What Are The Best Examples Of Gamification In The Classroom?
contributed by Ryan Schaaf & Jack Quinn
Everyone loves games.
Albert Einstein himself indicated they are the most elevated form of investigation. He knew games are avenues for something deeper and more meaningful than a childish waste of time. Games promote situated learning, or in other words, learning that occurs in groups of practice during immersive experiences. Oftentimes, playing games are the first method children use to explore higher-order thinking skills associated with creating, evaluating, analyzing, and applying new knowledge.
This article is written in two parts. The first, written by Ryan Schaaf, Assistant Professor of Technology at Notre Dame of Maryland University, introduces gamification in an educational context, its many elements, and some products that emulate gamified practices. The second part, shared by classroom teacher and coach Jack Quinn, provides a firsthand account with perspective from a gamified learning practitioner. Below are our combined insights.
Gamification In An Educational Context
Games have many elements that make them powerful vehicles for human learning. They are commonly structured for players to solve a problem; an essential skill needed for today and tomorrow. Many games promote communication, cooperation, and even competition amongst players. Some of the most immersive games have a rich narrative that spawns creativity and imagination in its players. Finally, depending on how they are designed, games can both teach and test their players. They are incredible packages of teaching, learning, and assessment.
The structural elements of games are also especially suited to serve this current generation of learners. Commonly known as gamification (or gameful design according to Jane McGonigal), this approach of adding game elements such as storytelling, problem-solving, aesthetics, rules, collaboration, competition, reward systems, feedback, and learning through trial and error into non-game situations has already experienced widespread implementation in such fields as marketing, training, and consumerism with rampant success (see http://www.cio.com/article/2900319/gamification/3-enterprise-gamification-success-stories.html) for more details.
In the education realm, gamification is starting to pick up steam. With success stories such as Classcraft, Class Dojo, and Rezzly leading the charge, the potential for gamification to spread to more and more classrooms is a forgone conclusion. There are also pockets of educators in the teaching landscape that are designing their own ‘gamefully-designed’ learning environments. The next section explores such an environment by sharing Jack’s experiences with his own class.
Gamification: From Theory to Practice
I have been involved with gamification for quite some time now. In my 9 years of experience, I’ve found games are great at resolving several common classroom issues such as: student participation/talk time, student engagement, differentiation, data tracking, and increasing student achievement.
As an ancillary language teacher on Jeju Island in South Korea, gamification helped me increase student talk time by 300%. My 250 students completed over 27,000 ‘quests,’ a.k.a. additional homework assignments they chose to do. My top 10% of participants spent an hour outside of class speaking their target language daily. I was even startled on more than one occasion to arrive early to work and find my students had beaten me there and were eagerly awaiting my arrival so they could begin their daily quests.
As a classroom teacher in the Houston Independent School district serving schools with a 95% free and reduced lunch population, I have taught both 3rd-grade reading and 5th-grade science. Each of these is a state-tested subject (that I taught for two years).
On average in my first year of instruction, my students have performed 1.39 times the district norm and 1.82 times the district norm in my second year teaching the subject. Or put another way, traditional methods would take 14 to 18 months to achieve what I can do with games in 10.
I credit much of this success to following the advice of Gabe Zicherman from his Google Tech Talk, Fun is the Future: Mastering Gamification, where he advises game designers to “incentivize whatever you want people to do.” (Zicherman, n.d.)
As such I strive to identify the key actions my students need to practice then build games and reward systems around those actions.
12 Examples Of Gamification In The Classroom
1. Giving points for meeting academic objectives
Do students need to be citing details from the text and evidence for conclusions in class discussions? Answers without evidence are now worth 1 point, a correct answer with 1 piece of evidence is worth 2 points, a correct answer + 2 pieces of evidence = 3 points.
2. Giving points for meeting procedural/non-academic objectives
Need to solve a classroom issue such as shortening the time it takes to check homework? All students who have their homework out ready to be checked before being prompted by the teacher now receive 2 points.
3. Creating playful barriers
These sorts of barriers can be academic or behavioral, social or private, creative, or logistical. The point is, one of the primary tenets of gamification is the use of encouragement mechanics through the application of playful barriers–challenges, for example.
4. Creating competition within the classroom
Teacher vs. Class: Students must follow a rule that the teacher sets. Anytime a student follows the rule, the Class gets a point. Anytime a student does not follow a rule, the teacher gets a point. This is particularly great for introducing procedures and behavioral expectations. If the Class wins, use a sustainable reward, such as a 1-minute dance party, extended recess time, or fewer homework problems.
5. Comparing and reflecting on performance in nuanced ways personalized for each student
At the end of some video game levels, the player’s performance is broken down into countless details offering enormous data, achievements, and ways to reflect and document their performance and compare with others.
For example, one game might offer statistics of which objectives were met and how, assigned a ‘badge’ based on that particular performance ‘style,’ then track every minute detail around that performance you can imagine: total number of jumps, number of enemies alerted, number of different ways a specific problem was solved, etc.
6. Creating a range of unique rewards desirable for a range of unique students
In my class, students get sunglasses to wear until the period is over at 5 points, the privilege to take off their shoes at 10 points, a positive text to their parents at 15, and if the high score is over 15, whoever has it may ‘steal’ the teacher’s chair.
7. Using levels, checkpoints, and other methods of ‘progression’
Track points over multiple classes, when students reach an important milestone such as 100 points let them level up, as they progress further give out sustainable milestone rewards, such as eating lunch with the teacher or a free dress pass (if your school wears uniforms).
Competitive students will race to have the highest level in their class and grade which can be leveraged by creating quests that require them to recruit lower-level students in quests that require both to practice target skills.
Other Examples Of Gamification In The Classroom
8. Grading backward—start grading at 0 instead of 100. Every assignment, demonstrated mastery of skill, or desired behavior earns points for them towards 100/letter grade/certificate, or whatever reward you’d like to provide.
9. Creating challenges with more than one way to be solved and emphasize the different approaches.
10. Giving learning badges instead of (or in addition to) points or grades.
11. Letting students set their own goals, then track their own progress in a fun/visual/social/personal way.
12. Helping students assume specific perspectives in learning–as a judge, designer, father, etc. This element of fantasy role-play is a big draw of video games.
13. Incentivizing student ‘exploration’ of content by offering bonuses, ‘easter eggs,’ and other benefits of achieving supplementary goals beyond the main lesson objective itself.
14. Create problems or challenges with more than one way to solve
Bonus: Using a scoreboard seating chart
Draw or project a seating chart onto a whiteboard/screen, and then award students points for all activities that you want to incentivize with sustainable rewards/recognitions at different point levels.
Make sure to be creative and respond to student interests. In my class, students don’t take practice tests; they battle the evil emperor, Kamico (the maker of popular test prep workbooks used at my school). We don’t just test objects for conductivity; we search out the secret object which will turn on the alien spaceship’s ‘prepared to launch’ light.
While students are collecting points, leveling up, and competing against each other, I am collecting data, tracking progress, and tailoring the rules, rewards, and quests to build positive class culture while pushing student achievement. Students become eager to participate in the activities that they need to do to improve, and when students buy-in, they make school a game worth playing.
References & Further Reading
McGonigal, J. (2011). Gaming can make a better world. | TED Talk | TED.com [Video file]. Retrieved from: ted.com/
Schaaf, R., & Mohan, N. (2014). Making school a game worth playing: Digital games in the classroom. SAGE Publications.
Schell, J. (n.d.) When games invade real life. | TED Talk | TED.com [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/jesse_schell_when_games_invade_real_life
Zicherman. (n.d.). Fun is the Future: Mastering Gamification [Video file]. Retrieved from youtube.com
12 Examples Of Gamification In The Classroom