How One Teacher's Curiosity Led to Gamification in the Classroom

September 07, 2015
Cathie Gillner
Classroom teacher
Dorseyville Middle School
Pittsburgh, PA
CATEGORIES In the Classroom

Since moving toward a 1-to-1 iPad initiative, I have watched students spend every waking second of "down time" playing online games. As they clashed, boomed, and raced through levels, I couldn't help but wonder what held their interest and kept them coming back for more. I wished my class had the same hypnotic power. So I spent time this summer looking into the heart of games and how to make school more like one.

Games Differentiate

Students love any challenge, mission, or world-saving quest that is dangled before them. I would be lying if I didn't say I am jealous that a game can differentiate better than I can. Students compete at a level matched to their ability. They are leveled up and placed at their next mission. Games offer the perfect amount of challenge. Yes, it may take several attempts or even days, but that sense of accomplishment kids have when they "win" is something I'd like to see in my classroom.

Games Offer Instant Feedback

Technology allows me to push results quickly to students. Game-based apps like Socrative and Kahoot give me the power to adapt lessons quickly. Online games offer an embedded feedback that guides learning along the journey. As students push through levels, they retain what they need to do to succeed. When they fail levels, they are instantly allowed to jump back in the game and persevere.

Games Make Collaboration Seamless

Watching students play games, I've observed a genuine collaboration. As kids game in the proximity of each other, they ask questions on how to complete levels. I've witnessed middle school students who have never spoken to one another become friends while playing the same game. I've watched some of my shyest students come out of their shells as they walk a peer step by step through a quest. This type of collaboration usually leads to these same students joining forces online and conquering the game together.

This gaming curiosity has led me to begin designing my course for next year into gamified missions. I've spent time this summer hacking away at my course and designing quests for the four units I will be teaching. Brainstorming and designing missions has engulfed a large portion of my summer.

How to Do It

  • Map it out.
    Create a concept map of your course and determine where badges and missions would fit in. Planning with the Make-A-Map tool via BrainPOP helped me stay consistent with the missions and levels.
  • Design a simple model.
    You can use Google Docs to put your ideas into a chart you can share.
  • Make a solid to-do list.
    Jot down your ideas for levels and missions using a tool like Clear to easily capture your thoughts.
  • Find game-based sources.
    Using GameUP, I found online games I could use for my various missions. 
  • Use a learning management system to put it all together.
    I’ve organized my missions into folders in Schoology. Students earn badges as they play and can work at their own pace.

Following my own curiosity has been an exciting endeavor, and I'm eager to start the new school year and share this with my students.

Photo "Group 2 Week 2" by Kevin Jarrett. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license. Other photos from BrainPop and Schoology captured by the author.