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,

GLHF

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,

GLHF

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

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