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,


Gamification in the 5th Grade Classroom: The Conclusion


If you haven’t been following along with my series on gamification in the 5th grade classroom, you’ve been missing out. This year, Rachel Cheafsky and I have worked hard to implement a version of my gamification system that meets the needs of her classroom: one where she did not have ready access to a lot of technology. Rachel had a great year and agreed to come back and tell us how things wrapped up. Check it out:

The 2016-2017 school year has officially come to a close, which, for me, means I have officially cleared my first level as a first time teacher in a fully gamified classroom.  It was my eighth year in the classroom and it completely shifted my mindset. Here’s why:

After seeing Chris Aviles present on gamification about a year and a half ago, I knew I had to take all his great ideas and find a way to use them in my own 5th grade classroom.  This past September, I did just that. I started by setting up my own website. This alone was a game changer.  In one place, I was able to put all of my contact information, resources, social media, and links for students that was updated and utilized throughout the year.  My website also housed all the main components attached to the gamification system I had in place.  The class and team leaderboards, Item Shop, and achievements were all also located within my website.

Before I can continue, though, I need to give you a little background information on how I used gamification within my 5th grade classroom. The students had the opportunity to earn Experience Points (XP) and Achievement Points (AP) all throughout the school year.  XP was earned through their graded assignments and AP was earned when students completed heroic deeds or displayed heroic traits. For example, one way to earn AP was by completing your Side Quest (our cool name for homework). There are a lot of ways to earn AP and some new ideas were added as the year progressed. Here are some of my favorites:

Student Achievements were kept in baseball card holders and hung from their chairs!

Tribute: This achievement card was earned if the student selected for Tribute, by a random name generator, was prepared with the item I asked for.  For example, if we were using composition books that day, I would randomly select a students name and if they had the item, they earned 10 AP for everyone in the class.

Side Quest: The students earned this card for completing their side quest (homework). If everyone completed their side quest, the whole class earned 50 AP. Students worked hard to not let their peers down. I definitely saw an increase in how often they did homework.

The Chosen One: This card was earned by the student whose homework we used to go over the side quest as a class.  It was selected by a random generator and they could either decide to be the chosen one or pass it on to the next person.

That Insta-Life: This achievement was definitely a crowd pleaser!  I started my very own class Instagram account this year and highlighted students throughout the year.  If they made it onto the Instagram for being awesome, they received this achievement card along with 25 AP!

Task Master:  This card was created half-way through the year by the students themselves! One day, my class was all on task working so well.  The volume was appropriate and everyone was doing what they needed to.  I complimented the class and praised them on their behavior.  One student said, “This should be an achievement,” and right there on the spot it was unlocked, Task Master!  A chart was kept on the board each day as well as two sticky notes were placed under each period.  At the end of each class I would reveal the name of the student and if that student was on task for the period, they earned two tally marks for the class in a class vs. class competition. At the end of the week, the class with the most tally marks won Task Master for the week along with 50ap. Talk about accountability! Now the students who had difficulty staying on task were trying harder because they wanted to earn Task Master and they definitely did not want to let their peers down.

All of the students were given a baseball card holder and this is what they used to house all of the cards they earned from their achievement points.  They loved being able to see the tangible cards they were earning and collecting on a daily basis.  I kept totals on their XP and AP points and updated the leader boards every 2 weeks.  The leaderboards were a hit, as the students were able to create learner tags and check out their progress vs the rest of the students in both classes whenever they liked!

Another game changer was just changing the names of everyday classroom items.  For example, homework is now called a Side Quest.  Quizzes are much better when you call them Heroic Quests and Tests now are known as Epic Quests.  Changing the names of these regular assignments changed the way the students thought about them and motivated them to complete them and do better.

I think my favorite thing about gamifying my classroom was that it was always able to be changed or improved upon.  When a student did something amazing, I could recognize this achievement by making it an official achievement in our class.  For example, in 5th grade the students at my school get lockers for the first time.  It is very difficult for them to unlock the combination lockers.  This can take weeks of practice.  The first time one of my students did it on their own, I immediately announced that a secret achievement had been unlocked.  The excitement of a secret achievement being unlocked was like Christmas morning to my kids.  This achievement, Locker Expert, was game changing.  My classes worked harder, practiced more, and learned faster than most of the other 5th graders because they all wanted the Locker Expert card worth 200 AP!

My Task Master chart with student names hidden under the Post-Its.

Chris’ gamification system also tied in with many other systems I already had functioning within my classroom.  For example, I have a Jobs system within my room.  The students apply for classroom jobs on a monthly basis and then students are selected for hire each month.  In the past, I would pay them with fake money which they would then use in a classroom store with tangible items.  This was no more, thanks to gamification.  Now, the students were paid for the jobs in AP.  The students could use their AP at any time by shopping the item shop listed within my website.

The best part of the Item Shop was that all of the items were non-tangible which increased extrinsic motivation. The Item Shop, initially made me nervous because I was used to providing my students with tangible items as rewards.  It always seemed to me that what they wanted was stuff!  They wanted toys, food, and supplies.  Chris convinced me that they didn’t need stuff and that I could come up with a list of items that were non-tangible that would be just as sought after. Boy was he right!  I still can’t believe he was right about that!  Some of the most popular items purchased from the Item Shop are as follows:

Purge:  This was hands down the most bought item all year.  This cost was 500 AP and it stole XP points away from the other class on the class vs. class leaderboard.  Since the leaderboards were updated bi-weekly, they would see the results of the class vs. class competition and immediately begin purging so their class could take the lead.  They loved it!

Music Pass:  This was the second most bought item.  This cost 400 AP and could be used to listen to music using headphones as they worked on a class assignment on the laptops.

Forgiveness:  This was the third most bought item.  This cost 400 AP and could be used to turn in an assignment late without being penalized for a late grade.

Remember, to earn these achievements, students had to complete heroic deeds or display heroic traits. They had to be awesome to earn these awesome items.

Looking back on the year, I am very happy with all of the ways I was able to use game-mechanics in my classroom.  While I definitely utilized many of the mechanics I set out to, there are still so many that I haven’t even touched.  There are many single player and guild achievements that I had originally listed on my site that I did not keep up with this year.  I definitely plan on utilizing more achievements next year, but overall I couldn’t be happier with the way my first year ended.  The students remained excited until the very last day when the winning class was announced for the year. Their award: the first class ever to be named and listed on the all-time-leader board!

Gamification has been on of the best tools I’ve added to my teacher tool belt.  I have peaked my student’s interests in ways I never imagined all while still teaching the curriculum and managing my everyday classroom routines.  Gamifying my class has improved my classroom culture beyond my wildest dreams.

Level 2, year 2, I am ready for you!

On behalf of Rachel: Until Next Time,


Gamification: Problem Solving in the Fifth Grade Classroom

You might recall that I’ve been working with Rachel Cheafsky to gamify her 5th grade classroom using the technology she has available to her. Well, Rachel has been killin’ it! Last time, she wrote about achievements in the fifth grade classroom. This time, Rachel wanted to check in and write about her latest gamification revelation!  Here’s Rachel:

I am a halfway into my first year using Chris’ gamification system.  It has been fantastic! The best part about it, besides how it has made the climate of my classroom more positive, is that new game mechanics can be brought into the class at any time. For instance, when I run into a problem in my class, I can create a new game mechanic to help build a solution that my kids love. For example, here’s how we helped students learn to better stay on task and self-monitor their volume using Task Master:

Throughout the day, I see two classes with 25 students each. Since gamifying my class, my kids are more motivated and engaged than ever. This is great, but sometimes that motivation and engagement can cause a bit too much excitement: the classroom volume can become way too loud. Additionally, even though students are more engaged, I still have students who need to be refocused and encouraged to complete their Quests (gamification isn’t a silver bullet). I wanted to use gamification to come up with a better, positive way to help kids self-monitor their volume and better stay on task.  

Two weeks ago, I was monitoring my much louder class’ independent work. Students were working hard, on task, and talking at reasonable volume. Everyone was following expectations. It was a perfect! I knew I had to build on this moment and unleash a secret achievement. I stopped my kids and said,  “the class has unlocked a secret achievement!” My kids love to unlock secret achievements because they can earn AP for trying new things and thinking outside the box. I love secret achievements because it lets me use positive reinforcement to solve problems. It’s fun watching students use divergent thinking each day in an effort to discover these secret achievements. I let the kids know how impressed I was with the way the entire class was working. As a class, I asked them what we should call the secret achievement for when the class is working hard and focused. They decided to call it Task Master.

Chris always says that achievements have to be concrete to be fair. You can’t reward a kid for helping because helping isn’t measurable, but you can reward a kid for performing the actions that helping requires. So what does Task Master look like and what is the concrete criteria for it to be earned?

Chris and I had planned the idea for Task Master last month. Task Master is a new event that is played all week and is won by one class every Friday (Chris says: I’ll be talking about events in the second part of The Gamification Guide, which is 75% done!). I created a chart called Task Master and hung it up in the front of the room. One half of the chart is for my first period class’ points and the other half is for my second period class’ points. The first way for the class to win Task Master points is for the secret student to be on task:

Period 2’s secret student was on task!

Before my kids arrive, I put a sticky note on the board, upside down, with a student’s name on it.  At the end of class, I reveal the name on the sticky note and announce if that student was on task based on the criteria the students and I came up with. If they were, they earn their class two Task Master points! The accountability within this achievement is amazing because the students generally don’t want to let each other down. Students try remain on task in case they are the secret student for that particular period.

Let’s not forget about my other problem, volume! This is the other half of the Task Master event. During independent work, I load a volume sensing app Chris made for me on Scratch (Chris says: I remixed and modded an app on Scratch. You can find it here, if you’d like to use it). I plug in a microphone, set the sensitivity, and project the app onto the board. The app monitors the class’ noise level.  When they are too loud and it goes into the red, an alarm sounds.  When the alarm sounds, the opposing class earns one Task Master point. For example, if first period sets off the alarm three times, first period doesn’t lose points, but second period gets three Task Master points. We decided to award the opposing team points because it keeps the game engaging the entire period. If students only earned a point at the end of class for not setting off the alarm, as soon as they set off the sensor, the game wouldn’t matter anymore; there is no longer an incentive to keep their volume down. By giving the opposing team a point when their class it too loud makes Task Master always matter.

I’ve been using Task Master for two weeks and it has already changed my life!  The students are more on task and the volume already has gotten so much better.  They are taking ownership of their own behavior and even monitoring each other in a positive way since they’re all on the same team. The days of stressing over noise seems to be long gone! They are still excited by gamification, but now they are also excited to beat the other class and earn the Task Master achievement, worth 50ap, on Fridays.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

The beauty of achievements in my system is that they can reward kids for displaying heroic traits, completing heroic deeds, push kids out of their comfort zone, and, as in Rachel’s case, act as positive reinforcement for classroom management. Instead of using negative reinforcement, my achievements can be used to reward students each and every time they meet a teachers expectations encouraging the behavior to become habit. For example, like Rachel, I had a problem. I was sick of students doing Slides presentations. How many Slides can one teacher stand?! I pushed kids out of their comfort zone and solved this problem by creating the Outside the Slide achievement. Students could still do a Slide presentation, but if they gave a presentation that didn’t use Slides they earned the Outside the Slide achievement and the AP that comes with it! Soon, students were coming up with new, exciting ways to show me what they’ve learned. Thinking outside the slide became a habit and everyone was happier and more engaged by the new, creative presentations. Don’t be afraid to harness the power of achievements and gamification in your classroom!

Until Next Time,


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