided to gamify her classroom as a first year teacher after doing lots of reading and research about it. Since her school has 1:1 student tech, her implementation was primarily web-based. She worked together with a colleague to build a website on Wix (a free website building tool). They used the Flash mode for the site, which "allows for pretty, sparkly effects," but she cautions that Flash won't work well with iOS, so is not a good avenue if your classroom uses iPads.
On her website, students can see an overview of all the different language units. The first unit is "base camp," which she uses to introduce students to missions, how to submit for XP, and also teach strategies for language learning. As they work through their different units, students have a menu of choices for the different missions (assignments) they can complete. Each mission starts with a silly introduction, as well as information about how many players can complete the mission together (alone, with a partner, in a small group) and how many XP they can receive upon completing the mission. Once they accept a mission, they are linked to a Google doc with more specific steps to complete it.
A few screenshots from the website Ashley and her colleague built to implement
gamification into their 7th grade world languages survey course.
Benefits of Gamifying the Classroom
It's evident from our three experts that increasing student buy-in and motivation is a big draw to gamification. Students learn best when they feel connected to what's going on in the classroom, and since many students enjoy gaming outside of school, gamifying the classroom connects with this area of interest.
Anne, who has been using gamification in her classroom for the past four years, has noticed increased engagement for most of her students. In addition to the online components of Classcraft, she also uses physical elements of gamification in her classroom. She feels that all these elements help students feel consistently connected to the gaming narrative, which feeds their motivation.
TJ says, "It helps me remember to celebrate the wins more often." For example, her students are excited when they earn badges (stickers) for passing a mini-quiz for a lesson. By using the physical space of her classroom as the realm of her gamification through her mural walls, they have a daily visual connection to what they have accomplished throughout the year. This keeps their individual and class goals at the forefront of their minds. She has even found that gamification helps some students behave better in class, too!
Like Anne, Ashley also experienced tremendous buy-in from her students. She says, "I have had to make some phone calls to parents about watching their students' computer usage because I was getting things submitted at 1 or 2 in the morning by students who were dying to level up the next day." It also enables her to differentiate for students by allowing them to choose their missions (assignments) based on what they felt comfortable completing. The "go at your own pace" nature of the missions also eliminates every teacher's favorite question, "What do I do now?"
TJ's no-tech gamification wall mural showing the different tasks students complete. Read more about TJ's gamified classroom on her recent teacher feature here at The Snarky Schoolteacher!
Challenges of Gamifying the Classroom
All of our experts agree that gamifying the classroom requires a lot of work up front to prepare the tasks, rewards, points, and other elements. However, once the initial work is done, many of the features can be reused each year with tweaking, like Ashley's website or TJ's feature walls. Ashley worked with a colleague to build their website, so if you are able to share the work, it makes the process run much more smoothly!
Because students are not likely to have had experience with a gamified classroom, it is important to be clear about the new structure and expectations from the beginning. When TJ first implemented gamification in her classroom, she jumped in feet-first and changed many things about the way she structured her course. Not only did she change the names of classroom assignments and tasks to sound more game-like, but the whole structure of the class was different than what students were used to. All of these combined components made for a rough transition; as a result, she learned to be more clear in explaining the expectations and outcomes from the beginning.
For Ashley, it was important to be completely honest with her students when she was first starting out. She says, "I told them it was something new, and that we might love it, or we might all hate it and decide to trash it. I set the expectation that we would be flexible and reflective -- if something wasn't working, we would think about and discuss it and see if we could solve the problem together." She felt that it was important that her students knew that she was willing to change to make the new system work, so she and her co-worker planned for discussion and feedback days at the middle and end of every quarter so the students could help "create the game" for the next set of "players." Ashley credits that mindset with the success of her implementation; it prevented the students from feeling frustrated when things didn't run perfectly the first time. They responded well to being the "beta testers" who provided important feedback for future generations of "gamers."
If you want to implement a technology aspect of gamification like Anne or Ashley, one of the challenges can be a lack of devices for students. If your students do not have easy access to technology (for instance, if your school is not 1:1 tech), Anne suggests that some of the features be tasks that students physically complete in class as opposed to on a computer. TJ has implemented gamification as a no-tech model with great success, so work with what you have!
Finally, like any major change, remember that implementing a new style of teaching and learning will not be perfect. Ashley says that she was constantly tweaking the game, level ups, bonuses, and how students earned points in class. It's a process, so use the bumps in the road as learning opportunities, and use feedback to improve!
Tips for Teachers Interested in Gamification for the Classroom
If you are interested in gamifying your classroom, our experts all say that the best place to start is reading as much as you can about gamifying the classroom. Then, start slow! You might want to begin with adding gamification to a single subject/class or one unit and see how it goes. Perhaps you can gamify a unit by creating a quest or awarding badges for accomplishments. Or, you could gamify student behavior and participation by using a program like Classcraft.
Additionally, reach out to other teachers who have tried or implemented gamification in their classes. If there are none in your school or district, there are many online (such as this Edmodo group for Gamification). Most of them are happy to help!
If you're intimidated by the idea of starting something new mid-year, remember that the end of the school year is a great time to test a new idea! Students (and teachers) typically struggle with motivation in the final weeks of the year, so trying something new is a great way to keep them involved and engaged. You can also get feedback and suggestions from students to help with the process; they will value being asked for their input and being part of the process. Remember, taking the first step is the hardest part, so if you're interested in gamifying your classroom... just do it!
Recommended Resources for Gamification
Thank you so much to Anne, TJ, and Ashley for sharing your insight and experience with us today! Want to link up with our experts? Find them at the links below:
The Snarky Schoolteacher is an education and lifestyle blog run by dedicated educational professionals. Our goal is to bring you relevant and fun educational content with a side of sass. Read more about our team here. Thanks for visiting, and we hope you will find these ideas and resources helpful in your classrooms and in your lives.