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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

In early September, my sixth grade social studies students began playing the SimCityEDU beta. Around the same time, my seventh graders began playing a non-digital debate game -- complete with teams, a point system and a leaderboard. All of my students are rewarded for their growth and accomplishments with a digital badge system. After one month, I find that my students remain highly engaged in their learning. Gamifying my classroom has truly been transformative!

Non-Digital Games

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Institute of Play in New York City. The Institute mashes up game designers and teachers to "gamify" projects and lessons. One major takeaway I learned was how to use games for delivering instructional content.

Most of the games designed by the Institute of Play's Mission Lab are non-digital -- these games often involve cards, dice and/or gameboards. As part of the Institute of Play's Teacher Advisory Council, playfully known as the Octopus Pilots, I had the opportunity to "playtest" an "energetic discussion-based humanities game" called Socratic Smackdown. It was designed by Mission Lab, at Quest to Learn, in collaboration with Quest to Learn teacher Rebecca Grodner.

In Socratic Smackdown, students discuss content as gameplay. As the year progresses, we plan to play regularly, sometimes on the fly. Lately, students arrive to class asking, "Are we playing Socratic Smackdown today?" I look forward to asking students for ideas on how to mod (modify) the experience by adding multiple rounds or changing the timer settings.

Socratic Smackdown and Absolute Blast, a card-based math game, are due for release later this fall. Mission Lab expects to publish more games as well.

SimCityEDU

My students took part in the SimCityEDU pilot, from the Institute of Play's GlassLab. One of GlassLab's goals is to take content from "off-the-shelf" video games, which are frequently better designed than typical "drill and kill" educational games, and create lessons and assessments to drive learning. Many complex games have missions and levels that lend themselves to classroom learning. While I couldn't see students playing hours of Assassin’s Creed 3 in school, I could see some missions getting parsed out for teaching about the American Revolution. For example, "The Midnight Ride" mission (shown in the video below) lets players join Paul Revere's famous ride. GlassLabs designed SimCityEDU in conjunction with ETS, Pearson and Electronic Arts (EA), the producer of the original SimCity.

SimCityEDU is to be a series of games, with SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! as the first release. The game, which is focused on science standards, happened to fit the theme of community building in my social studies class. The goal of Pollution Challenge!, according to GlassLab, is for students to "play the role of mayor, [doing] the challenging work of addressing environmental impact while maintaining employment levels and citizen happiness." My students learned the mechanics quickly and improved as they "leveled up" in the challenges.

The beta version of Pollution Challenge! had a built-in leaderboard that aggregated student performance (points and badges). As a result, my students replayed missions to improve their learning. The final boss level had students apply all that they learned to overcome the hardest challenge.

Each mission ended with writing prompts and systems thinking tasks, which were essentially interactive, "mind map" activities. SimCityEDU's systems mapping tool included informational text and helped students reflect on how the game's mechanics related to their decision-making process.

The version of SimCityEDU we piloted was a beta version and did not have the full and final feature set that's anticipated for the general release in November. The launch will have that full set of features, including a teacher dashboard.

Badges, Feedback and Iteration

The first week of school, my students created an account on our virtual classroom's digital badge website. Badges are not used as grades, but rather as a "check along the way." There is an element of fun in badging. This system is designed to award intrinsic accomplishments and is not the focal part of the learning experience. My students helped develop some badges, including the "Proofreader Badge" for catching mistakes in handouts or websites, and the "Outside the Box Thinker Badge" for creative responses. Badges level up in difficulty to earn, from "Noob" to "Master." One student suggested a project where they get to design a series of badges that a historical figure would have won.

Feedback is an integral part of game-based learning. It provides my students with a chance on reflect on their learning. Conversely, their answers help me improve their learning experience.

I also had unintended success by posting leaderboards with total earned scores -- there was a spike in iteration with students redoing work so that they could do it better. Games enable my students to discover different ways of solving problems, which is more like life and less like standardized tests. For non-digital games like Socratic Smackdown, I use whiteboards to display individual and team scores. My next step is to "gamify" existing activities and team-based projects.

For more information, the Institute of Play recently published a free, downloadable Q Games & Learning Design Pack to help teachers gamify student learning.

Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Matthew Farber's picture
Matthew Farber
Social studies teacher & educational technology adjunct pursuing an Ed.D.
Blogger 2014

My badge system has been a work-in-progress. I explained it to students: I am the issuer, they are the earner, and ClassBadges is the displayer (there are many alternatives). It's important to emphasize that badges aren't grades. They should have a spirit of fun and be given an any particular moment a student does something, like give a creative answer or help a classmate. Students also suggest badge ideas. As with video games, badges are a fun and social feature, but not the focus of the game itself. Have fun with it! :)

Angela Wilson's picture
Angela Wilson
Instructional Designer at Lewis-Clark State College

I wrote a paper about gamification of learning in my master's program and would have loved to include such an excellent example of successful gamification in a classroom! I love the idea of the badge system, and of students developing badges for the historical figures they're studying. What a great way for them to synthesize their learning in a context they find interesting. In a lot of the research I read for my paper, people reported a similar phenomenon that you reported with students striving to improve their work to improve their ratings on the leader boards. Some researchers suggested that using leader boards might foster negative student competition, but as you witnessed, I think kids look at it as a personal challenge to be the best, and not so much "I want to be the best because I want to be better than a certain other kid in my class." And even so, a little friendly competition that results in positive academic gain is good in my book!

Matthew Farber's picture
Matthew Farber
Social studies teacher & educational technology adjunct pursuing an Ed.D.
Blogger 2014

That's great! I think the key to leader boards is stressing that points are not grades, but rather intrinsic motivators. +1 for you! :)

[quote]I wrote a paper about gamification of learning in my master's program and would have loved to include such an excellent example of successful gamification in a classroom! I love the idea of the badge system, and of students developing badges for the historical figures they're studying. What a great way for them to synthesize their learning in a context they find interesting. In a lot of the research I read for my paper, people reported a similar phenomenon that you reported with students striving to improve their work to improve their ratings on the leader boards. Some researchers suggested that using leader boards might foster negative student competition, but as you witnessed, I think kids look at it as a personal challenge to be the best, and not so much "I want to be the best because I want to be better than a certain other kid in my class." And even so, a little friendly competition that results in positive academic gain is good in my book![/quote][quote]I wrote a paper about gamification of learning in my master's program and would have loved to include such an excellent example of successful gamification in a classroom! I love the idea of the badge system, and of students developing badges for the historical figures they're studying. What a great way for them to synthesize their learning in a context they find interesting. In a lot of the research I read for my paper, people reported a similar phenomenon that you reported with students striving to improve their work to improve their ratings on the leader boards. Some researchers suggested that using leader boards might foster negative student competition, but as you witnessed, I think kids look at it as a personal challenge to be the best, and not so much "I want to be the best because I want to be better than a certain other kid in my class." And even so, a little friendly competition that results in positive academic gain is good in my book![/quote]

Maree Stewart's picture

I love the phrase Gamification! Perhaps it is well known, but it is new terminology to me. I am really in awe of how you have managed to incorporate gamification into your classroom and can only think how much more engaged I would have been in my lessons (many years ago) if the learning had been gamified. What amazing times we live in!

One of my roles at work involves training my coworkers in the various kinds of software we use and this has really peaked my interest in gamification. I can see how training adults would be different to teaching children, for example, I can't ask my staff to take a break from their work to play Assassins Creed for a few hours. But, some of the techniques you have used to gamify your classroom are absolutely transferable to adults in the workplace. For instance, I love the idea of creating a digital badge website and a leader board. People are just as competitive at any age and I could really see this motivating my staff group.

Thankyou for sharing your experience, it has given me something to think about and follow up on. I am currently studying an undergraduate degree in Internet Communications and Business Information Systems, mostly because I see a huge gap between the functionality of our core business systems and the technical skills of the staff required to use them. Gamification would be such an engaging and effective way to achieve this goal!

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Community Manager at Edutopia
Facilitator 2014
Staff

Hi Maree, you might find it useful to check out the #seriousPLAY hashtag on Twitter. It's what people used to live tweet the Serious Play conference earlier this year. There are also some resources on the conference site:

http://www.seriousplayconference.com/

John Edelson's picture
John Edelson
Founder of VocabularySpellingCity.com and Science4Us.com

Gamify! Sounds like a magic spell. And it works like one too.

Having gone platinum as a game producer and now with nearly a decade in educational games, I have enormous respect for "curriculum" that actually covers a body of knowledge, which is hard to do in a game. But, there are ways to use the elements that make games so engaging, in educational product design. Here's some game elements that can be broadly used:
- badges for mastery of educational material (which need to be refreshed helping to drive lessons into long-term memory)
- immediate feedback. There's nothing less motivating that doing some activity, turning it in, and having it graded weeks later. Immediate feedback is magic!
- value-added feedback. This is both adding sound effects ( applause, groans etc) and some scaffolding to guide them.

Here's a simple game that can be used to build vocabulary skills but which adds in many game elements. This is an unusual game in that it's great for whole class efforts with students taking turns. Particularly at elementary school level:
http://www.spellingcity.com/wordorama.html

John Edelson's picture
John Edelson
Founder of VocabularySpellingCity.com and Science4Us.com

I've thought a lot about leader boards, intrinsic motivation, and skill building. Academics keep raising the question that if we pay the kids to read or build leader boards or use other extrinsic motivators, we are depriving or at least distracting the students from the intrinsic motivator of desire to read or learn for it's own sake.

Is there any literature which talks about how the skills built in sports or video games are any less valuable if they were built to win, not for their own sake?

Jessica's picture

Matthew, I really enjoyed reading this as a future ESL teacher I look foward to "gamifying" activities for my students to help with the learning process.

Andy XU RUNYUN's picture
Andy XU RUNYUN
From Shanghai, China. A volunteer in Walnut Valley Unified School District.

"Gamifying the process of academic studies" seems a rather interesting idea to us educators these days somehow. However, it will never be easy for us to implement since we have to be relaxed person ourselves. By the way, how effectively will "The Badge System" work? Will it be useful for students to gain experimental experiences, apart from text books??

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