Why I Gamified My Classes

"Why are we learning this?" "How are we gonna use this in real life?" Heard that before, teachers? Parents?

I've spent many years in public education trying my best to interest teenagers in bettering themselves. But, of course, that's easier said than done. Most teenagers are reluctant learners with little regard for old people, rules, or their own future. It's just the way we are at that age.

However, I continued looking around, and thanks to my Twitter PLN, I ran across teachers around the world exploring gamification, which uses game mechanics and principles to build interest in their classes. Bam! I knew what to do: Gamification.

Ever play the same level of Mario Bros a bajillion times, failing each time, until you finally succeed? That's gaming mechanics at work. You learned by "failing well," getting instant feedback and correcting your mistake that sent you barreling down that lava pit of death the last time. Ever beaten your own high score? Saved a friend's life during an ambush in some online first-person shooter? Felt the satisfaction of unlocking that last level of that iPhone game? What about donning that ultra-epic legendary gear after downing that last boss with your guild?

That's gaming mechanics at work. We yearn for achievement, recognition, and reward and will play a game for hours to get it. Our brains are evolved for this kind of behavior, and I try to use these powerful motivators in my classes. Here's an excellent overview of gamification applied to education:



Gamification also nicely integrates a couple of other philosophical principles I've tried to apply to my teaching: AMP (the "agency" from the video above) and "knowledge supply/demand." Knowledge supply/demand is simply the market principle put to work to education. Instead of a huge supply of knowledge (the teacher) with little demand (the students), engineer the class so that students demand the knowledge instead. Create the teachable moment by providing a reason to study, discuss, read, and question beyond simple grades. Gamification does that, magnificently. When your peers are getting badges, rewards, and potions, you want them, too. Kids that don't care about grades start talking smack while comparing their classroom badges and rewards to their friends. Win!

The other philosophy, AMP, is Autonomy, Master, and Purpose, which Daniel Pink proposes is our primary motivating factor in the video below. I left a well-paying IT job to return to teaching because it is a rewarding experience for the very reasons Pink discusses below. I try to provide that environment for my students in the form of self-paced quests, reward systems, and goal-centered units that give them the feeling of being in control. Again, gamification evokes this environment perfectly. Check out the video:


There's more to explore:

Best summary of gamification principles

A quick overview of classroom gamification ideas

A teacher blog about his experience gamifying his class

Classcraft, a site designed to use with a gamified class

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