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.

Google Classroom and Trouble Shooting Guardian Summaries


Google Classroom and Guardian Summaries

The world of edtech is abuzz as many districts are starting to experiment with Google Classroom’s new Guardian Summaries feature. My district is all in on the Guardian Summaries, but, like anything new, there is a learning curve. Between the trouble shooting I’m doing in my district, and what I’m seeing, hearing, and being asked about on the inter-webs, I thought it might be helpful to throw something up about some of the Guardian Summaries issues I’ve encountered and their potential fixes. I say potential because some of these don’t work 100% of the time. I’ll update this post as I learn more. Make sure you read to the end for the big issue fix!


Guardian Summaries:

  • are a way to keep guardians informed on the goings on in a student’s Google Classroom.
  • Guardian Summaries look like this.
  • are generated and emailed to guardians automatically.
  • do not appear in the Classroom app. The app is for teachers and students, not parents.
  • go out Friday at 3pm if you select weekly summary.
  • go out daily at 3pm if you select daily summary.

What do Guardian Summaries Show:

Summaries show what has been posted the week before in Google Classroom and an overview of what is coming up in the next week in Google Classroom. Anything over a week old, or over a week away (think due dates) will not show up.

Guardians will be notified of:

Missing work—Work that’s late at the time the email was sent
Upcoming work—Work that’s due today and tomorrow (for daily summaries) or work that’s due in the upcoming week (for weekly summaries)
Class activity—Announcements, assignments, and questions recently posted by teachers. This means anything you post in the Stream will be seen by guardians, not just students.

With Guardians Summaries, you can’t see specific student information, work, or grades. Guardian Summaries is the starting point for conversations between teacher, guardian, and student.

Fun fact: Any attachments added to a class activity posting – question, announcement, assignment – will not show up in a guardian’s summary; things like videos, links, and attachments will not be added to a Guardian Summary. However, if you put a complete website address in the body of an announcement it will show up and be clickable to a guardian. I don’t know if this goes for assignments as well. I haven’t tried, but it probably does.

Trouble Shooting Issues

There have been a few issues/bugs/errors with Guardian Summaries. As far as I can tell though, they are all user error. That doesn’t mean our friends at Google have made this easy on us. Here’s how to (probably) fix a lot of the issues your district may be encountering:

Invalid Invitation – A guardian will receive an Invalid Invitation error when attempting to accept an invitation if:

  1. They already have accepted an invitation from another teacher their child has.
  2. They already have accepted an invitation for another one of their children. Meaning, if a guardian has two children and both of their teachers enter their guardian email, the guardian only needs to accept one invitation from one child to be linked to both kids.

Guardians should check with their teacher to make sure they are showing properly, which would be their first and last name without the word invited next to it, in the teachers Student Section in Classroom. Guardians can check their status by checking the settings page, too. I’ll write out the url, too. It can be hard to find:

Unknown User – Instead of a guardian’s proper name appearing in Classroom, unknown user appears. This means the guardian failed to fill out identifying information when creating their Google account. They can go back into their account and add this information. The teacher may have to remove/add the guardian again for this to take effect. unknown-user

Wrong Guardian is Guardian – Sometimes someone like a brother or sister are listed as guardian for a student. This is caused by having multiple Google accounts signed in at the same time. For instance, if a student is signed in on the Chrome Browser and then a guardian goes to gmail, signs in, and accepts the invitation, the student will be linked to the account because, technically, they are the ones signed in, not the parent who was only signed in to gmail.

Here are the basic steps to signing someone out of Google/Chrome.

The Big Issue -Guardians Not Getting an Invitation

The hardest problem to solve has been when guardians do not receive an invitation at all. No matter how many times we add/removed Guardian to get the invite to resend, it was never actually sent. I asked one of our wonderful Fair Haven parents to come in for testing and here is what we figured out.

A guardian with a non-gmail email (Yahoo, Hotmail, Etc.) who has not received an invitation is not getting them for one of two reasons.

1) They have, at one point, had a gmail. The guardian that came in had a gmail that she no longer used. When we recovered her gmail, the invitation was waiting for us in her inbox.

Understand though, the email the teacher was sending to was a Rocket Mail account, but the invitation was going to a totally separate gmail account that she never uses, nor was entered into Google Classroom. The closest I could come to figuring out why this was happening was that the guardian had used the Rocket Mail account as recovery email for her gmail.

If your guardians have a non-gmail email, and are not receiving invitations, ask them if they have ever made a gmail. If they have, the invitation might be there. Even if the teacher didn’t enter it into Google Classroom.

2) The most likely reason why the guardian is not getting invitations is because they have not signed up for a Google Account. Guardians using Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. must signup for a Google Account to receive Guardian Summaries at a non-gmail email. Here are the steps to helping guardians signup for a Google Account.

  1. Have teacher remove Guardian from Classroom if they’ve sent an invitation already.
  2. Double check that a guardian has not already created a Google Account with their preferred email by following directions here. If they have, this will recover their Google Account. Once they recover their Google Account, go to #4. If the link says they do not have a Google Account for their preferred email go to #3.
  3. Have guardian signup for a Google Account without gmail using the email they want to receive the Summaries on, then login.
  4. Have teacher re-add guardian in Classroom.
  5. Have guardian login to their non-gmail email account. The invitation should be there waiting.

Remember: a gmail account and a Google Account are not the same thing. A gmail account is a Google Account, but a Google Account is not a gmail account… finally, a use for that philosophy class I took in college! This link may also prove helpful in troubleshooting this issue.

Resources to checkout:

Google for Education Help Forum

Help Center

Help Center In-depth Article

Google Classroom Google Community

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,


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