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,


Applying Nudge Theory to the Classroom Part I

slide2If I weren’t an educator, I would want to be a behavioral scientist. I find the field to be fascinating. Knowing what makes people tick and why they do what they do has always interested me. One of my favorite concepts in behavioral science is nudge theory: the idea that instead of forcing people to do something they don’t want to do, we can gently nudge them into making better choices often just by changing the way we present the choices to them.

As I read books, research, and listen to podcasts about nudging, I always try to imagine what the nudges being discussed would look like in a school setting. For example, the research on nudging people toward making healthy eating choices is powerful. Simple things like putting healthier foods closer to the register or putting salad tongs in the salad bar over a spoon/fork grabbing combo increases the purchasing and consumption of healthy foods. Sandwiching unhealthy food choices between healthier choices on a menu leads to more people ordering healthier meals because people tend to focus on the first and last parts of things. Another cool example, a study conducted at an airport in Amsterdam found giving users something to aim at while using the urinals resulted in an “80% reduction in spills and overall greater cleanliness in the toilets.” Why wouldn’t we want all of our schools to be using nudges like this to improve the school experience and help students make better choices? 

I use(d) a bunch of nudges in my classroom and am always on the look out for more. Here are some nudges I’ve used to help my students and I to be the best that we can be.

Achievements – long time readers know I love Gamification. In my Gamification system, I use Achievements to nudge students into doing things I want them to do. For example, a student could unlock the Early Bird Achievement if they hand in their essay early. Students earn the Unity Achievement if everyone completes their Side Quest (homework). I gave out the Iron Bladder Achievement for students who didn’t go to the bathroom for an entire marking period. My favorite Achievement? Students can earn the Outside the Slide Achievement for giving a presentation that doesn’t involve Google Slides. This nudge had students coming up with all kinds of creative presentations they wouldn’t normally try if they weren’t given that little nudge. You can see more of my Achievements here on my old gamification site and in the Gamification Guide.

Audio Comments – not quite sure if this is a nudge, but using audio comments has helped me build better relationships with my students. When a kid gets an assignment back covered in red ink, all they see is how terrible they are, or, worse, use it as evidence to prove that you hate them. Using audio comments instead of red ink lets a student here the intonation, inflection, and positivity in your voice. They can hear you’re rooting for them.  The best and free way to give audio comments right now is Read and Write by Texthelp. It is free for teachers and students don’t have to have it installed to get the audio comments. It’s great.

What I do know is a nudge is the way I give them audio feedback. Using the same theory as the menu example from above, I say something positive, give them constructive criticism, then say something positive again.

Separating Tough Students From Their Audience – schools run on a reputation economy. If you challenge a tough kid in front of his or her peers, they will likely push back because they don’t want to lose social currency. Instead, I try to get a tough student away from their classmates and talk to them one-on-one. Tough kids quickly become more reasonable if you take away their audience.

The Power Of Expectations – teachers talk. Every year I knew which kid to watch out for before they even got to my classroom on the first day of school. When I heard I had a tough kid on my roster, I would stop them at the door on the first day and tell them how excited I was to have them in class. I tell them how highly his or her teachers had spoken about them. I keep this up throughout the year because people, especially kids, will live up to the reputation you give them. I choose to give every kid, even the tough ones, a great reputation to live up. They don’t often disappoint. Every kid needs someone to believe in them.

Positive Points Only – On an assignment, I use to put the amount of points a student got wrong on their paper, -25. Now, I put the amount of points a student got right, +75. A positive nudge like this lets students know they’re not all bad. Further, I’d love to see more teachers and schools adopt the video game inspired method of grading: instead of starting kids at 100 and putting them in a system where failure is the only options, why not mimic a video game and start them at 0. When you start a kid at 0, everything they do makes them more successful. Success breeds success. Instead of grading with negative numbers and starting kids at a 100 and losing points, use positive numbers and start them at a 0 and let them earn points.

Nudging often doesn’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of effort to deploy, but they can yield serious results. I encourage you to take the time to understand how and why people make choices and then find the best way to present these choices to them – learn to nudge. The UK and even our own government are getting into the nudge business. Schools should be too.

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