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,


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,


Year In Review: Lessons on Gamification

techedupteacherI’ve learned a lot after a year of working with fifth and sixth graders in our blended, gamified makerspace. Our makerspace, called The Innovation Lab, is built on four pillars: Comp Sci, Design & Engineering, Digital Arts, and Entrepreneurship. It also uses game-mechanics to help deliver content and engage students. I started the year with my gamification basics: Epic Meaning, Leaderboards, Achievements, and Item Shop system I’ve been developing for years. Then things changed.

Our Innovation Lab was a whirlwind of making all year. Students were motivated and engaged from start to finish. I learned a ton about designing and running a makerspace, but I also learned more than I thought I would about Gamification:

Lesson learned: Motivated students Don’t Need the “Basic” Gamification Techniques. For most of my career, I’ve taught reluctant learners. I came into the Innovation Lab with that mindset, but my kids were anything but reluctant. So, about halfway through the year, I got rid of the Leaderboards, Achievements, and Item Shop. Students didn’t need them. Our time could be better spent developing the more engaging and empowering aspects of Gamification.

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