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. Gamifying 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! 😉