This post started my journey through the process of gamification. A few years later, as I begin to reevaluate this path, and take it to the next level through the work on my PhD, it seems like a good time to review it.
Finding Your Groove
A few things happen when you have twenty years of teaching under your belt. You realize you have shoes older than most of the kids you are teaching and therefore you can relax a little. Having only been on the planet for eleven or twelve years, I commonly tell my students they have not earned the right to roll their eyes or shrug their shoulders yet. It’s ironic that this sense of calm comes toward the late afternoon of one’s career. I am getting ahead of myself, let’s call it a late lunch. A relaxing, late lunch with iced tea on a sunny veranda. That’s better. That’s where I am, sunning myself on a veranda drinking tea while I faintly hear my name being called over and over again. As we all know middle school students have no social boundaries and proceed to call your name as many times as they possibly can until they have your full, undivided attention.
And here I am faced with the challenges of the middle school student. Their bodies are changing literally in front of your eyes. Pants become shorter, voices change, all in one class period. Boys cry. Girls cry. We all cry. Through all of this we have to grab their attention, keep it, and assure their parents that none of us are going crazy. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
While attending a professional development and looking for possible solutions, a colleague asked the question, “How do I get them to be interested in the boring stuff? All they want to do is talk about Minecraft.” My response to her was quick and easy. Why wasn’t she using Minecraft to her advantage? Why not use what the kids loved? In education we all learn not to fight the wave but to roll with it. And then I realized I needed to take my own advice. Enter Sid Meier’s Civilization V. After playing the game for over a week, nonstop, I decided to incorporate it into my social studies class that predominantly focused on ancient history. By a stroke of luck, the day I had planned to show the game to the students and begin discussing it, there were tech glitches. The only time I can truly say I was happy that the tech did not work. We decided instead to form teams, essentially our own city-states, define roles for each member and discuss the ideal land on which to settle. The discussion was wonderful and inspiring.
That night I created the basis for what has become an elaborate game that has been going on for five weeks now. This endeavor has plunged me into researching game theory and gamification in the classroom. This journey is a careful balance between curriculum and game play, between too easy and too hard. This is the story of my journey. Stay tuned!
Why are we taught that school is all business and no fun? Why do we have to be serious to learn? Where did this idea come from? We didn’t have a methods class on the seriousness of school. Perhaps it was the endless testing and threats of termination that have scared all of us into the idea that the only way to teach is the classic row by row, lecture and note scenario. We all survived it. Why can’t they, right? Let me state that again. We all survived it. School should never be something we survive. It should not be something we can’t wait to leave. School can be so much and its our job to make it everything it possibly can be.
In the myriad of today’s regulations, testing, and teacher evaluation, how do we go about having the courage to do this? A better question is how do we not have the courage to do this? We work with our students daily and see their lights slowly but surely go out as we continue to teach them in ways they are unable to learn. As adults we see the urgency and do not understand why the students are apathetic. Meeting after meeting, the comments are always the same:
“I don’t understand why they can’t do it.”
“Am I supposed to do it for them?”
“What else can I possibly do?”
“They just don’t care. That’s not my problem.”
“They are not going to do it. They are lazy.”
Something we have to remember as educators is that these are essentially children, no matter the grade you teach. We are the professionals. The ones with training. If a student is not mastering the content it is our fault. Trust me, I have caught a lot of heat about that last statement. It’s how I feel. I chose this career path and not because I wanted the summer off. I should have the skill set to help any struggling student. Every student has a hook. Finding it is often like locating a treasure.
Students can be hooked by passion and play. If they know you are passionate about your job and your content, it becomes contagious. They want to know why on earth you love it so much. They start to explore the content themselves and find information to share with you. The students know what your subject means to you and they take it seriously.
Play is so important for the classroom. Students learn best when they are actively involved in an activity. Personally my heart is drawn to simulations. My fondest moments as a child were of me and my friends playing make belief in the woods or on an old boat. Transporting ourselves to another world and playing out elaborate scenes. Why can’t we do that in the classroom? Why can’t we recreate ancient Mesopotamia and let the students live in a city-state? Why can’t we create a full size space shuttle in our room and let them be astronauts? The sky is the limit and nothing can stop us. Nothing should stop us. Our students are depending on us to make their experiences memorable. I always say that our kids deserve amazing memories. I plan to give them just that.
Be a Pirate!