Gamification has changed how I teach. It’s a game-changer so to speak. There are many ways to bring gamification to your classroom. Deciding to start small is often a good choice but don’t be afraid to throw yourself into a game whole heartedly.
After presenting to a group of teachers recently, the overwhelming feeling involved a sense of reluctancy. “I’m not a gamer. There’s no way I can bring games to my classroom.” Being a professional gamer is not a prerequisite to bringing gamification to your classroom. I had played a few video games in my time. I’m not sure however, that my high score on Galaga in the late 80s would be helpful in this situation. Regardless, the idea is to create a meaningful learning experience for your students. Classroom learning need not always be text book/worksheet driven. Personally, if my room never sees a worksheet again it will be too soon. Gamification allows for creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and most importantly, if done right, powerful situations that will allow the students to acquire the content and have it stick with them.
When my journey began a few things needed to change about my classroom. I needed to give some of the control over to the students, and why not? This is their education. They needed to be in the driver seat, making choices and interacting with the game. Once I let this go, my students became fully engaged. An engaged classroom is messy and loud. It is full of collaboration and discovery. It is a powerful environment to experience. The clock moves swiftly and the days pass quickly.
How to begin? Start small with a well known game. I started with a garden sized Jenga game. Be forewarned, it is quite large and makes quite a sound when it comes crashing down. The sound the kids will make however, is much louder. Taking time to color the end of the pieces makes the game much more versatile. We were working on a unit review. Using a set of twenty multiple choice questions the students pulled pieces. The color on the end of the piece was matched with a set of questions. The students then decided which question they wanted to complete. If we completed the entire question set without the tower tumbling, the entire class received extra credit on the unit test. The reaction of the students was nothing short of amazing. Their level of engagement was incredible. It was all I needed to start adding more.
As a teacher of ancient history, it is often difficult for students to understand the concepts related to the ancient world. Sid Meier’s Civilization immediately came to mind. After purchasing the game on a rainy weekend and essentially playing for hours on end, I knew there was something to pulling my students into a simulation. Monday morning I put the students into pre-history hunting and gathering groups and asked them to choose where they would settle on an oversized game board I created. The discussions in their groups were phenomenal. The geography skills they had just learned were resurfacing in their engaging conversations. The class period flew by and the energy was contagious.
This began the process of my first game. Each week I would outline the ideas I wanted my students to master by the end of the week. After this, I would look at the game mechanics that would allow them to acquire that information. Students need to move and interact with the curriculum. They need to experience it instead of observe it from afar. Week by week I added more to the game. The students are an essential and incredibly valuable resource. They feel very powerful when they add to the game. They were often called my beta testers and carried this title with pride.
Bringing gamification to my classroom is a no-brainer. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes. Kids deserve the best we can give them. Their engagement is the payoff. There is nothing like it.