Ready Teacher One? Press Start to Gamify Learning

​It’s 10 o’clock at night and I am marching around the house to get 150 more steps. Why? To reach 10,000 steps so my Fitbit vibrates and shoots digital fireworks. It seems silly when you think about it, but I do it because 10,000 steps is my daily goal. I earn badges on my Fitbit app and for every 1,000 steps, I get a point from my health insurance provider to use toward prizes. My daily fitness regimen has been gamified. However, it is not against my will. I relish at the opportunity to reach achievement levels and share data with my online Fitbit community. I look for ways to walk more, climb stairs, and increase my heartrate. I am getting healthy. Who cares if I earn incentives in the process? I do!

Gamification is the application of typical elements of game playing (rules of play, point scoring, and competition) to other areas of activity, specifically to engage users in problem solving (Wikipedia). Gamification is working for health insurance companies; restaurants (earn a free Starbucks drink after a certain number of stars from purchases); social media sites (expand your LinkedIn profile to bring the “completion bar” up to 100%); and the sports industry (Nike users compete against each other in the daily amount of physical activity for special rewards). If gamification motivates people during their everyday lives, just think about what it can do for students during project-based learning (PBL).

I was inspired to learn more about gamification in education after learning about a unique assessment method used by a group of teachers in Finland. These teaches designed a system where students earn points when accomplishing certain tasks and exhibiting specific skills. Students use these points to “buy” badges that they can redeem when they choose. Examples of badges include conducting personal research, teaching the class, giving a demonstration, or extra time in the makerspace. This use of gamification motivates students to perform learning objectives as best they can.

Gamification has become a popular tactic to encourage specific behaviors and increase engagement. When teachers gamify learning, students are given a greater sense of agency. They are now an actor with a very important role. Their actions are what will lead them to desired outcomes. However, outcomes are not what need to be gamified—the process does.

Think about how you can integrate some of these gamification examples during PBL to motivate, build rapport, and make learning fun.

  • Involve students in designing a storyboard that launches gamification in the classroom. Just like with video games, programmers have to build game mechanics, designers are given clear instructions, and the quality assurance team knows about reward incentives. A solid storyboard will be students’ reference guide during PBL.
  • Design you own storyboards using PBS LearningMedia Storyboard!

Create Avatars
  • Increase students’ sense of ownership in learning with personalized avatars. By creating versions of themselves, students will become more invested in the gamification of classroom activities.
  • Create avatars using Androidy!

Progress Bars or Levels of Completion
  • Create a monitoring system where students keep track of their learning tasks and frequently reflect on their learning goals or driving question. This gamification strategy will motivate students to master learning targets in order to “level up.” Progress bars and checkpoints support differentiation as each student’s system is developed according to his or her needs.
  • Create progress charts for students using Google Sheets!

  • As students progress throughout a learning unit, they can earn badges to show their achievements. For example, give students badges after they watch instructional videos and complete problem sets. Badges should also be printed and handed to students because what student doesn’t love putting stickers on their notebooks or laptops?
  • Create badges using Google Drawings!

Class-Wide Reward System
  • Promote positive behavior by having students work as a whole class to earn points. This is especially great for classroom procedures. For instance, the class could earn points for how they enter the room, gather their materials, and follow the directions provided.
  • Create a class reward chart using tables in Google Slides!

  • It is worth mentioning that in order to give your classroom a gamified “feel,” you need to use the correct terms and phrases. Instead of saying class, use team or squad. Instead of saying activity, try quest or mission. It might seem silly to use a new set of terms during classroom instruction but in the end, you will create a positive classroom culture.
  • Get ideas from the Glossary of Video Game Terms!

Save Game
  • Gamers do not just power down their consoles or exit the level without saving first. That would be insane! Instead, gamers think about what they have accomplished, where they are in the level, and what they plan to do next time. The same should be true in the classroom. Give students opportunities to “save” their work by reflecting on their learning and planning what’s next.

Actually Use Video Games
  • There are so many possibilities for students to use games in the classroom to acquire information and to demonstrate learning skills. There are online programs available like Minecraft where students create imaginative worlds or replicate the real world using three-dimensional structures. Minecraft, like most role-playing games, is inherently about problem solving which promotes higher-level and critical thinking.
  • Try using Google apps to create your own games for the classroom. For example, create a Choose Your Own Adventure game in Google Forms. With this activity, students will go to a section in the Google Form based on their answer. This adapts the story according to students’ decisions. These interactive stories give students choice and therefore more ownership in their learning.
  • Students can also create their own video games. Bloxels is a hands-on video game maker where students use physical blocks to build customizable games on their tablet or smartphone. This inexpensive game builder lets students tell stories by creating levels, characters, and any other art they can imagine.

From High Tech to Low Tech
  • Not all games have to be high-tech. Classic board games gives students the opportunity to practice problem solving skills in a social environment. You can even adapt classic television game shows like Jeopardy and Who Wants to be a Millionaire for students to review content. Do not be discouraged because you do not have access to certain types of technology for gamifying the classroom. Use what you have and start small. Your students will benefit from your efforts, especially when you involve them in the design and decision-making process.
  • During my Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program in Finland, I had the opportunity to visit a startup firm that has developed a low-tech but captivating game. The company, LUPO WORLD created a collaborative and creative storytelling card game that takes small groups of students or the whole classroom on a ridiculous sci-fi adventure. Students get to practice using their imaginations as they bring ideas to life, from storytelling and pen and paper designs to building their own spectacular spaceship.
  • Technology is not the most important aspect of gamification in education. The most important part is how the strategies you implement captivate, challenge, and motivate students.

Gamifying your classroom and integrating learning games might seem too good to be true. With anything new and let’s say it, fun for the classroom, there will always be skepticism. The critics of gamification argue that relying on games can be detrimental to intrinsic motivation. Receiving a badge for a job well done is meaningless without an understanding of what specific skills this badge rewards (Top Hat). Gamification and game-based learning are not meant to replace instruction. They are meant to enhance it. When preparing to apply gamification in education, follow the five important steps in the chart below.

Just as I take the stairs more often and park farther away from the store’s entrance to get extra steps, your students will give more effort when you gamify learning. Gamification has tremendous potential in the education space, and it will likely look different from one classroom to the next. Design learning experiences that address your students’ needs and interests. Ask them what they find appealing about playing games. From there, you will know what steps to take to enrich students’ day-to-day learning.

Okay Teacher One, are you ready? Game on!

Learn more about gamification in education from this comprehensive infographic!

Further Reading
What is Gamification and Why Use It in Teaching?
5 Steps to Achieving Successful Gamification
4 Ways to Bring Gamification of Education to Your Classroom

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