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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Badges and the Common Core

Matthew Farber

Social studies teacher & educational technology adjunct pursuing an Ed.D. Look for his book, "Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning," coming this fall from Peter Lang Publishing.

When today's K-12 students enter college and embark in their careers, they will most likely encounter a wide array of game-like elements, such as badge systems. In June, Blackboard Learn, a learning management system for higher education, announced a partnership with Mozilla to support digital badges. In the corporate world, badge systems are also used to increase employee productivity. Mozilla's Open Badges Backpack serves as a virtual resume to display one's mastered skills.

Gamifying Education

One of the main goals of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is to prepare students for "college- and career-ready performance." According to CoreStandards.org, "English language arts and math were the subjects chosen for the Common Core State Standards because they are areas upon which students build skill sets which are used in other subjects." Badges can acknowledge the learning that has occurred along the way.

Game-based learning (GBL), like the CCSS, places a strong emphasis on mastering skills. In a gamified classroom, students start at the "newbie" level, and then build skills and "level up" to become masters. The "boss level" is when students apply all of the skills mastered to overcome a difficult task.

GBL does not necessarily mean that students are simply playing video games in school. A variety of non-digital games, including boards, cards or dice, can "gamify" learning as well. Problem-based learning (PBL) and challenge-based learning (CBL) units can be gamified by adding game mechanics, such as rules, missions and leaderboards. PBL and CBL lend themselves well to gamification because they present students with authentic tasks to perform using accumulated skill-sets. Teachers can also "mod," or modify, pre-existing games to fit skills and content.

Creative Ways to Meet the Standards

CCSS skill mastery can be acknowledged with a digital badging system. Badge accumulation can occur in a non-linear fashion; some students may earn different badges than others. This strategy, known as embedded assessments, is common in gamified classrooms. Embedded assessments are built into the overall learning experience. A teacher can award CCSS badges during a gamified unit rather than at the end. In this respect, badges can support differentiated learning. For instance, a student may earn a badge at any time for meeting CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.4: "Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation."

The CCSS only guide English language arts and math teaching. Other disciplines, such as science and social studies, should "anchor" or support the Standards. In social studies, a student can earn a badge for meeting CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.9, when he or she can "analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic." Similarly, science teachers can recognize students who meet CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.10 by reading and comprehending "science/technical texts in the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently."

In order to maximize student engagement, a teacher can add a hidden challenge, known as an "Easter egg." Easter eggs empower the student to test the boundaries of the learning system. For instance, a student may solve a secret riddle in a lesson and, in the process, meet CCSS.Math.Content.HSS-MD.B.5a: "Find the expected payoff for a game of chance."

Deploying a Common Core Badge System

In a badge system, there are three interconnected participants: the issuer, the earner and the displayer. In the classroom, as opposed to a video game, the teacher is the issuer and the student is the earner. There are many options for badge displayers, including Youtopia, ForAllBadges, ClassBadges and Edmodo. Many of these sites let teachers create virtual classrooms and also provide predesigned artwork. You can download this PDF for a helpful, side-by-side, badge-displayer comparison chart.

Badges recognize the achievements that produce intrinsic satisfaction. Basically, when a student enjoys a task, learning feels less like work and more like fun. Intrinsic motivation differs from the extrinsic goals that are traditionally associated with school (grades) and with work (paychecks).

According to Cathy Davidson, badges "recognize competencies, skills, training, collaborative abilities, character, personal contribution, participatory energy, leadership and motivational skills, and other so-called 'hard' and 'soft' individual and cooperative talents." The teacher's role is to scaffold knowledge and skills as the student progresses through the content. The difficulty for acquiring Common Core badges should increase, or level up, as skills build up. The boss level badge represents mastery of a Core Content skill. Students who earn boss level badges should perform well on CCSS benchmarks and state tests, such as the PARCC Assessment and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). A Common Core badge system can also bring fun to the process of learning and mastering new skills.

Matthew Farber

Social studies teacher & educational technology adjunct pursuing an Ed.D. Look for his book, "Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning," coming this fall from Peter Lang Publishing.
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Comments (6)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Savio Rebelo's picture

Great article because it throws light on something that no one really wants to talk about.

Joe Dillon's picture

I question how a CCSS badge system "can bring fun to the process of learning." Game-based learning might change the dynamics of the classroom, but badging systems where a teacher issues badges based on embedded assessments only reinforce the teacher as the authority and issuer. What's fun, new or interesting about that?

The Davidson article you cite expresses optimism about peer-driven badging systems. This teacher-centered system promises change while reinforcing traditional roles in the classroom.

Some of the most intriguing ideas about badges and assessment incorporate student self-assessment or badging opportunities that provide students access to experts outside the classroom. Systems that reinforce the authoritative role of a teacher in the classroom stand in the way of more authentic forms of assessment.

Matthew Farber's picture
Matthew Farber
Social studies teacher & educational technology adjunct pursuing an Ed.D. Look for his book, "Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning," coming this fall from Peter Lang Publishing.
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A badge system that acknowledges CCSS skills is always going to be as effective as the teacher who is planning the activities and issuing the badges. Incorporating peer badges can certainly fit the model.

Anil Kuncham's picture

Badges promote collaboration. In an online learning community, what motivates students is the competitiveness between the peers and the rewards they by participating in the competition. This is similar to gaming. When learning is gamified, students learning will be effective. When gamification and rewarding system is combined with collaborative learning then the rate of learning is high. In one of my projects, I took this approach and provided necessary infrastructure for the students to learn collaboratively with concepts of gaming like score, level ups, badges etc and later the students are rewarded based on their overall progress and contribution. This encouraged students to take up more such gaming events with an idea to learn and earn. Giving an option to share their awards across multiple social media platforms, overall social capital becomes high. So gamification of learning combined with collaboration and common core badge system can be more effective learning methodology. An application should strongly support dialogue based discussion, informal learning and life long learning to achieve learning through gamifying, rewarding and collaboration.

Jeffrey Joseph Isaac's picture

CCSS badge system motivates students to participate in the classroom activities. If there is no such badge system, there is no motivating factor for the students. When few students participate and get badges, it motivates the rest of the students. They too would like to contribute and earn badges. This brings in competitiveness and fun.
We need a moderator who can validate the contributions of students and appreciate valid answers by giving badges. Not everyone can do this. Teacher plays the role of the moderator here and it cannot be mentioned as authoritative.

You had mentioned that authoritative role of teacher stands in the way of more authentic forms of assessment. Every mode of assessment requires a person to frame a skills test and assess students. The teacher can also perform non-evaluative activities in class to motive students, enhance their learning and be a part of their skills development process. But still a teacher has to take the authoritative role to assess everyone's performance.

Niharika Bollapragada's picture

I totally agree with Anil. Gamification concepts applied on learning makes the learning interesting and innovative. Adding challenges by friends on a particular topic, rewarding if a peer is able to help another person on a doubt, and weekly challenges, and comparing it with peers will make it more interesting. Gamification can be made effective using reward system. These rewards motivate students to participate and compete in the gamification process of learning. The author discusses this in great detail. One other interesting point would be to share the rewards that a student attains across social media platforms to build his/her own social capital is a strong motivation factor. Such a socially sharable score will uplift the spirit of gaming and collaboration. Seeing the score shared, other students will tend to participate and beat the score. This itself is another deep gaming aspect by itself.

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