Gaming the Education System


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What is gamification?

Gamification is a technique that leverages people’s natural desires for socializing, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism or closure. The idea is to apply game-design thinking in non-game applications, and in education that usually means applying game-based concepts to content in order to meet specific learning outcomes.

How does gamification help people learn?

Games are a way for people of all ages to learn through a process of trial and error. Video games, for instance, are built to be challenging. There are problems to be solved and sometimes many ways to solve them. For students, this form of investigative learning helps motivate and engage them to keep trying and to worry less about failing – failing, after all, is just part of the game. Essentially, games help people learn through problem solving, creativity, storytelling, rewards systems, feedback and collaboration. Alternatively, games can be used as a tool to incentivize the behaviors and study habits students benefit from by making something that could be viewed as work into something fun.

How is gamification being used in education?

One way gamification is being brought into education is through actual games built or adapted for education like Minecraft. The game always had valuable outcomes — like creativity and collaboration — but Microsoft purchased the game in 2014 and quickly released an education edition. Now the game is used frequently in K-12 classrooms, especially as it began to introduce even more overt education content early last year. A chemistry update was added in February 2018 that lets students see what elements make up a grass block or use helium to make pigs fly. Right now teachers can introduce concepts like biodiversity, conservation and climate change in an immersive Minecraft world with standards-based lessons that were created in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.

Minecraft chemistry“Concepts like state of matter, structure of atoms and chemical reactions become accessible in Minecraft through the immersive world and these brand-new tools,” Minecraft Education Director Neal Manegold said in one blog post.

There are other great ways to apply gamification to the classroom, as well – including some that don’t involve technology at all.

Long-time educator Jack Quinn has found some great ways to gamify his classrooms over the years. He started out by offering a series of points that serve as rewards for behaviors that help save time (2 points for having homework out and ready to be reviewed before the teacher asks for it) or show deeper learning (1 point for the right answer, 2 points for the right answer and one piece of evidence, 3 points for the right answer and two pieces of evidence).

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He then found creative ways to celebrate and reward students for hitting certain goals. For instance, students can wear sunglasses when they hit 5 points during the period, take their shoes off when they get to 10, a positive text to their parents at 15 and the ability to “steal” the teacher’s chair if they get over 15. When they reach a cumulative goal of 100 points, they “level up” and gain additional privileges and rewards. The results? He’s found that his students consistently outperformed the district norms and that, through gamification, he could teach the same outcomes in 10 months instead of the typical 14 or 18 months.

For those just starting to adopt gamification as a teaching tool, there are some great ways to create games from existing resources in the classroom. For instance, using Google functions like Forms, Sites, Drawing and Slides teachers can create digital “escape rooms” where students need to solve a series of problems in order to break out of the digital space. Here’s a great how-to guide on creating your own digital escape room from Mandi Tolen, a math teacher from Missouri.

Are you used gamification in your classroom? Share a few ideas in the comments to help other educators get started with gamifying their classroom.

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