Leveling Up in a Gamified Classroom

By: Ashley Fulks, Becca Lord


Our students, like all students, don't always do what they are supposed to do. Sometimes they talk when they should be listening. Sometimes they don't read directions. Sometimes they have trouble working together in a cooperative setting.

That being said, sometimes our students do something naughty that most other kids don't do. Many educators have to all but beg their students to get their work done, but we face a different issue: Our students do too much schoolwork.

Is it because we're asking too much of them? Are we assigning mountains of homework every night? No. Quite the opposite: our kids are doing too much work simply because they want to.

We can attribute our "struggle" to only one thing. Last year, we joined forces to create a common curriculum for our seventh grade world languages students based on the concept of gamification. In doing so, we teamed up to level up.

Gamifying Instruction

Students use a teacher-designed website to navigate through language units.
Gamification is a research-based teaching strategy that involves incorporating traditional gaming elements in the classroom. In other words, game language and context are added to the instructional material not only to make it more interactive, but also to improve student experience and increase motivation.

In a gamified classroom, students are not doing assignments or taking tests; they are completing missions or battling through a quest. They don't work their way through units, but rather conquer stages or worlds. As they do so, they earn experience points (XP) which they use to level up.

Teachers can gamify in a number of ways. One teacher might have her students complete an "Amazing Grammar Race," collaborating to complete a series of grammatical challenges during a lesson. Another might gamify a weekly assignment by awarding students experience points for composing well-written blogs.

Truly creative teachers have altered their physical classrooms, gamifying their curriculum by establishing a storyline for students. Can your students, acting as warriors or gladiators, escape from the dungeon of doom? In a gamified classroom, they may have the opportunity!

Under Construction

Students are encouraged to earn a target number of experience points by selecting missions to complete within given categories.
As in a virtual reality game, the way in which you gamify your class is open to your imagination. In our classrooms, at our different schools, we chose to work together to use technology to gamify our seventh grade world languages curriculum.

We didn't both jump on the gamification bandwagon at the same time. Though we ended up teaching the same subject area to the same grades, we started in our respective positions at two schools across town during two different school years. As a result, the timelines we followed for gamifying our classes differ slightly.

Player 1– Ashley

When I started researching gamification, it was the summer before my first year of teaching. It sounded amazing, but I didn't know how to apply it in my classroom. I spent the first semester getting to know my content, but as the year progressed, my mind kept returning to the game language.

Third quarter I searched through every example I could find on gamification. Edmodo and Twitter were invaluable. I took notes on all the elements I liked, then I went for it. I turned all assignments into missions, assigned XP based on length and difficulty, and built a Google Site. I cautioned students, saying we were approaching brand new territory, but before mid-terms that quarter, the students and I were all convinced.

When I got an email from Becca saying she was a new world languages teacher in the district, I was excited to have a partner. I'm sure she felt overwhelmed coming into something new, but it was all I could do to step back for a quarter and let her get to know the content before I came after her with the idea of our collaboration evolving into a partnership and competition between our schools.

Player 2– Becca

I knew Ashley was doing things with gamification long before I got on board myself. I spent the first quarter of my time as a world languages teacher figuring out how to introduce students to four languages in the span of a nine-week course. I worked to establish a flow in my room that made sense but, like Ashley, I wanted to do something more to get my students to connect with and care about the languages I was teaching.

As that first quarter came to an end, Ashley approached me about turning the game she had started into something that would be more cooperative. She envisioned an inter-district competition, with common missions based around a single website. The idea intimidated me at first. In teacher education courses I had learned about applying game-based learning strategies in the classroom, but I had no idea what gamification truly entailed.

Before agreeing to completely revamp my entire seventh grade curriculum, I wanted to understand how it worked and how it could benefit my students.

I turned to my computer, spending hours combing through article after article about gamification. I read about different types of gamification. I read about how it could be implemented. Most important, I read about the amazing things it had done in the classrooms of other teachers. With the new quarter starting soon, I was on board.

Game On

Students preview mission objectives and guidelines.
Together, we built a website using a free web developer. We divided the site into stages for each unit we explored in our class. We began to teach traditional lessons during the first portion of class, then sent our students to our website for the second, application portion.

Every day, we provided missions that students were academically prepared to attempt, so they had some direction, but we rarely required a specific mission. The majority of the missions were linked to a Google Document containing instructions for completion, written in language consistent with our game's overall theme. These missions were based entirely on previous assignments. We distributed badges for students to attach to their gamer profiles when they leveled up. Students could purchase rewards with the cash they earned in the game for completing missions.

Over time, based on our experiences and student feedback, the game changed. We altered the website to ease navigation. We modified missions and changed how we graded to promote choice and differentiation. We want our game to continue evolving, so it will never be complete in the purest sense of the word. Still, the game we have now is a game our students love to play.

The Gaming Mindset

Mission link to online documents containing instructions for completion.
As we found in our research and after gamifying our curriculum, gamification offers many benefits for a classroom environment and for students. In the gaming mindset, there's always room for growth: a new high score, better gear, more XP. Replaying missions is not only encouraged, but expected. Bringing this mindset into the classroom helps students deal with failure with a positive outlook.

Furthermore, gamification seamlessly lends itself to differentiation as it allows for different routes to success. There is no single way for a student to demonstrate mastery of a concept. Students choose paths to advance as they select missions. Some missions are simpler than others, but target the same objectives. This differentiation supports both lower achieving students and highflyers. With gamification, it is simple to offer enrichment missions and activities for students that oftentimes seem overlooked. Everyone gets what he or she needs.

Since students are able to choose the missions that they want to complete, engagement rises dramatically. Suddenly, schoolwork isn't something that they are required to do, but something they want to do. We have both had students submitting missions at crazy times or on long weekends when most kids would rather do anything else. Though our missions are our assignments with just a few tweaks, our kids want to do them and they want to do them well in order to advance in the game. When so many of our kids want to do work, it is hard to think we're not doing something awesome.

Given that our students enjoy doing work for our classes, we have relatively few behavioral issues. The majority of our students get their work done when they should and turn it in on time. Also, gamification has made dealing with early finishers a thing of the past. There is never a moment when a student is without something to do. In this way, gamification has not only made our classes more enjoyable and worthwhile for our students, but helped us as teachers.

Mission Possible

The successes we have seen in our classrooms through the use of gamification have been nothing short of astounding. The adoption of this teaching strategy resulted in unbelievable gains. With our gamified curriculum, our students are not only enjoying our classes more, but taking more from them academically as well.

School should be innovative and remarkable. Students should be excited to go to class every day, ready to learn and grow. In our gamified classrooms, our students are just that. Without a doubt, with gamification, our students make learning their mission.


Ashley Fulks is a grades 5–8 Spanish teacher at Mark Bills Middle School in Peoria, Illinois. ashley.fulks@psd150.org

Becca Lord is a grades 6–7 world languages teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
becca.lord@gfschools.org

Published in AMLE Magazine, February 2016.

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