Flexibility in the Gamified Classroom


Usually, I try to write something for this site every two weeks, but you may have noticed a month or more passing between posts lately. It turns out my last semester of grad school was a doozy, but I’m happy to report I’m done with school now and will be back to posting more often… soon. I say soon because I’ve been receiving quite a few emails asking how Rachel Cheafsky’s gamification journey was going, so I asked her to give us an update.

If you’ve read my last few gamification posts, you’ll know that I don’t do much Stage 1 gamification anymore. The Fair Haven Innovates program I’ve created focuses more on Stage 2 – Gamifying the Curriculum and Stage 3 – The Classroom Experience. Luckily, I get to live vicariously through Rachel, as we work closely together to try new techniques to enhance Stage 1 – Motivating the Player of my gamification system. Below Rachel talks about motivating new players in a new district across multiple grades. This has been a fun experience to tackle, but I’ll let her take it from here. As always, you may want to read The Gamification Guide and my old gamification posts to fully understand my system.

Hello all and Happy New Year! Last time we spoke, I had just finished my first year gamifying my 5th grade classroom. With the start of 2018, I am almost halfway through another year of gamifying my classroom, but this time a lot has changed. Let me fill you in!

For starters, I left my previous school district and started a new job in a new district. While I knew I was bringing gamification with me wherever I ended up, I’ve had to make some adjustments to ensure the successful implementation of gamification in my new school. The biggest difference this year, besides the age of my kids, is my classroom setting itself. I went from being a 5th grade math and science teacher back to a special education teacher. This year I have three 6th grade ICS math classes and one 7th grade resource room math class. The change in setting definitely warranted changes in my gamification style. First thing on the list, was onboarding my co-teacher. 

Luckily, my three 6th grade classes are all with the same teacher! Other special education teachers understand that this is a miracle in itself.  My co-teacher loved the idea of gamification and has been awesome in implementing it within our 6th grade classroom! We work well as a team and I’ve had a lot of fun implementing gamification with her.

Next, the biggest difference in gamifying in the 6th grade classes is there are a lot more students.  Last year, I only had 52 students total split between my 5th grade classes and the Class vs. Class competition was only between two classes. This year, the competition in 6th grade has over a 100 kids spread out over 4 classes. While more kids and more classes makes the competition more interesting, it also makes it different to manage. For example, a popular achievement card last year was earned when students completed their side quest, the name we use for homework. Every day students would receive a card for 10 ap if they completed their homework.  When I had 52 kids, this was manageable for me, over 100 not so much.  What did I do?  I just needed to adjust and make a new plan. Solution: two new achievement cards.  The first card is called Unity. This is worth more ap, 50 to be exact, and is given to students when every member of the class completes their homework.  Does this happen every day, of course not, but it does happen and it makes the students in our class hold each other accountable. To further motivate students to do their homework we created another achievement card called 1up. At the end of the week, students who’ve completed all of their side quests for the week receive a card for 50 ap. This way they can earn ap both as a class and individually, but in a way that saves us time since these achievements are earned on a less frequent basis. 

Next mission on the list, how do I make this work in a resource room setting?  My first concern was the class size.  I was used to gamifying a classroom with at least 25 or more students, this year my 7th grade class has just 7 students.  Would it still work?  Would the students still be engaged if there aren’t as many other students to compete against? Would I be able to utilize as many achievements?  All of these concerns crossed my mind as I embarked on the journey to figuring out a way to make it work!

Although I am still adjusting as I go, overall I would say that gamification still works even in a smaller classroom setting!  Of course, I have to make changes and adjustments in comparison with my larger classes, but I can still tailor it so that the students experience a gamified setting that works for our classroom.  Even though I only have one 7th grade class, they are still in competition because I grouped them into teams.  I split them into three teams so there is still a competition, just less members on each team.  

Some ap cards I had to adjust because there are less students in the room.  For example, Unity is worth 20 ap in this class because there are way fewer students.  Also because of the small class size, I am still able to utilize the side quest card for homework each day. 

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, gamification is the best idea I have brought into my classroom in my nine years of teaching.  It’s engaging, it’s exciting, it’s motivating and I have peaked my student’s interests in ways I never could have imagined. It has improved my overall classroom management and the overall climate of my classroom in general. The new thing I learned about gamification this year is that it is flexible. Chris has used it to teach high school English and now uses it in his 4th-8th grade classes. I have used it in 5th grade, 6th grade, and 7th grade both as a general ed teacher and now as a special ed teacher. I have used it with a lot of students, few students, and as a part of a co-teaching team. I even made some adjustments to my website to make it work for both classes as well. 

I never thought seeing Chris Aviles present on gamification would change the way I thought about running my classroom, but it really has done just that! He has some great ideas and lucky for me I will have the opportunity to pick his brain forever because we just got engaged at the end of the summer! Funny how things work out!  I will keep you posted on the second half of year 2 in my gamified classroom toward the end of this school year, this time as Mrs. Aviles!


The Expert in the Room

One of the student-run businesses in my Fair Haven Innovates program is FH Grows. FH Grows is where my 7th graders learn to be entrepreneurs and stewards of the environment while leveraging technology and the Internet of Things to help our gardens grow. We sell our produce online and in our student-run farmers market. When we’re not working in the gardens, we are trying to solve the food problems of our future. At FH Grows, our customers know when they buy from us, they grow learning. But they aren’t just growing student learning. I’m learning right alongside my kids because when it comes to running a school garden, I am not the expert in the room.

In total, I manage 96 relationships as part of my Fair Haven Innovates program. By far, FH Grows has the most valuable relationships because I’m no gardening expert. I’ve had a garden since I’ve owned a house, but, as I’ve been learning, I only know a fraction of the tips and tricks that go into running a successful garden. Luckily, I’ve gathered a stable of experts who are willing to help me run the best school garden I can.

When it comes to gardening dos, don’ts, and what’s wrong with these plants?!, We direct our questions to the wonderful master gardeners of the Rutgers University cooperative extension. This Co-op connected us with a host of master gardeners, all within 15 minutes of our school. Our master gardeners have all been so gracious in teaching us what goes into creating a successful, year round garden. While these master gardeners aren’t classroom teachers, with their knowledge, we’ve been able to solve our school garden problems such as figuring out how, when, and what to plant knowing that they (students) aren’t in school during the peak growing season. With their help the kids and I have figured out how we can get three “grows” out of our garden while school is in session and have they otherwise helped us navigate the unique problems a school garden presents.

After our produce is harvested, we bring some of it to market. I own an edtech business and help run another, but selling produce is a world apart from working in edtech. Enter Molly Gearty, a certified horticulturist, and her wonderful crew at our town’s local nursery Sickles Market. They have been amazing in helping us learn the ins and outs of selling plants for profit. With her support, FH Grows just broke $100 in sales and landed our local pizza place, Umbertos, as our first client. Umbertos orders from us weekly, and is only using FH Grows herbs in all their dishes! They’ve even asked us to name their new pizza creation that uses all of our school-grown ingredients. Without understanding how to prep, package, and care for our plants set to be sold, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are starting to become.

Chef Steve and FH Grows having a tasting.

You can still learn a lot from running a school garden even once you’ve picked your produce, so I don’t want the learning to stop after we harvest. While I’ve mentioned we sell some of what we grow online and in our farmer’s market, FH Grows goes further. I want students to learn everything they can about food as it takes the farm to table journey. Again, I’m no expert in these fields, so I “hired” Chef Steve to cook with students at least once a month. Chef Steve works for Maschio’s Food Services, which is the company that provides our school lunches. I found out about this cool perk that Maschio’s offers from the wonderful people at the state Department of Agriculture who run the NJ Farm to School initiative and have been so, so helpful. With Chef Steve and the rest of his crew, students are being exposed to potential careers in health and food services and learning about nutrition, wellness, and all the other lessons the farm to table journey can teach us.

The examples I’ve listed above are just a fraction of the ways the experts I’ve sourced support my Fair Haven Innovates program. The reality is, FH Grows and a lot of the other amazing experiences my students get to learn from wouldn’t be possible without these experts because I’m not an expert in everything. I’m open with students about my level of expertise. I tell my kids how far I can take them, and then tell them when we’re gonna have to learn together from someone else. Modeling what lifelong learning looks like for students and teaching them how to find the human capital they will need to support them when they need help in life is as important as teaching them how to find good information. As teachers, we don’t always have to be the expert in the room, but we should try to fill our classroom with experts. If we open up the classroom and invite these specialists in, not only will we do better for our kids, we ourselves will grow too.

Until next time,




FH Innovates Update: FH Leads

Hello, friends. It’s been a minute! My final masters class has been a slog, but I’m happy to report I’m basically done. We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog.

A lot has been happening with Fair Haven Innovates – the 21st century life, innovation, and technology program I created and run – since I last wrote. So how about an update? This week, we’ll start with my 8th grade, student-run business FH Leads.

Make it real and make it relevant are the two core values I kept in mind when I was designing FH Leads, my 8th grade consulting firm. The more real and relevant a problem is to their lives, the more passion my 8th graders will have for solving it. To make FH Leads as meaningful as possible for students, I have to get them into the real world; kids need to interact with their community. So last year, I reached out to our local hospital, Riverview, about being our first client. They couldn’t have been more excited. Through last Christmas and into last summer, we planned what the FH Leads/Riverview partnership would look like.

I did a lot of research and spoke to a lot of educators about their school/institution partnerships. I learned a lot of best practices, but two areas in the school/institution partnership stuck out to me as areas I really wanted to improved upon with FH Leads. Many partnerships seemed to be centered around 1) fake or easy problems for students to solve and 2) most programs stopped the design process at prototyping. I don’t want fake or easy problems for my kids. I want real, hard problems. I’d rather have my students fail at solving a real, hard problem than solve an easy, manufactured problem. Further, the problem with stopping students at prototyping is that they never get to the test stage. There are a million valuable life lessons to be found in the test stage. None more important than students learning to reframe failure as iteration as they test their designs and learn from failure. I don’t just want to propose prototypes and hypotheticals to the hospital and have kids wondering what if… I want  them to be able to test and iterate on their designs at least once. I want design doing, not just design thinking. I told the hospital that 1) my kids needed their real, most pressing problems and 2) my kids need to test their solutions in the hospital with the people their prototypes affect. The hospital totally got it and agreed. We were off and running. 

School started and the first few weeks of FH Leads focused on three things: teaching students to use our design process, developing the core values of our company, and creating a mission statement to keep us mission driven.

Students came up with these core values and mission statement to guide our attitude and purpose in FH Leads:

Core Values

Hardwork Pays Off
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
No Days Off
Try, Try Again
Ship It!
Be Mission Driven
Build Bridges Not Walls

Mission Statement

We are a student-run consulting firm. We give back to our community by using our design process to help local businesses grow. FH Leads will be the competitive advantage local businesses can’t wait to hire because they know when they hire us they are getting the tireless dedication and next-level innovation needed to grow their business. From our clients, we will learn more about careers and enrich our knowledge as we make a positive impact wherever we go.

After building our business culture, we started our 8 week design challenge with our first client, Riverview hospital! 4 weeks ago, Riverview sent the head of a different department to each one of my 5 FH Leads classes to deliver each class their own challenge.

Class 1: How might we improve the lost and found system when it comes to cell phones? Riverview told us that they spend thousands of dollars a year replacing patients’ lost and forgotten cell phones. They asked if my students could design a process and a product to help them help patients to not lose their phone when they are in the hospital. To prevent loss while in the hospital, students have been designing a boxes for patients to keep their cell phone in and experimenting with the best place to put the box since they decided it should be in arm’s reach of patients. Further, and if you’ve been a reader of this blog for awhile you know how exciting this part is for me: I turned students on to nudge theory to find ways to help remind patients to take their cell phones and chargers with them when they’re discharged.

Class 2: How might we find a way to improve Riverview’s wheelchair tracking system? Students were fascinated to learn that busy nurses often hide wheelchairs in closets and showers, rather than returning them, since they are in such high demand. This was a big empathy lesson for students because at first they couldn’t wrap their heads around nurses “stealing” wheelchairs. But when our speaker told students what the typical day is like for a nurse, things became more clear. Most students in this class have started to develop a way to use the Raspberry Pi and RFID to track wheel chairs that can then be retrieved by volunteers.

Class 3: How might we help lost visitors find their way around the hospital by creating an all volunteer escort service and improving Riverview’s map of the hospital? One particularly clever student brought up that Disney likely put a fortune into designing the perfect map for theme parks. Since then, this class had been redesigning the hospital map as if it were a Disney map. Really cool stuff. I just need to do a better job in reminding them about the volunteer escort service part.


Class 4: How might we improve patients’ dignity by redesigning the hospital gown and sending patients home in clean clothes? Patients sometimes come to the hospital in soiled clothing. Riverview asked us to design a process for buying or cleaning these patients clothes so they can leave the hospital feeling and looking good. Further, while in the hospital many patients don’t wearing like the gowns. Students have been modeling the gowns and coming up with new ways to keep all of a patient’s vital areas

accessible to hospital staff while not leaving patients “butts blowing in the wind.” In the last class, there was debate among groups over who was going to learn how to sew. I’m excited to see some final products for this one! Like in Class 3, I need to do a better job reminding them to work on the clean-clothes process.


Class 5: How might we improve the phlebotomy process for younger patients who need to have blood drawn? The head of phlebotomy came in and explained to students how hard it is to draw blood from a panicked patient. Students have been designing “blinds” and other products to help with the blood drawing process. I was particularly proud of this class as they came up with the unique idea of developing preventive measures to calm patients down as they acknowledged the role that “the unknown” plays in fear. They believe if they can better inform young patients about what to expect, they will panic less when it is time to give blood.

I’m hoping through this eight week warm up with Riverview I can improve students creative confidence as they 

use our design process to solve these wicked problems. Creative confidence is still a work in progress. I was surprised, and maybe I shouldn’t have been, that many students didn’t think they had much to offer the hospital. They didn’t see themselves having the ability to make a difference. When they heard the problems the hospital proposed, some felt it was out of their power to solve them. I hope I can continue to encourage them and help them understand they can make a difference. 

I imagine my kids starting to learn about our design process in 4th and 5th grade through The Innovation Lab and their time with me would culminate in FH Leads. I wanted students to get out into the real world and work with real people and hear about their real problems. I always say if my kids leave my program have developed empathy for others and understanding that a design process can be used to solve all of life’s problems, I’ve done my job. I’ve started down this long road, but I think it is a road worth traveling. After this next eight weeks, FH Leads will start working with nineteen local business who have agreed to hire my FH Leads students for a 20 week design intervention. I’m so confident my kids have something to offer everyone, I said FH Leads will work for free this year to build our portfolio, but next year we’re charging! 

Until Next Time,


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