by Nellie Mitchell
I was 11 the year my summer camp director transformed the regular schedule, procedures, and lingo that we were used to—into the most memorable, enriching experience I had ever encountered at that point in my life.
I had no idea that he had ‘gamified’ the week; I just knew that it was the best summer ever. Instead of grouping us by numbers, we were named after the Greek alphabet. We competed daily against the other groups in volleyball, softball, kickball, and on the final night —a chariot and Olympic flame opened an epic Olympic Game contest at midnight.
The director, or ‘game master’ as we were inclined to call him, even made everyone reset the clocks and watches—so we never knew what the real time was, the entire schedule was set on some sort of crazy alternate schedule. Now I realize that it probably allowed him to sleep in and us to stay up later, but we were none the wiser.
Daily we played games, wrote skits, went swimming, and competed for cleanest cabins. We did all the regular stuff, but it was more fun because there were rules and boundaries and points and collaboration and competition and a clear, mutual understanding of goals and performance and criteria for success.
As a student, I got to learn more about the power of ‘gamifying’ something, and what effect it had on learners.
- Gamification is about transforming the environment and regular activities into a kind of game. It is about creating a game out of things that are not normally thought of that way.
- Gamification reinforces content, but also has the potential to profoundly impact classroom management.
- Gamification is about collaboration and teamwork. Sometimes students are battling each other, and sometimes they are working together, but they are always learning!
- Gamification is a long-term, consistent series of events that require quite a bit of prep work by the teacher, but has the potential to reinforce content and engage all learners in new ways.
Getting Started With Gamification
I have no doubt that the camp director spent hours analyzing the schedule, creating the concept, and modifying our basic procedures to meet the needs of the game. I hope he knows how worth it his effort was. That camp experience has been in the back of my mind ever since I started teaching middle school. I teach art and I’m always looking for ways to make it more relevant, current and enriching for every student, not just the gifted artists.
When the technology integration coach in my school district handed me a copy of The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon, I was enthralled. The book was an easy read— cover to cover in just a few days. Lee Sheldon’s students are learning content through game play. College level coursework with students enrolled in a class devoted to designing video games.
In the book, Lee initiates game play in the syllabus. He analyzes how he made changes to the game through trial and error over the course of many semesters. Most of the ‘gaming’ was fantasy, special terminology used to jazz up regular coursework, with plenty of buy-in from students who were interested in gaming of all kinds, from athletic competition to board games to mobile, PC, and console-based video games.
After reading the book fairly quickly, and taking lots of notes, I developed some ideas for how to transform my own classroom into a gamified space in order to develop cross-curricular learning. I realized that my old game master was onto something brilliant—but it was no easy feat. (As a preface, you can read more about the difference between gamification and game-based learning here.)
6 Factors Of Success In Gamification
Think about how to transform your learning space into something that is conducive to collaboration. In my classroom, I created special zones, and rearranged the tables. Lee Sheldon suggests moving each team or group of students each week if your classroom is set up in rows instead of tables. Simple signage and clever names can help with this transformation.
Think about classroom jobs, procedures for tardies, restroom, library, drinking fountain, pencil sharpener, etc. Figure out how to inject those basic procedures into the game. Award ‘health points’ or take them away for tardies. Rotate roles. Make them characters. Make them good or evil, or steeped in historical or mythical lore, or give them creative backstories.
3. Learning Goals
No matter how engaging things are or transformative your approach, learning still matters. In fact, it is the habits students form while internalizing content that can create the most enduring change. What will they learn, and how?
You don’t have to start with learning goals, but you’ll obviously need to have them to keep curricular priorities straight, and to guide any assessment processes you depend on. This is obviously a key theme of any kind of instructional design process, including the following three driving questions:
- What content or standards will be targeted?
- How they can be assessed, ideally within the gamification framework?
- How can you create flexible learning goals that strive to meet the needs of students of varying “content readiness,” literacy levels, and background knowledge?
Instead of using research, send your students on quests. Make it competitive. Students love to compete against each other. Look at your content from a new perspective—could two or four groups ‘battle’ over the information by presenting and quizzing each other? You can also group students for cooperative competition, or simply cooperative learning journeys.
Leave no stone unturned. Create random events that impact XP or HP (experience or health points) in order to keep your students on their toes. You are the game master and you can change the rules at any time.
Plan to have your students develop some part of the gamification, or have clear and accessible roles within the framework you’ve designed–roles that have credibility with the student. They must buy into it, or else they will never fully commit. Allow them to choose their own team names or help establish some of the random events so that they have ownership over the game.
Gamification works because everything fits together in a way that makes sense. Use a theme related to your content, or a use a theme has terminology that reinforces vocabulary. The game master in my summer camp used Greek mythology and it was brilliant. Unforgettable!
One Tool To Consider
Once I had the basic idea for what I wanted to do, I realized that I would need a little help. I went in search of an online or app-based system to help me manage all of my ideas in order to implement them in a stream lined, successful, organized way.
When I found Class Craft, I was thrilled. Class Craft is an incredible program that helped me transform my summer school art enrichment program into an action packed game. 5th and 6th grade boys were begging me to do more research at home—-because it was part of the battle quests I had designed.
Class Craft allowed me to turn basic learning tasks into a real-world role-playing adventure. My students loved seeing their warrior or healer Avatar change as they unlocked new powers throughout the course. And they really, really loved having a pet!
In a few weeks, summer school will be over and I plan to reflect on the pros and cons of the system that I designed, so that I can tweak the things that worked or did not work in my classroom. This is definitely something that could work for me during the regular school year, but thankfully, I had the chance to try it out in a short-term, smaller scale program. Reflection and modification are a big part of the gamification process.
If you are considering implementing gamification into your classroom, but you do not know where to start, you might grab the book I mentioned above, or check out Class Craft. As the game master, you have the power to transform the regular schedule, procedures, and lingo that your students are used to—into a memorable, enriching experience, which just might be their best year ever.
Edited by Terry Heick (which explains any persisting needs for revision and editing); 6 Factors Of Classroom Gamification