Gamification: Achievements in the Fifth Grade Classroom

Teched Up Teacher

This summer, I worked with a teacher named Rachel to bring gamification to her class and it is going well, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s Rachel:

At the start of a new school year, the last thing a teacher wants to hear is that they have students in their class who are repeating the grade, especially if other teachers describe them as “difficult.” This year, I was one of those teachers.  I never had these students myself, but my colleagues did and I was already made well aware of what to expect from them. I was determined to help these students find success, but I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish that. 

Rewind to a year ago when I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Aviles. I saw him speak on gamification several times and instantly became intrigued in the ideas behind gamification and figuring out a way to make it work in my own classroom.

I have worked in a low-income district in south jersey for the last eight years.  At times it can become very challenging to motivate my students.  The idea of turning my own classroom into a video game seemed like a great way to engage the students and appeal to their interests at the same time; all of my students love games.  Playing math games was, and still is, the best part of class for my students.  I knew I had to find a way to make the concepts of gamification a fit for my own classroom.

With Chris’ help, I started to set up my own gamified classroom.  I got my own website! We setup the leaderboard, then made a list of Achievements specific to my classroom.  A whole list of Achievements that my students could unlock to earn Achievement Points (AP) in class.  We made an Item Shop where students could cash in their AP for various, non-tangible items. I couldn’t believe this part, a entire Item Shop with NON-TANGIBLE items!  To think of all the years and money I spent on tangible prizes, and now all their rewards were non-tangible items. The only thing left to do was meet my new students and unveil the new concepts of our gamified classroom.

I just finished the third week of my eighth year as a teacher and I can say that they have been the most rewarding weeks of teaching in my career.  It has been such a learning experience to tie in various concepts of gamification into my everyday classroom environment.  I have completely changed the way I run my classroom for the first time in eight years.  My classroom management has been the best it’s ever been and my students are thriving.  The concepts of gamification have helped to make my classroom a better environment for my students.  I have motivated, excited students in my class each day who are engaged and excited to be there.  The students are thrilled to earn their Achievement Points and are excelling with the healthy competition gamification creates between students and between my two classes as a whole.

The best part of this year so far is the success my students are having both academically and behaviorally within my classroom.  I think gamification works so well because it works for everyone. My students who do well in school are excelling, but so are my students who have struggled academically. I think its because my gamified system is not a system based just on grades.  It gives all the students a fair opportunity to experience success in so many ways.  Remember my two students who are repeating the grade? Well one of them is currently number one on the leaderboard!  Can you believe it! Number one out of all 54 of my students! You can see his self-esteem rising and it is so rewarding to see him, for what I’m told is the first time in awhile, motivated to learn.  My other student, just earned an 88 on his first Epic quest likely because he was so focused on the learning thanks to gamification. I know that their success along with all 52 of my other students is due in large part to gamification.  I am still new to the concepts and I am learning more each day, but so 2016-09-26-11-35-30far what I can tell you is that I am amazed at the success it has already brought to my students in such a short period of time. I am excited to see what the rest of the year has in store!  

One of the reasons I’m excited about Rachel’s class is because she is running her Achievement system without technology. Her Achievement system is done on paper. I always thought this would be a neat way to do tech-less Gamification, but never had the opportunity to try. I have a theory that elementary school students (and maybe all students) would enjoy being handed an Achievement as opposed to earning digital Achievements. According to Rachel, I’m right. Her kids are going wild for the system. Here’s how it works: 

We made sure we stuck to the Achievement best practices:

  1. Achievements must be visible to the whole class.
  2. Achievements must be designed so students know why they earned them.
  3. Achievements must be given out as close to the action they reward as possible
  4. Achievements must not be given as a reward for getting good grades.

When a student unlocks an Achievement, Rachel gives them a paper, baseball-card-sized Achievement. Students take the Achievement and put it in their sheet protector. We strung some twine through the holes on the sheet protector so students can hang them on the back of their chairs. When it comes time to purchase something from the Item Shop, students hand the Achievements back in to pay for their Item. Rachel can then reuse the Achievements.

Outside of Schoology, I haven’t found a good way to hand out digital Achievements. So while it’s a little more work to cutout and handout the Achievements, it’s working for her and her kids. Next, Rachel and I are going to move into Stage 2: Leveling Up Instructional Design.

Until Next Time,

GLHF