What looked like another “impossible class” turned out to be one of my best ever because of school gamification. I was in my final year before retirement and was expecting to enjoy a year expertly navigated by a seasoned teacher’s accumulated wisdom. But two weeks in, it became obvious that my tried-and-true techniques were not going to work. I decided to try out video game techniques like leaderboards and badges to motivate students to work on their own. I’ve found that games are a great way of resolving several common classroom issues such as: student participation, engagement, differentiation, data tracking, and achievement. Here are 11 things I learned about gamification that can help you:
1. Make sure you have resources
Not all gamification needs to be digital, but to be successful with online school gamification, you need consistent and easy access to computer resources. Consider any number of options. Assign students to computer lab every week. The lab might have carts of computers or other devices available for checkout. Another possibility is to have Kindle Fire tablets available in classrooms. Be flexible with how your students use and access resources.
2. Keep things simple
Want to try out gamification for just one day? Use a whole-class game strategy. Come up with one rule or procedure that you really want students to follow. Every time a student follows the new rule, give the class a tally mark. BOOM! Now the class rule has been gamified. You won’t believe how much this helps kids remember the new rule.
3. Use in-class team play
Our school schedules one class per week for enrichment and interventions. We decided to use the online learning game JogNog to try out our experiment in gamification and started using it as a station for those days. It quickly turned into an all-period enrichment for higher achieving students while I worked with those needing remediation. One particularly engaging game was called Tag the Tower where two in-class teams compete to complete the same assignment and get the highest group score. I found that the kids stretched themselves to find each others’ strengths so their team could win.
4. Leverage friendly competition
My students needed immediate feedback. To enable this, I set up a friendly competition component where kids checked in with each other to share what they would have done differently or wish they had done. This helped other kids give feedback to each other and reduced the feedback required by me.
5. Use badges and avatars to build personal connection
The students created paper versions of their online avatars. They used these paper avatars to tag work they did in the classroom. This helped bring online gaming into the work they did throughout the day. Kids felt very bonded with their avatars and wanted to attach them to work that brought them pride and joy. Other kids began to recognize the avatars, and this created educational conversation in the classroom. This also helped kids set weekly goals as they saw the work other students were accomplishing.
6. Award small prizes every nine weeks
I managed differentiation by assigning students independent or small group topics that supported the units being taught. Students competed by achieving personal goals. This meant that it was possible for every child to achieve success. It also helped students understand goal accomplishment within a quarter. Each student maintained a digital record of their work. My students kept their records on JogNog, but yours could just as easily keep them in a digital portfolio.
7. Give kids access to school gamification via mobile devices
After a few weeks, I was surprised (and delighted) to find that some of my least motivated students were completing and achieving the most amount of work through school gamification. They were even completing work not yet assigned! But I was puzzled because there was not enough time in the school day, and they didn’t have computers or internet at home. The mystery was solved when I discovered that they were completing work at home by using cell phones. According to the Pew Foundation, “The vast majority of Americans – 95% – now own a cellphone of some kind. The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 77%, up from just 35% in Pew Research Center’s first survey of smartphone ownership conducted in 2011.”
8. Include school gamification during down times
Students considered this school gamification time more like recess or free time. Students were now self-motivated to play when they would otherwise be bored with down time by picking up a Kindle when class assignments were complete. Even before I could check our status from the previous week, students were proactively coming to my desk to show me where the school was ranked on the national leader board.
9. Encourage student and school pride
By the second semester of my experiment in school gamification, I found out that other schools from our district were employing JogNog and trying to catch my students on the leaderboard. The competition made my students want to complete more practice assignments. By the middle of April, the fifth and sixth grade students had correctly answered more than 150,000 review items.
10. Create customized review content
In the middle of the fourth week of our nine-week grading period, all science topics from JogNog that were relevant to our state curriculum had been assigned. Our students had been so productive that I had run out of JogNog quiz games, so I created two JogNog quizzes of my own to review specific Mississippi standards. The month before state testing, these newly created science vocabulary quizzes were assigned as a review. I found that gamification had become a way to push kids to want to learn more and to have a way to easily review what they’d learned.
11. Share results
When the science test score results came in, this group of students, that I was initially not sure I could reach and motivate, had topped our school’s highest score for science. The exposure to the new and engaging science vocabulary and short application questions that JogNog provided had really paid off! My experiment in using gamification to motivate my hardest-to-reach students redirected my impossible class to one of my best class ever. A great final semester before I retired.