Reflections on the Gamified Classroom

I cannot believe that just one year ago I learned about gamification while sitting in a Southern Oregon EdTech Cadre meeting. My good friend Tisha Richmond (Check out her blog here: The Connected Culinary Clasroom) shared her experiences with gamification and all of the amazing things she was doing in her classroom and I just knew I had to find out more! Last summer we did a book study on “Explore Like a Pirate” by Michael Matera. It was amazing to me to read this book as it was such a catalyst for ideas! I have gone back and read it multiple times and even now I have ideas exploding in my head with every page! If you have not already read this book, I highly recommend that you run out to the store (or if you’re lazy like me…go to Amazon) right now and buy it. Summer is the best time for reading and professional development because we actually have time to process and plan!

Every summer I learn so much and I get very excited (just ask anyone who has spent any amount of time with me during the summer…my excitement may be a tad overwhelming at times…). So this last year I knew I needed to reign it in a little. I wanted to focus on just one or two things and do them really well instead of trying to do everything. So, after some deliberation I decided to go with flexible seating and gamification. Holy cow was I in luck because when I showed up in the fall to meet my students, I had 30 students and 20 of them were boys! I can not tell you enough how powerful the combination of flexible seating and gamification were in my classroom this year! I’m not saying that my girls didn’t also enjoy these things but, WOW! the boys in my classroom definitely benefited the most I think. But I’m not going to get into flexible seating too much right now…that’s a post for another time. For now, let’s get back to gamification. IMG_0749Gamifying my classroom had many benefits but some of the biggest ones I saw this past year were:

  • Unified our class and brought us together as a team. In elementary school this seems to be an easier task than in middle or high. We usually spend our first month of school doing activities and projects that bind us together and teach procedures and expectations that help keep our team successful. However, this year it did not take a month, not even a full week for our class to bond. The minute that they watched our intro video and we ALL became a part of the Ascension Space Exploration Program, they knew we were in this together. You should have seen their faces!! They were completely ecstatic! What an amazing experience to bond with your class in a way that no other class gets to. Even if other classes are gamifying or if I use the same theme next year, no one will ever go on the journey that we went on this year as a team! That kind of bond is irreplaceable and invaluable in the classroom.
  • Students were doing school work when it wasn’t required on weekends and holidays and without getting a grade! As our gamified year went on, we would launch side missions. Side missions are projects or assignments done outside of school for XP and not for a grade. Some of our side missions were vocabulary projects or make a project surrounding the Super Moon last fall. When Winter Break came around I knew I wanted to have them do a side mission over the break but I wanted it to be more engaging and immersive than the ones we had previously done. So…I made up a story about us finding a lost astronaut in space named Rogue. Rogue had been out there for a long time and he was very lonely. I made a video using Tellagami to introduce Rogue to the class.​

    ​ I explained that he was so lonely that he would like to go home with them over break. I gave each student a cardstock cut out of Rogue the Astronaut and told them to take him on their adventures of the break. They needed to take pictures of themselves with Rogue and write about their adventures. They could put their project together however they want to and would get a varying amount of XP depending on what we all thought they deserve based on their project. When we got back from Winter Break I was blown away by the projects they turned in!! Some students made poster boards, some printed out the pictures and wrote on the back, and one of my students brought in an entire book that she wrote with a picture and story on every single page! I couldn’t believe that I just got 70% of my students writing over Winter Break and they didn’t even get a grade for it!

  • It gave otherwise unengaged, uninterested students an opportunity to jump in to school head first and gave them a sense of pride in themselves and the work they’ve done. Some of my most unengaged and uninterested students tend to be my kiddos who are above grade level academically. They get bored with doing what everyone else is doing and don’t feel challenged enough so they check out, cause trouble, or just are interested in putting effort in anymore. Gamification has allowed for these students to jump back into the game and really take off! I was able to get their attention, keep it, and extend their learning easier this year than I have in the past. Through side missions, boss battles, and items I was able to get them into the game so much so that they started making parts of our game up themselves!! We used Sumdog as a way to have boss battles. Sumdog is a math app where students can play a game against another student in the classroom but the math problems will be tailored to that studnet’s math level. Students got to challenge each other to a game and the winner won XP. Many of my students loved boss battles but one day one student said, “Hey what if we did Mega Boss Battles!” I was intrigued, so I asked him to tell me more. He said that a mega boss battle would be a boss battle against me for double the XP. Since Sumdog levels the math according to the player, the playing field was leveled for them. While I was being asked to multiply decimals, they were being asked the perimeter of a rectangle or what 6X7 is. Mega Boss Battles were an immediate hit! And my student who made it up could not have been more proud of his idea!
  • It empowered my students to creatively solve problems in our classroom. My class this year was particularly low in math. I had to completely change the way I had been teaching math. I created a plan where I would teach whole group for 15 minutes then we would have four rotations where I met with small groups and taught the lesson again in a different way while filling in holes where I could. About half way through the school year we started running into a problem where too many students needed my help with their assignment and I did not have the time to help everyone since I was working with small groups for the majority of the math time. One of my students asked if it would be possible to help other students when they were finished. I said of cours
    e! Later he suggested that students who help be compensated for their time with XP. That night I went home and tried to figure out who these new characters in our game were going to be, how to tie them in, and how much XP to offer. The next day I came in with Mechanical Engineer badges on lanyards ready to teach my students how to help others with their work without doing the work for them. It turned out to be not only beneficial for my students who were struggling but also for my Mechanical Engineers! Now my students who were finished early were spending their time teaching the math to others instead of doing other fast finisher options.
  • We got to have some very special shared experiences. Share experiences bring people together in such a special way. Before gamification we enjoyed shared experiences like reading a chapter book together as a class or going on a special field trip but nothing compares to the special shared experiences you get to have in a gamified classroom. There are too many to list here but my last and one of my favorite shared experiences was at the end of the year when we found out which crew had won. Which crew had accrued the most XP and therefore found the planet that would save Earth and restore our resources! In celebration, I had t-shirts made for them and they got to wear them to school on the last day! Of course, I had to get one for myself too! 😉



Flipping Some Bottles Reflections

Last week my class did the Bottle Flipping Challenge. You can find out more about the lesson here: Flipping Some Bottles

It was so much fun! My students had a blast and learned so much! We were collecting data, graphing, learning about probability, scientific inquiry, and measurement. This is the exact reason why I love project-based learning so much. It takes real-life situations (ok, so you may never flip a bottle in your adult life….but to kids it is definitely real-life!) and connects them with curriculum and standards in a fun and engaging way. What makes it even better is that I’ve never seen a great project based learning experience that didn’t hit at least 5 different standards across the curriculum. It’s amazing that we aren’t doing more of this in schools!

After having gone through the Bottle Flipping experience, I do have some insights and reflections that I want to share with you:

  1. Make sure to label the water bottles with the bottle number AND the number of milliliters that will be in that bottle.
  2. Start with the smallest number of milliliters in bottle #1 and go up to the largest amount of milliliters in bottle #15. This will give your graph more of a trend look than a random one. I started with 100 ml and went up to 300 ml since I had 500 ml water bottles.
  3. Model for students how to go from bottle to bottle and where to keep track of the data. I had modeled it for my students in the classroom but when we went out to the playground, a few of them got confused. I told them they did not need to go in order from #1-15 but they did need to make sure that their data is on the correct line. Unfortunately, a few of my students started at #1 (even if they were at bottle #13) and went straight down the page not paying any attention to the bottle numbers. Luckily they wrote down the ml amounts so we could figure it out!
  4. Make sure to have some time for students to finish up before going on to the class totals. I had about 6 kids who did not get done flipping the bottles during the amount of time they were given originally so I had to have them finish the next day.
  5. Next time I think I will have students fill out a google form (or something similar) with their information so as to collect the class totals. This time I had them hold up the number on their fingers and I had to do a TON of mental math. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of that lesson!

Overall, I think the lesson was definitely a success and the kids will remember it for a long time! I’m excited to do it again next year!

Flipping Some Bottles

I am SO gyaylad that state testing is over!! I’m not shy about how much I dislike the state testing. How much time it takes from learning, how it’s not developmentally appropriate, how it doesn’t provide information that informs my teaching like assessments should. Now that it’s over, we can get back to our regularly scheduled amazing learning experiences!!

This week I’m teaching measurement. I will be honest: measurement is not my strong suit. I can’t ever remember liters, quarts, pints, etc. and it makes me crazy! So…I decided to spice it up and make it fun! Both for my own benefit and for my students! As I thought about what to do about measuring milliliters, I looked at the curriculum. It only had worksheets with pictures of things asking what unit of measurement you would use to measure the water in a bathtub or in a bucket. This is probably how I learned to measure and why, to this day, I am unable to decipher between a quart and a pint (shh! Don’t tell anyone!). I knew I had to make measuring hands on and fun or my students will turn out like me, heaven forbid!

So, I decided to have a Bottle Flipping Challenge. The great thing about hands on, project-based learning is that you are never just teaching one thing! During the Bottle Flipping Challenge, my students will not only be measuring milliliters but we will also be collecting data, creating graphs, and discussing probability. That kind of stuff just makes my teacher heart flutter!

Here’s the plan (feel free to use any or all of it….stealing is welcomed around here):

First, students will get into partners. They will be given a water bottle with a number on it (I’m numbering my water bottles 1-15 for tracking purposes), a post-it with a certain amount of milliliters (ex. 45ml), and a beaker that measure milliliters. As partners, students will measure out the amount of water they were given on the post-it note into the beaker, dump out the rest of the water in the sink and refill their water bottle with the specific amount that they measured out. (I could have measured out each water bottle on my own but this way students are actually getting a chance to practice measuring to the milliliter and have a hand in setting up the project)

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.13.06 AMNext, we will set out all of the 15 water bottles on the playground. Each water bottle will be labeled with the bottle number and the # of milliliters of water inside the bottle. Students will need their clipboard, pencil, and their data sheet:

PDF: Bottle Flip Challenge

Once students have their things, they will be able to go to each water bottle and flip each one 5 times. Students do not have to go in number order. As they flip their bottles, they will need to write out how many milliliters of water each bottle has and keep track of how many successful throws and epic fails they have for each one.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.17.27 AMAfter all of the flipping of bottles is finished, we will come back to the classroom to take a look at our data. As a class we will add up all of our successful throws and our epic fails for each bottle and record them on this sheet:

PDF: Bottle Flip Challenge Class Totals

Once we have the totals for each of the 15 bottles, students will flip their sheet over and graph the successful throws for each bottle. When the graphing is done, we will be able to easily pick out which bottle was most successful,Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 8.33.18 PM which was least successful, and discuss why we think we had these results. Here is the graphing paper we will use:

PDF:Bottle Flip Challenge Class Totals Bar Graph

We will be doing this project over a period of two days. I’ve never tried this before so I can’t wait to see if it actually pans out! But that is part of the fun isn’t it? Being creative and taking risks? I think so!! I  will be writing a follow up to this post once we do our project later this week. I’m looking forward to sharing how it went and letting you in on some insights to making it even better!

I have had so much fun just planning and setting up this project and I know that when I have fun teaching, my students will have fun learning!

Less Talk, More Action

I can’t say that I love getting the “alien look” but it does remind me that I’m on the right track sometimes. When I used iPads in my classroom to maximize workflow and amplify curriculum, I got alien looks. When I purchased Bloxels and started using them in my classroom, I got alien looks. And a few weeks ago when I took my third graders snowshoeing at Crater Lake, I got the alien look. IMG_9928.JPGWhy is it that those same people who gave me this look complain about how little PE/exercise our students get? Why is that they post on Facebook that the kindergartens in Germany that are held in the woods are so amazing and how we should have something like that here? Where is the disconnect between what they think our students should be doing and what we are actually doing with them? It’s action.

The hardest part about taking any sort of action in our lives is getting started. Going from doing nothing to doing something always seems to be the most difficult part. In Education there can be many obstacles to getting started: money, time, administration, politics, not feeling supported, being afraid of failure, ….the list goes on and on. While some of these are very real hurdles, many can be overcome just by putting one foot in front of the other. For me, I am the biggest problem. I get in my own way all of the time. I always want to start out at a sprint, then I tire too quickly and get overwhelmed. I have to remind myself that not everything has to be planned out and perfect from the get-go. I also have to remind myself that just because someone thinks I’m crazy for trying something does not actually make me crazy! I don’t know how many times I’ve found myself questioning a decision or a project just based off of one person’s opinion. Why do I do that? How can I take months of thinking and planning and somehow feel like it is going up in smoke because one person didn’t like it? I need to get over that….and quick!!

One of the best ways that I have found to get over many of the hurdles I find when starting something new is to turn to my PLN. I have a fantastic PLN on Twitter that has been my sounding board and my inspiration for many of the new endeavors I’ve taken on. Whenever I have an idea or I find an idea that I want to try, my PLN is always there to help me brainstorm ideas for overcoming obstacles, encourage me to get started, and give me feedback along the way. I can be real with them and honest. But the thing about a PLN is that you only get out of it what you put in. If you are unwilling to be someone else’s sounding board and cheering squad then you will have a tough time building a strong PLN. IMG_0138

If you have been thinking about doing something out of the box or you’ve had an idea rolling around in your head but just haven’t done anything with it, I highly encourage you to get started today! Your students deserve your best every single day and that includes all of your crazy ideas! Let’s stop talking about how we can make learning and education better for kids and start DOING it!

Get started and keep going!

IMG_0060.PNGFeel free to follow me on Twitter @hmarrs24. I would be happy to be your sounding board, encourager, and voice of reason when you need it! 🙂


Spring Break Fun and #Sketch50

I didn’t realize how much I needed a break until it came! It has been such a wonderful and restful week with my family. We spent some time out in the woods up at the cabin this week. It was still pretty snowy up there but we got to spend some quality time with each other and with some good friends!IMG_9873

We also got quite a bit done in our front yard. So thankful for the last few days of great weather! It’s been such a long winter here that we haven’t had time to get out in the yard and fix it up! It feels so good to get going on it. Now we just have our backyard to do…..which is unfortunately a BIGGER job than the front….but we are making progress!

Not only do I enjoy all of the time with my family and working around the house, but I also very much enjoy the time that I get to reflect, revise, and plan my way forward. Breaks are such a wonderful time to reflect on my practices in the classroom. How have I been doing? What is working? What is not and how can I change it or ditch it? I also take advantage of this time that I have to continue my learning and connect with other educators. I love learning during a break because it gives me time to process my learning and plan how I might utilize what I’ve learned in the classroom. One great example is my recent participation in #Sketch50 on Twitter. It’s just what it sounds like! 50 sketches in 50 days! Each day I check @Sketch_50 on Twitter for the daily topic then I sit down and sketch. Once I’m done, I post it on Twitter with the hashtag and tag some of my friends. I’ve also started a Padlet to watch the development of my sketches over time. It is so cool to look at the progression already in just six days!

Made with Padlet

I’ve been doing sketchnotes with my students in the classroom since the fall. It has been so amazing to see how excited my students get when I tell them that we are going to be sketchnoting our story for the week. It’s also amazing because it reaches many of my students who are not normally engaged especially in reading. With third graders I stick to paper and pencil on day one and then we go back to it on day two to add color. This way students are able to focus on one piece at a time. When we are done, we take pictures of our work and post them to Seesaw in our digital journals.


NCCE Day 3

Achieving More by Going Paper-Less with Elizabeth Rossmiller 

Generation Z- They were born in a tech world but we can’t expect them to know how to use the tools in a valuable manner. We can’t expect that they know how to be digital citizens. 

How are we making learning ungoogleable? 

Teaching skills, how-to not what, evaluating sources, what are you going to do with what you know?, creating, designing, connecting learning to their life, explain your thinking, choosing tools based on what will work best

Epic! Books for Kids- record themselves reading books from Epic. 

Video-blogging- Vlogging during class. We could do a weekly Vlog on Seesaw to record our learning, aha moments, and goals. 

EDpuzzle- Take any video from YouTube including videos you make and add questions or instructions to the video. 

KidBlog- teaching commenting explicitly so students add value to other’s learning

Book to read: Amplify

Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom

 Cultivating “SuperBetter” Powers: How to teach students using research-based strategies of gamefulness with Tabitha Ellison and Mary Snyder

Slides for presentation: HTTPS:// 

 4 Resiliencies: Mental, Emotional, Physical, and Social 

Mental- hands out and palms up

Social- shake hands with someone for 6 seconds

Physical- stand up with arms up 

Emotional- pictures or videos of baby animals “looking at photos and videos of baby animals is all it takes to make virtually anyone feel the emotion of love.” ~Jane McGonagal   I’ve never heard of this before but who wouldn’t want a good excuse to look at baby animals throughout the day!! 

Power Ups- Positive actions you ca take to feel better, stronger, healthier, or more connected anytime, anyplace. Power ups are learning tools, self-regulation tools, oppotunities to engage in conversations and build relationships, activated as often as students need them. The power is in the conversation with students. 

Badges made on

Reflections on the week

This week went by so quickly! It is amazing the brain-overload that I always feel on the last day of a conference. It has been a whirlwind of a week but I have been so encouraged and inspired by some amazing educators this week. My favorite parts of the whole conference were getting to meet my twitter peeps face to face, the great conversations we’ve had in between sessions and the wonderful convos last night at the Seesaw Social, and, of course, presenting with my good friend Tisha! I’m so excited to sit down and reflect on everything that I’ve learned this week and how I will implement it in my classroom and my life. 

NCCE Day 2 Leading and Learning

 Adventures in Gamification

 Wow those two hours went by super fast! Before the workshop started, I was worried about the wifi working (as many presenters were struggling with it the day before). Luckily for us, the internet worked really well for us throughout our presentation! I was also a little nervous about co-presenting for the first time at a large conference. I’ve presented many times but never with someone else at a conference this size. I’m so glad that I got to present with my good friend Tisha. We did a really great job of playing off of each other and the flow was really smooth. When you present on a theme that is so broad like Gamification, it can be very difficult to meet the needs and answer the questions of the participants. It was wonderful to have both the elementary perspective and the high-school perspective. It was a really effective way to portray the different elements of Gamification and how we are implementing them into our classrooms. I look forward to presenting with Tisha again in the future! 

My First Experience with BreakoutEDU with Mike Nye and Cindy Dziurzynski

I have heard of BreakoutEDU and I totally love the idea but I’ve never actually experienced it. I’ve looked into it online and tried to wrap my head around it but have been unsuccessful. Many people have told me that I need to experience it to really understand so I’m very excited to participate in this workshop today! 

Directional Lock: Colored the arrows on a grid in the order of the list on the sheet 

Key lock: Had to find another box and break out of that one then figure out a math clue to figure out the small box combo. In the small box there was a black light. 

Black light: We could see the circled dates on a calendar that we were given which we then used to open another key. 

QR code took us to a form where we input more information to unlock the other locks. 

Feel free to adjust the games on the site to meet your needs. You can customize to meet your equipment, time, and content. The Storyline is the most difficult part not the mechanics.  is a great resource for tools to customize your own BreakoutEDU games. 

Check out Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes at 

NCCE 2017 Day 1

Tweedledee and Tweedledum with Kam Koyama

 Learned some new things about TweetDeck. Found new people to follow on Twitter. Introduced a few other teachers to the power of a PLN. 


Meeting Steve Wyborney

“Tell me your 30 second elevator pitch” Yikes! What a thing to ask! How do I fit who I am as an educator, what I believe about education, and what I’m doing in the classroom into 30 seconds?? 


Someone Found Me!

“Are you the Seesaw gal?” Why yes, yes I am! It’s so surreal when people recognize you from a presenting at a previous conference and want to connect with you. Seesaw is such an amazing app that I’m never surprised when people love the app but it’s so fun to talk to people who want to learn more and discover other ways to implement it in the classroom. 


Putting the R in SAMR  with Gil Anspacher

Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking- the 4 C’s 

“Tech enables the Redefining- tech doesn’t redefine the lesson it allows for you to redefine”

Constructivist: Construct, Knowlegde, Meaning, From Experience

 Alan November- TED Video

 Step 1: Research 


 Step 2: Plan 

Step 3: Create

 Step 4: Evaluate

Getting Started:

Start small, have a clear outline of the process, get students involved, make sure you have a template/format for your students. 

Digital Tools to Connect, Create, and Collaborate with Shannon McClintock Miller

So lucky I got a seat! The line was out the door and down the hall for this amazing presentation !


Smithsonian, Newsela, BrainPop, DK Findout!, #GoOpen OER Resources and Tools (link to Symbaloo in the slides)

Connect your kids to the world using Skype in the Classroom, FlipGrid


Photos for Class, PicMonkey, YouTube Creator Studio, Adobe Spark, Slides in Google Drive, Slides Carnival, Piktochart, Smore (Educator Hive), StoryBird, ComicMaster, StoryboardThat, Buncee, Recite, Spell with Flickr, LEGO


Padlet (have students publish their work on Padlet), Creatubbles, Creatubbles Minecraft Mod, Geoguessr, What Was There, 

Places to Find Tools:

Twitter, Pinterest, AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning, AASL Best Apps for Teaching and Learning, The Library Voice Blog

Takeaways from a great opening Keynote with Jaime Casap

“Education disrupts poverty” I absolutely love this! Isn’t that exactly what we want education to do?

“Students today are not that different from us. How they think about learning is different then how we think about learning.”


The amazing, wonderful iPhone that I have in my pocket is the worst technology my 6 year old son will ever know. He’s going to find it in a thrift store some day and put it on a shelf as a relic. 

We need a culture shift in education. 


What a fantastic day of learning today! Tisha and I are sitting here in our hotel room exhausted and preparing ourselves for tomorrow. Tomorrow morning we are going to be leading a workshop on Gamification. It is the first ever presentation for either one of us where we are going to be presenting with another person. I think the main reason this makes me nervous is that we will talk over each other or I will talk too much. However, I think this is going to be so incredibly powerful for educators to see how different our classes are and our ways of gamifying and yet how impactful and immersive it is in both classes. No matter what, we are going to have fun and get to share our passion for teaching and learning!

Reflections on a Crazy Week

Holy cow! What a week this week has been! I’m still exhausted and it’s Saturday night! Not only did I have my new student teacher start this week but we also had an administrator walk through, swimming lessons, and I started parent-teacher conferencing. I am so excited to have another student teacher! I really enjoy sharing my love of learning and growing but man is it tiring! I forget sometimes just how many decisions I make in a day and why I make all of them. I am painfully reminded when I have a student teacher as I discuss the whats and whys of the day. I really want them to understand why I do things and not just take them at face-value. I remember writing half a million reflections during my masters program. We hated them so much at the time that the word “reflection” became a dirty word that everyone would cringe at hearing. But somehow all of that time spent writing those reflections (ugh..I still can’t even think it without a recoil) turned into years of internal reflections and growth. I hate to admit it but it set me up for auto-reflecting when I really got into my profession. It has been the catalyst for enormous amounts of growth, humility, and learning. I’m looking forward to sharing all of that with my student teacher!

Aside from all of the craziness of the week, the highlight of my week was our project during literacy. My students have been reading a folktale called “Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun”. We have spent a few weeks doing vocabulary projects, reading the story together, and writing our own folktales but….all of that pales in comparison to the awesome project we got to create this week! As a class we created a Grandmother Spider video game using Bloxels. My students lost their minds when I told them what we were going to be doing!

Each group had their own mission in creating the game. One group was in charge of creating the characters for our game. They had to design our main character, the enemies, and the background. Each of the other groups were in charge of creating one level of the game based on one of our vocabulary words. Their game level had to reflect the vocab word in every way. From their terrain to the hazards to the coins, everything had to represent the vocab word. In each game level they had to hide or protect a white story block. The goal of the main character on each level is to get to the story block or checkpoint on that level. The teams set up their story block to tell what their vocab word was and the definition. Once all levels were complete and our characters were ready to play, we put it all together! Not only were my students 100% engaged but we were meeting WAY more standards than just the standards for literacy!