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,




Evolving Our Makerspace: The Conclusion

For those of you who haven’t been following along with my last few posts, our fifth and sixth grade student-run business, FH Gizmos, landed a manufacturing contract with Slack. Slack tasked us with making 50 desk toys for employees to use in their new education center. To read an indepth account of our experience check out this awesome article from a local paper, Red Bank Green.

For those of you that have been following along, we did it! This past week, the last week of school, we received the first of fifty S-shaped fidget spinners!

The year ended with a bang. We were featured in a host of local papers for our work with Slack, which caught the attention of the regional buyer of Barnes & Noble who said she was interested in working with us. We also finished the year working with Mrs. Daverso, Phlebotomy Supervisor for Riverview Hospital. She taught students about the phlebotomy process as we tried to make the blood drawing experience better for children. Barnes & Noble and Mrs. Daverso will be back in in September to continue our work together. The future’s looking bright!

Finished S-shaped fidget spinner for Slack (plugs not included, yet)

Further, as we end the year on these high notes, I have a much clearer idea on the final evolution of our makerspace. After a lot of networking, calling in favors, and support from my board and Superintendent, we’ll be turning our makerspace into an amazing new program called Fair Haven Innovates.

Fair Haven InnovatesFair Haven Innovates is Fair Haven school district’s 21st century life, careers, and technology program. We use social entrepreneurship to help students learn the skills they’ll need to be successful when they grow up. Students sell products and solve problems as they run real businesses turning real profits. Students use a percentage of the profits to give back to their community through their student-run charity FH Gives. Below are our programs.

The Innovation Lab (4th and 5th grade): The Innovation Lab is where 4th and 5th graders learn the skills they’ll need to be successful in the world of tomorrow. Students are introduced to design thinking, engineering, computer science, and the digital arts as they learn to reframe failure as iteration and become the architects of their future. The Innovation Lab is the farm league for the rest of Fair Haven Innovates.

Mrs. Daverso walking students through the phlebotomy process.

FH Gizmos (6th Grade): will be a student-run startup that focuses on solving people’s tame problems and selling the solutions. We will start the year selling the custom fidget spinners we created. Since we were successful designing for Slack, we think we can pitch other big companies to work with us. In all, FH Gizmos made close to $3,000 this year. We hope to 10x that next year!

FH Grows (7th Grade): is where students learn to be stewards of the environment as they use innovative gardening techniques and the Internet of Things to grow and monitor (with Cayenne) vegetables as well as sell dried herbs and spices. Key partnerships will allow for the constant support of the students and program through the Rutgers Master Gardeners, an executive chef to cook with students through the school year, and the ability to have student-run Farmers Markets at both of our schools because after talking with our awesome elementary school principal, Mrs. Cuddihy, we see a lot of potential for my 7th graders to work with her 3rd graders in a project we’re calling FH Cares. Further, FH Grows will embrace NJ’s Farm to School initiative with the help of the Dept. of Agriculture. There is also the possibility of introducing students to incubation (businesses, not chickens) and the opportunity to learn about venture capitalism thanks to our partnership with Real World Scholars, but this part is in the early planning stage.

The picture team taking shots for future marketing campaigns.

FH Leads (8th grade): FH Leads is a consulting firm where students team up with local businesses to solve their real world business challenges. We currently have 25 businesses on board as well as Riverview hospital. Students will be able to do site visits, surveys, interviews, and conduct experiments to help business owners solve their challenges while also learning about potential careers.   

FH Gives25% of all profits from FH Gizmos, FH Grows, and FH Leads will be donated to our student-run charity FH Gives. FH Gives is currently set to run a pet adoption with the Monmouth County SPCA in November. The idea that students will be running a charity instead of giving to charity is an important part of this program that I will talk more about soon.

Thank you for taking this ride with me as I try to find new ways to introduce my students to the things that matter and evolve my makerspace into a district wide program with the hopes of inspiring other educators and changing the world.

Until Next Time,

GLHF and see you at ISTE


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