My Gamified Classroom

This year, I have created an Alternate Reality Game that uses Transmedia storytelling to gamify my classroom. As far as I know, this has never been done in school before, so I’m really excited!

I call this game TwentyTwenty, and creating it has been a lot of fun. Throughout this post, feel free to look at my TwenyTwenty game website, so you can see what I’m talking about as I try to explain the different parts of my gamified classroom.

If you’re unfamiliar with an ARG, think yearlong scavenger hunt driven by a storyline where my students are the main characters and they can have direct contact with the other NPCs in the game. Now, I have to be careful here because I’m sure my  students will find this site eventually, and I don’t want to spoil the storyline, but basically someone in the future is reaching out to my students for help through their work.

Since all my files are stored online, this future-person is accessing my Dropbox and Google Drive (from the future, obviously) and is hiding puzzles he/she wants my students to solve revealing information he/she wants them to act on so he/she, and the world, can be saved from their terrible future-fate. This future-person has to conceal this information in puzzles so it is not found by future-villain or his henchmen…. Again, I have to be vague, but hopefully that makes sense a least some sense.

As my students complete their work, they must always be on the lookout for these puzzles. They may be hidden in class work, homework, a PowerPoint, anywhere! I have sixty different puzzles so far, and they range from simple cryptograms to incredibly difficult, high-tech puzzles I doubt they’ll ever solve; I differentiated my puzzles! Often, once deciphered, these puzzles will send them to different places on the web. This is where Transmedia storytelling comes in. These websites, twitters, phone numbers, Google+ accounts, and much more, are fakes that I made for all of the characters in my game. Because while some are “alive” only in the future, some characters are “alive” now in 2013 and my students will be able to interact with them as the year progresses. First they will gain more background on the story’s world and characters, but then, as their epic quest becomes clear, they will have to make some hard decisions as they try to save the characters and the world.

Now obviously, I control these characters and their accounts and the flow of puzzles and information, so I can speed up, slow down, or change the story as I see fit. As it stands now, first marking period is the prologue. Second marking period is the rising action. Third features the climax and the falling action, and the fourth marking period will be the resolution. Toward the end of each marking period, a big group puzzle will need to be solved that will then require some tough choices be made. Since all hundred of my students are playing at the same time, and almost always get the same puzzles, I’ve setup a discussion area on Schoology where they can work together to solve puzzles and make decisions. I say almost always get the same puzzles because there are a few instances where I will be breaking up important information that students will need to move the story forward and will give different pieces to different groups. If a group doesn’t complete the work, the rest of the students will be missing a vital piece of the puzzle. I’m hoping this promotes positive peer pressure.

The work they’re doing during this game year is the same curriculum stuff I teach every year, from writing an introduction to my bff Edgar allan Poe, except now I call work “quests” and quests are now worth experience points, or XP, that range anywhere between 1000xp for big projects to 300xp for homework/discussions (I’ve updated by rubrics accordingly). Additionally, I’ve created over a hundred achievements (I like the word achievements better than badges) that students can unlock in my class. Some are work (quest) related, some are game related, and some are secret achievements I call Easter Eggs. You can check out my achievements on the TwentyTwenty site. I plan on distributing them using Schoology’s new badge system.

For every achievement they unlock, depending on the difficulty, students earn a certain amount of achievement points, or ap. With this ap, they can buy perks from the Item Shop. These perks focus on giving the students status, access, and/or power but not material rewards. This has been the hardest part for me so far. I refuse to give my students materialistic things like snacks or school supplies (though they can buy pens and paper when they forget it. If they wont buy it, I won’t give it to them. I see this more as a punishment than a reward.), and I will not give students perks that excuse them from assignments–no homework passes! You can check out the Item Shop on the game site to see what I’ve got so far. I would love some help, so if you have any other ideas, post them in the comments section.

Finally, I made an equation that takes a student’s xp and ap and converts it to their level. To further increase engagement, I made a leaderboard where students can look up their learner tag (a nickname they choose) and see how they rank against their peers. In the leaderboard section, you will see a Google Sheet that ranks kids by level and xp, as well as xp in Guild vs. Guild (learning groups of three they will pick in September) and by xp in class vs. class. That’s four layers of competition in my class that I hope will motivate students!

There you have it! I think anyone who is interested in gamifying their classroom should do something similar to what I’ve done. Create an epic story that also gives students a reason to complete their work. Create a leaderboard to promote positive competition between individuals, groups, and classes. Create achievements that promote positive habits and work ethic, but also set goals and reward not just success, but successful failure. Have these achievements translate into a class currency that students can use to buy meaningful perks, but keep this currency separate from your grading points (xp) so you can combine the two to make levels. Take all of this and make a place where your students can go to get all this information, and I think you will have yourself an exciting, engaging classroom.

Good luck and have fun!

13 comments

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  • Oh yeah if you wanted to see my gamified graphid design class website it is:
    http://www.creativecrusade.com

  • Impressive quests you have compiled. A handful of teachers including myself are working with some students in California to create a Plugin for a WordPress site that will apply most of the functionality it appears you are doing manually. I think you would love it.
    Please feel free to come check it out. We have a massive discussion Thread going on Adobe Education Exchange. You need an account but the resource is AWESOME. Here is the link to our forum for the Game On: Gamified Curriculum Delivery System. Oh yeah its all free as well. Hope to see anyone interested there. We love question and want to get more teachers involved with it.

    http://edex.adobe.com/resource/a92843/

  • Would it be possible to set up a Group in Schoology for teachers only so we can discuss more specifics about your gamification, as well as to bounce ideas off each other? By doing that, all spoilers or details the students don’t need to know can be kept secret,

  • Chris Aviles

    @Bruce – Sure! Maybe we can setup a Google hangout or Skype session. Let me know what you think!

  • Bruce Rhodewalt

    This is brilliant. I also have questions. I can email them, but I suspect others would be interested. Would you have time for some kind of online chat?

    Thanks!

  • Chris Aviles

    @ Chase – Sure! Shoot me an e-mail with your questions, or maybe we can Skype.

    @Kent – Thanks for checking out my site! I can’t stand the way school is; it needs to change. One day, I hope to travel the country and hold workshops that help teachers and districts move into the twenty-first century and get kids excited about education in a world that constantly tells them being smart isn’t important.

  • This is something I have thought about doing for a long time but never completely visualized how I would do it. You have a great plan and your students will absolutely love this. I hope to follow you this year and see how things go. Thanks for sharing !

  • I am now so intrigued by this. I’ve seen others use the storyline plot for ARG like you, but the Transmedia storytelling really has me intrigued. Would you be able to tell me a little bit more outside of the comments (to conceal the storyline from students) and any other hints. I’m really intrigued by what you’ve done and would love to know more about it!

  • Carrie Shanahan

    Thanks for thinking out loud for us on this, Chris. I will look forward to hearing how it goes!

    Was there any research you came across as you prepared this that you found helpful? I’m researching gaming…thanks!

    • Chris Aviles

      I did a lot of research through the lens of “Why shouldn’t I gamify my classroom?”. I really did look hard for research that would convince me not to waste my time, but the most negative study I found said that gamifying a classroom made no difference in student performance. I figured if that was the worst science has to say, and most other studies were positive, I should give it a try.

      What really sold me was when I looked at gamification from a consumer perspective. I read some research about what companies are doing to hook people into buying their product and what new ways video game companies have come up with to keep players logging in, and I was blown away at how well companies are retaining and engaging their customers.

      I really think there is something to gamification.

      Edit: I have a bottled drink in front of me that has a number line on it. If i drink half the bottle, it says “I can say goodbye to free radicals.” If i drink the whole bottle, I’m a “Super Fruit Master.” See, gamification is everywhere!

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