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,




Gamification in the 5th Grade Classroom: The Conclusion


If you haven’t been following along with my series on gamification in the 5th grade classroom, you’ve been missing out. This year, Rachel Cheafsky and I have worked hard to implement a version of my gamification system that meets the needs of her classroom: one where she did not have ready access to a lot of technology. Rachel had a great year and agreed to come back and tell us how things wrapped up. Check it out:

The 2016-2017 school year has officially come to a close, which, for me, means I have officially cleared my first level as a first time teacher in a fully gamified classroom.  It was my eighth year in the classroom and it completely shifted my mindset. Here’s why:

After seeing Chris Aviles present on gamification about a year and a half ago, I knew I had to take all his great ideas and find a way to use them in my own 5th grade classroom.  This past September, I did just that. I started by setting up my own website. This alone was a game changer.  In one place, I was able to put all of my contact information, resources, social media, and links for students that was updated and utilized throughout the year.  My website also housed all the main components attached to the gamification system I had in place.  The class and team leaderboards, Item Shop, and achievements were all also located within my website.

Before I can continue, though, I need to give you a little background information on how I used gamification within my 5th grade classroom. The students had the opportunity to earn Experience Points (XP) and Achievement Points (AP) all throughout the school year.  XP was earned through their graded assignments and AP was earned when students completed heroic deeds or displayed heroic traits. For example, one way to earn AP was by completing your Side Quest (our cool name for homework). There are a lot of ways to earn AP and some new ideas were added as the year progressed. Here are some of my favorites:

Student Achievements were kept in baseball card holders and hung from their chairs!

Tribute: This achievement card was earned if the student selected for Tribute, by a random name generator, was prepared with the item I asked for.  For example, if we were using composition books that day, I would randomly select a students name and if they had the item, they earned 10 AP for everyone in the class.

Side Quest: The students earned this card for completing their side quest (homework). If everyone completed their side quest, the whole class earned 50 AP. Students worked hard to not let their peers down. I definitely saw an increase in how often they did homework.

The Chosen One: This card was earned by the student whose homework we used to go over the side quest as a class.  It was selected by a random generator and they could either decide to be the chosen one or pass it on to the next person.

That Insta-Life: This achievement was definitely a crowd pleaser!  I started my very own class Instagram account this year and highlighted students throughout the year.  If they made it onto the Instagram for being awesome, they received this achievement card along with 25 AP!

Task Master:  This card was created half-way through the year by the students themselves! One day, my class was all on task working so well.  The volume was appropriate and everyone was doing what they needed to.  I complimented the class and praised them on their behavior.  One student said, “This should be an achievement,” and right there on the spot it was unlocked, Task Master!  A chart was kept on the board each day as well as two sticky notes were placed under each period.  At the end of each class I would reveal the name of the student and if that student was on task for the period, they earned two tally marks for the class in a class vs. class competition. At the end of the week, the class with the most tally marks won Task Master for the week along with 50ap. Talk about accountability! Now the students who had difficulty staying on task were trying harder because they wanted to earn Task Master and they definitely did not want to let their peers down.

All of the students were given a baseball card holder and this is what they used to house all of the cards they earned from their achievement points.  They loved being able to see the tangible cards they were earning and collecting on a daily basis.  I kept totals on their XP and AP points and updated the leader boards every 2 weeks.  The leaderboards were a hit, as the students were able to create learner tags and check out their progress vs the rest of the students in both classes whenever they liked!

Another game changer was just changing the names of everyday classroom items.  For example, homework is now called a Side Quest.  Quizzes are much better when you call them Heroic Quests and Tests now are known as Epic Quests.  Changing the names of these regular assignments changed the way the students thought about them and motivated them to complete them and do better.

I think my favorite thing about gamifying my classroom was that it was always able to be changed or improved upon.  When a student did something amazing, I could recognize this achievement by making it an official achievement in our class.  For example, in 5th grade the students at my school get lockers for the first time.  It is very difficult for them to unlock the combination lockers.  This can take weeks of practice.  The first time one of my students did it on their own, I immediately announced that a secret achievement had been unlocked.  The excitement of a secret achievement being unlocked was like Christmas morning to my kids.  This achievement, Locker Expert, was game changing.  My classes worked harder, practiced more, and learned faster than most of the other 5th graders because they all wanted the Locker Expert card worth 200 AP!

My Task Master chart with student names hidden under the Post-Its.

Chris’ gamification system also tied in with many other systems I already had functioning within my classroom.  For example, I have a Jobs system within my room.  The students apply for classroom jobs on a monthly basis and then students are selected for hire each month.  In the past, I would pay them with fake money which they would then use in a classroom store with tangible items.  This was no more, thanks to gamification.  Now, the students were paid for the jobs in AP.  The students could use their AP at any time by shopping the item shop listed within my website.

The best part of the Item Shop was that all of the items were non-tangible which increased extrinsic motivation. The Item Shop, initially made me nervous because I was used to providing my students with tangible items as rewards.  It always seemed to me that what they wanted was stuff!  They wanted toys, food, and supplies.  Chris convinced me that they didn’t need stuff and that I could come up with a list of items that were non-tangible that would be just as sought after. Boy was he right!  I still can’t believe he was right about that!  Some of the most popular items purchased from the Item Shop are as follows:

Purge:  This was hands down the most bought item all year.  This cost was 500 AP and it stole XP points away from the other class on the class vs. class leaderboard.  Since the leaderboards were updated bi-weekly, they would see the results of the class vs. class competition and immediately begin purging so their class could take the lead.  They loved it!

Music Pass:  This was the second most bought item.  This cost 400 AP and could be used to listen to music using headphones as they worked on a class assignment on the laptops.

Forgiveness:  This was the third most bought item.  This cost 400 AP and could be used to turn in an assignment late without being penalized for a late grade.

Remember, to earn these achievements, students had to complete heroic deeds or display heroic traits. They had to be awesome to earn these awesome items.

Looking back on the year, I am very happy with all of the ways I was able to use game-mechanics in my classroom.  While I definitely utilized many of the mechanics I set out to, there are still so many that I haven’t even touched.  There are many single player and guild achievements that I had originally listed on my site that I did not keep up with this year.  I definitely plan on utilizing more achievements next year, but overall I couldn’t be happier with the way my first year ended.  The students remained excited until the very last day when the winning class was announced for the year. Their award: the first class ever to be named and listed on the all-time-leader board!

Gamification has been on of the best tools I’ve added to my teacher tool belt.  I have peaked my student’s interests in ways I never imagined all while still teaching the curriculum and managing my everyday classroom routines.  Gamifying my class has improved my classroom culture beyond my wildest dreams.

Level 2, year 2, I am ready for you!

On behalf of Rachel: Until Next Time,


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