How To Introduce Gamification (or anything new, really)

Introducing change like a new idea, routine, or workflow to anyone can be difficult. Introducing gamification to students is no different. I remember when I started gamifying seven-ish years ago, introducing gamification was actually harder than creating my gamification system. I made a lot of mistakes when I first introduced gamification. Since then, I’ve learned a lot of best practices for introducing gamification (or anything new, really) to students.

  1. For some, change follows the grief cycle – Not everyone has a problem with change. Many students have no problem adapting to something new, especially if they see it as fun. Those who don’t adapt well, however, tend to push back. And that push back follows the grief cycle. The most important thing to understand here, other than the types of push back to expect, is that you must stay the course. If you implement a change like gamification, don’t go back on it. You can tweak it, modify it, improve upon it, and add/remove parts, but don’t abandon it; persist and pivot is the name of the game. You will be doing yourself a disservice and will miss out on the opportunity to model for students how ideas start out as ugly babies but grow into something beautiful with effort and persistence. It also helps to give students a voice in any process. Allowing students to suggest Achievements and Items for the Item Shop can go along way in moving students through the cycle quickly.

Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle

2. Mollify loss aversion – You can cut down on push back by avoiding loss aversion. Loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. This means that someone will be more upset if you give them something then take it away than if you never give them anything at all. Losing $100 hurts more if I get to hold it first. In terms of change, loss aversion can be avoided by starting gamification or new ideas at the start of the year. Students can’t get upset about a change in routine if gamification is part of the routine from the beginning. If you can’t start at the beginning of the year, start at an obvious checkpoint. Beginning of marking periods, units, or after breaks is a great time to jump into something new. But don’t preface it!

3. Onboard new ideas – Back when I taught high school, I taught public speaking. In PS, I use to do a unit on stand-up comedy. In that unit I warned students to never preface a joke; don’t tell people how funny a joke is gonna be with phrases such as: “You guys will love this joke.” Just tell the joke. In the same vein, when you are introducing something new, don’t hype it up before break. Don’t hype up the change at all.

I’ve never had a good experience when I told students that when they got back from Christmas break, we are going to do something awesome or different. I think that is because the line between excitement and anxiety is thin. Instead, onboard students. Onboarding, like loss aversion, is another game-mechanic we can use to smoothly implement change. Onboarding is the act of integrating people with new ideas. Ever notice the two main ways a video game onboards players?:

1. The video game only tells you what you need to know when you need to know it. You don’t learn about a new spell you’ll receive at level 75 when you first start the game. You learn how to swing your wooden sword at a rats in the sewer.

2. Great games never break the narrative to tell you how to swing the wooden sword. Learning how to play a video game, the actual mechanics of play, are told through the story, as part of the story. Not as some separate event. When you leave your house in a game, someone on the street may stop you and ask you to help them by going into the sewer to kills rats. This is how mechanics are introduced. As part of the narrative.

These two points are vital in introducing new ideas. The first part of my gamification system I introduce students to are Quests and experience points (XP) because they are the first thing students need to understand. They are the foundational game-mechanics on which the system is built. I introduce this as part of class, in context. “Congrats class, you’ve complete your first Quest and earned 50xp” is all it takes to introduce this idea. Any confusion is cleared up by re-framing the same statement: “Yep, 50xp for the Quests you guys just completed. Way to work hard.” The hive mind of the class is able to put together what Quests are and what XP is. After that, I introduce them to the leaderboards, achievements, and Item Shop when the time is right. Don’t be in a rush to explain the whole system, especially if it’s complicated. This timing also goes a long way in preserving excitement and engagement. The kids never know what’s coming next.

4. Let them play – Any time you introduce a new idea or technology to anyone, let them play with it. Structured and unstructured play are valuable learning techniques. When students first see leaderboards, I give them a 1/2 hour or so to check them out and talk about them. When I introduced Flip Grid, I let students play and make funny videos before asking them to reflect. Do not expect someone to use, perform, or work with something new at the same time you introduce it. Build in time for play. Play helps students feel part of the change rather than feeling that the change is something happening to them.

5. Share success stories – Whenever possible, highlight success stories in your gamified class. If someone hit an new level or earned a new achievement, tell the class about it. If a student has created something awesome with the new edtech you introduced, let them share it. The more success stories you can show, the more students will be able to imagine themselves being successful. Success breeds success.

6. Allow for diverse feedback – Give students a diverse, productive way to voice what they like, what they don’t like, and what they would like to change or add to your class. I don’t always make this feedback anonymous, as anonymity sometimes skews the truth, but I do usually use Google Forms or Office Hours. Students have also left me notes or made me videos. If you let students know you are open to feedback, you’ll be surprised at how they deliver it to you. I once had a student redesign a site I made because he didn’t like it! Differentiate your methods of feedback and you will find the hidden gems of wisdom that your students have for your class. Approach this wisdom with the understanding that students can, and do, come up with great ideas that you should implement into your class.

These are just some of the best practices I use when introducing gamification, or anything new, to students. Now that I run the Fair Haven Innovates program, a program where we are constantly pushing the educational envelope, I can tell you that these best practices work in a variety of contexts, not just gamification.

With that said, I wish you all a great start to your school year and look forward to sharing all of my brand new adventures in Fair Haven Innovates with you!

Until Next Time,


Evolving Our Makerspace: The Conclusion

For those of you who haven’t been following along with my last few posts, our fifth and sixth grade student-run business, FH Gizmos, landed a manufacturing contract with Slack. Slack tasked us with making 50 desk toys for employees to use in their new education center. To read an indepth account of our experience check out this awesome article from a local paper, Red Bank Green.

For those of you that have been following along, we did it! This past week, the last week of school, we received the first of fifty S-shaped fidget spinners!

The year ended with a bang. We were featured in a host of local papers for our work with Slack, which caught the attention of the regional buyer of Barnes & Noble who said she was interested in working with us. We also finished the year working with Mrs. Daverso, Phlebotomy Supervisor for Riverview Hospital. She taught students about the phlebotomy process as we tried to make the blood drawing experience better for children. Barnes & Noble and Mrs. Daverso will be back in in September to continue our work together. The future’s looking bright!

Finished S-shaped fidget spinner for Slack (plugs not included, yet)

Further, as we end the year on these high notes, I have a much clearer idea on the final evolution of our makerspace. After a lot of networking, calling in favors, and support from my board and Superintendent, we’ll be turning our makerspace into an amazing new program called Fair Haven Innovates.

Fair Haven InnovatesFair Haven Innovates is Fair Haven school district’s 21st century life, careers, and technology program. We use social entrepreneurship to help students learn the skills they’ll need to be successful when they grow up. Students sell products and solve problems as they run real businesses turning real profits. Students use a percentage of the profits to give back to their community through their student-run charity FH Gives. Below are our programs.

The Innovation Lab (4th and 5th grade): The Innovation Lab is where 4th and 5th graders learn the skills they’ll need to be successful in the world of tomorrow. Students are introduced to design thinking, engineering, computer science, and the digital arts as they learn to reframe failure as iteration and become the architects of their future. The Innovation Lab is the farm league for the rest of Fair Haven Innovates.

Mrs. Daverso walking students through the phlebotomy process.

FH Gizmos (6th Grade): will be a student-run startup that focuses on solving people’s tame problems and selling the solutions. We will start the year selling the custom fidget spinners we created. Since we were successful designing for Slack, we think we can pitch other big companies to work with us. In all, FH Gizmos made close to $3,000 this year. We hope to 10x that next year!

FH Grows (7th Grade): is where students learn to be stewards of the environment as they use innovative gardening techniques and the Internet of Things to grow and monitor (with Cayenne) vegetables as well as sell dried herbs and spices. Key partnerships will allow for the constant support of the students and program through the Rutgers Master Gardeners, an executive chef to cook with students through the school year, and the ability to have student-run Farmers Markets at both of our schools because after talking with our awesome elementary school principal, Mrs. Cuddihy, we see a lot of potential for my 7th graders to work with her 3rd graders in a project we’re calling FH Cares. Further, FH Grows will embrace NJ’s Farm to School initiative with the help of the Dept. of Agriculture. There is also the possibility of introducing students to incubation (businesses, not chickens) and the opportunity to learn about venture capitalism thanks to our partnership with Real World Scholars, but this part is in the early planning stage.

The picture team taking shots for future marketing campaigns.

FH Leads (8th grade): FH Leads is a consulting firm where students team up with local businesses to solve their real world business challenges. We currently have 25 businesses on board as well as Riverview hospital. Students will be able to do site visits, surveys, interviews, and conduct experiments to help business owners solve their challenges while also learning about potential careers.   

FH Gives25% of all profits from FH Gizmos, FH Grows, and FH Leads will be donated to our student-run charity FH Gives. FH Gives is currently set to run a pet adoption with the Monmouth County SPCA in November. The idea that students will be running a charity instead of giving to charity is an important part of this program that I will talk more about soon.

Thank you for taking this ride with me as I try to find new ways to introduce my students to the things that matter and evolve my makerspace into a district wide program with the hopes of inspiring other educators and changing the world.

Until Next Time,

GLHF and see you at ISTE


What Learning Management Systems Are Still Missing

I only have a few classes left before I wrap up my master’s degree. I’ve enjoyed Boise’s master’s degree program, but one thing I won’t miss is Blackboard. Blackboard, the ubiquitous, bland “course management system,” was used in all but one of my master’s classes. My one class that didn’t use Blackboard was a new class taught by Chris Haskell about Quest-Based Learning (QBL). The QBL class was taught totally on Slack. I appreciate Dr. Haskell pushing us onto a new platform that focused on collaboration over content management because it made me realize what’s missing in Learning Management Systems (LMSs).

What is missing from LMSs are useful, asynchronous collaboration and communication tools. No LMS has nailed this aspect of learning yet. It seems like most of these LMSs understand how important collaboration is, but have settled on the comment board being the best it can come up with. Few have communication tools. We need better.

My rekindled search for a collaboration and communication-focused LMS or similar tools that work well with an LMS has been brought on by my evolving makerspace. I’ve been looking for tools to use with my students in my blended Innovation Lab that allow them to knock down the walls of the classroom.

I need a way for students to keep each other updated, share files, and collaborate on job statuses on a day-to-day basis in a way that I’m just not getting in LMSs. Next year, as I take our Fair Haven Innovates initiative into 4th through 8th grade, I’m looking for a way to allow students to tell their peers what they have been working on and what jobs are left to do because I see students one day a week for an hour. In that hour, jobs need to be done. These jobs, such as building our Raspberry Pi weather station, often take longer than an hour. I want a way for my students on Friday to tell my students on Monday what they’ve done and what is left to do. I don’t want to wait a week to have the project resumed, nor do I want to deny other groups the ability to work on these big projects because another group has started them. I want them to be able to transfer videos, pictures, or files throughout the week to better illustrate talking points and next steps so other groups can pickup where they left off. I want to get to a place where working with students in other classrooms on big, meaningful projects is as easy as working with someone in your class sitting next to you.

Another example: In FH Grows, our 7th grade class where gardening meets the Internet of Things, I’m want a way for groups to let other groups know what they’ve done in our garden. I’m hoping the kids will be able to communicate when a watering, weeding, or harvesting last occurred and when it should be done again. To do this right now, I have to use a combination of technology or track a host of Post-It notes neither of which I want to do.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great LMSs out there. I’ve used Schoology for years, but they don’t have the collaboration tools I’m looking for. Schoology does have an app called Backchannel Chat that I really enjoy using, but it doesn’t have the communication piece I’m looking for. Google Classroom has the Stream, which can often be more of a headache than a help when it comes to collaboration. My students use Google Docs, rather than the Stream, to collaborate.

I’m looking for a jobs board like Trello, meets asynchronous communication like Slack, meets a Learning Management System. I want something designed specifically for students that helps them manage serious project-based learning assignments. My most promising piece of tech looks to be Flipgrid. Flipgrid is intended for teacher-to-student reflection and peer-to-peer responses, but I’m wondering if I can use it like a video answering machine. A group leaves a video message for another group, they respond, and the thread goes back and forth.

While I know I’ll figure out a process to let students communicate and collaborate between classes before next year, I wish better tools would be integrated into LMSs so we can have a blended learning and collaborating take place under one roof.


1 2 3 18