Thursday, 27 February 2014


Some people may have heard of this concept before, but I'll explain it anyway.

Gamification is the concept of turning your classroom into a gaming environment.  The classroom becomes and MMO without the O, so to speak; you gain experience for doing stuff, you get levels, rewards, and use it to track progress.  It seems that it would ultimately work best in a primary classroom setting, but I have managed to use it in my secondary classes.

I first heard about Gamification from my friend Gavin during his first year of teaching (he has since left teaching and taken up massage therapy...I totally support this career change).  He told me the idea as a 'wouldn't it be cool if'...and off I went.  I started trying to figure out what would be worth experience, how much, how would I record it, creating avatar presets, setting up a complex excel spreadsheet, and figuring out funny names for levels.  The idea was that every time a student levelled up, they could add a statistic and add an accessory to their avatar.

I used it all through last year and it had a fairly good impact.

Here's what I learned

Pros: (can't seem to get rid of the big gap here)
  • students like the concept of the game mechanic
  • gives them a 'value' for their work and effort
  • a way of literally counting their progress
  • doubles up as a way of tracking participation in class and work habits, which are useful for reporting and discussing the student's progress with their parents
  • it made me focus on what students were doing in class and make an effort to take notice of who was working well, who was helping whom
  • 'bonus points' take on a new meaning
  • students often wanted to know how they were going
  • the biggest experience earner was participation, not necessarily 'smarts'
  • negative experience can be used to reflect poor behaviour or effort without needing to go as far as a detention or serious consequence (this is good for certain things, when a 'warning' isn't strong enough, and a detention is too much)

  • keeping up with adding the accessories ended up being too much (I have since removed that option)
  • students wanted non-schooly looking avatars (too much work, I ignored this)
  • the Excel spreadsheet got a little unwieldy after a while, though I did know how to mess around with it (my uncle, retired from Sony programming, has since created an Excel database with Visual Basic and it's so much easier to use now!)
  • not all students really cared, some thought it was stupid, so it didn't necessarily always work as a motivator...but it mostly did work
  • it's extra work (duh)
  • when students leave or join the class, it throws my lists out of whack a little (not a major issue, it just bugged me)
In the end, I decided to keep it, especially as my uncle had created the app for me.  So I'm going to share some details on how I run my Gamification, and if anyone out there wants to try it, I'd be happy to give some advice...or perhaps I'm one of a rare group of 'part-time teachers who want to give themselves extra work'.

Welcome now, to the 
Realm of Learning
The Master of the Realm


This is personally how I wanted to do this; I created preset elements on separate layers, which took a fair bit of time, but then creating the avatars was quite easy because I just turned off all the layers and only turned on the ones I wanted.  Using the school uniform avoided inappropriate suggestions or outfits, and made it easier for me.  The coloured background is a new addition, this is based on the students results from the True Colours Personality Test, which is a great way to get to know your students better.

You could alternatively have the students draw their own, and this works well for primary students and gives them more ownership.  High school students get all 'nerr, I can't draw, I don't wanna do it', so I circumvented that by drawing them myself.  Most students think they're pretty cool, and start asking me why I'm not an art teacher.  There are reasons.

Anyway, to go along with the avatar, students create a name, and they assign beginning 'stats' in areas that reflect the values of our school: Respect, Integrity, Servanthood and Excellence (you could do whatever, that's what I chose to do with).

I decided that students should get experience for being a student.  Turning up to class, bringing all their materials, participating or asking questions, helping others, completing homework, all worth experience.  I decided that it was appropriate to award those who did well on assessment, because I don't think this should be a 'get an award just for turning up' kind of world, so whilst students get points for turning up, they get lots of points for doing well on assessment (passing gets points, a B gets even more, and an A gets even more than that).  Conversely, poor behaviour, not completing homework and so on all garner negative experience, which I think is appropriate so that there is some kind of measurable consequence for not meeting standard expectations.  So there is positive experience, negative experience, and just plain missing out because you didn't turn up.

I tested some expectations and tried to figure out how much experience a student could conceivable gain in a week and used that to determined the levels I would have them aim for.  I used an experience table I found...somewhere?  It's fairly common, I just didn't want to make up my own.  I decided on 25 levels total (I didn't get anyone over level 12 last year, but I was fine with that) and it generally works out well.  There doesn't seem to be a way for anyone to 'cheat' the system, good students got more experience than students who didn't work well, it somewhat favours more academic students, but I feel this to be appropriate for a school setting where you do, ya know...academic stuff.  Students who worked hard and participated well, but didn't necessarily do well on assessment, tended to do fairly well as well, which is what I wanted.

When it comes to actually tracking the experience, that's a whole other kettle of fish.  I ended up creating a physical booklet to tally things in class, and at the end of every week I enter the experience and check the progress of the students.

The booklet is good, and I use it to keep track of pretty much everything.  I put a notes section at the bottom which is good for keeping track of homework set, things to follow up on, events that may have happened, etc.

The Excel spreadsheet on the other hand...

Yikes.  So now I have a much cleaner system thanks to my uncle John, and putting in experience is a much quicker, easier process.  Your way of assigning experience could be much simpler, it could be physical, you might be able to write your own program.  Other ways of implementing this was ideas like smaller tests being worth experience, and then you levelled up by defeating the 'boss' assessment, so levelling was more based on completing stages of your learning rather than daily activities.

The rewards work in a couple of ways.  Every time a student levels up, they assign a stat point to one of the 4 areas of the RISE.  I used to have an accessory system so that students could make their avatars more exciting, but the work involved was too much.  Now, students gain a physical reward: levels 1-5 is a sticker, 6-10 is a small stationery item, 11-15 a somewhat better item and so on.  I love buying stationery as rewards and gifts, and not all items are equal, so I've ranked them in 4 levels, and as student reach higher levels, they can get the better items.  One of the experience earning activities is getting a 'compliment', a system of keeping track of behaviour that is above expectation.  At the end of each term, these are counted and they can get a reward depending on how many they earned.

In between levelling, there is this last element that I included because it helps with the feel of the game mechanic and helps students to see their work as something worthwhile: achievements.  Most of the achievements centre around consistency, and some focus on doing especially well at something.  I created a bunch of little badges, and I add these to the students profile.

Achievements bring with them bonus experience, but I decide how much it is worth, because for some students, turning up to class on time for 3 weeks in a row is not a big deal, whereas for others it is a significant milestone, so to reflect the individual abilities, challenges and natures of the students, I vary the experience they receive for achievements.  This is my concept of fairness, and I haven't had any objections from the students thus far.


If you're interested in trying out Gamification for your class, I would recommend:
  • Doing research, see what else is out there
  • Find quick ways of doing things, do feel you have to make it all from scratch
  • Form it to suit your workload, don't make it the straw to break your camel's back
  • Try and make it link in with elements of your school environment/community, this helps to support the school as the main authority in the classroom and avoids the idea of it being something too 'alternative' or inappropriate
  • Focus on the fun, focus on the achievement, and help your students see it as something positive
  • Spend a decent session making sure the student understand the process to avoid confusion over the school year

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Let's go [team name], let's go!

When I was in high school, my mother and I had an understanding that if there was a sports day of some kind - cross country, swimming, athletics, whatever - that I could stay home.  There was no point in me going to them, I wasn't going to take part, partially because of my complete lack of fitness/athletics ability, and partially because of my complete lack of team spirit.  I never understood why every school (I went to a few) insisted on trying to make everyone do sports; it seemed a waste of time and it seemed as though it were catering to the select few of my peers who cared about that sort of thing.

Our school recently had our swimming carnival, this was the first year out of 5 that I wasn't there because it was my day off, but I was a little disappointed.  However, it did manage to remind me of the epiphany I had in my first teaching at this school, regarding sports carnivals.

I'm pretty sure I've picked an appropriate, non-threatening photo of kids in a pool, don't anyone get on their high horse

I totally get it.

It was my first year, and I was standing around in the sun at the athletics carnival, overseeing standard long jump (we run double amounts of events, a 'championship' version for the serious contenders who are looking to complete at interschool or district levels, and a 'standard' event, which is generally a simpler version of the field event designed to get students involved to get easy points) and I looked around at the oval filled with jumping and throwing and running and I realised that most of the students were actually out on the field, not just sitting in the house tents.  Other schools I've been to hadn't necessarily been able to boast high attendance numbers on their sport days, most will assume that many will be 'sick' and just get on with it.  There were probably at least 80% of the students in attendance on both days (we run over two days...I haven't figured out why yet, but we do), and out of those, a majority were attempting to throw a vortex or jump past at least 1 marker to get points.  At first I thought perhaps we'd hit on a great formula for fitness, maybe threatening students with consequences really can make them try things, and then a member of our house gave a war cry, and I responded.  Some other students replied with their own, and it was a little silly and very spirited.  That's when I realised what the point of the sports days really were: family.

Our school attempts to create a sense of togetherness: all staff members are Christian, including the office staff and the groundsmen; we push for students to band together as a year level, to take care of younger grades, to respect and look up to older grades; I see students being cared for like they were a teacher's own children, like they were family.  In the end, however, kids hate school, that's just how it is.  It's boring, you have to do work, and the teachers are lame.  At a sports carnival, it's school-related, but the things you're doing and the environment are all different.  I see more students than I expect actually cheering on their friends, or even just random kids from their house; I see students trying to out war cry each other; I see students excitedly telling teachers about how they went in a race or event.

Competition + positivity + school-related event = togetherness/family feeling

This formula causes students to associate positive feelings with school, because even though it's not in the classroom doing 'work', it's still a school thing.  It also helps to break down the boundaries between year levels (at least with the secondary cohort, we're a P-12 school, so there's still a bit of a divide between the Primary and Secondary cohorts).  I get it now; it works.

I think my mother would pinch herself to see her stay-at-home-watching-daytime-TV-instead-of-taking-part daughter cheering so loud she nearly lost her voice, before spinning in circles with a broomstick in a teacher novelty race at the end of the last day of the athletics carnival.

Woah, it's actually a picture of me running.  This is basically a rare artefact.  I'm certainly not going to show you the one of me from about 30 seconds earlier where I fell down from too much spinning.

Ok fine, here it is

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Teachers like naps even if they don't have children

So today I experienced one of the best naps of my entire life.  It will sound fairly simple, but ultimately it involved a lot of things going right.

I was tired, my friend was tired, and we were out on the patio with these two ragamuffins and a (thanks to my mother) clean version of the blanket they're sitting on in this photo:
Meet Griffith and Seb.  Griff (long-haired dachshund) will nibble on anything close to the ground, and Seb (corgi) is currently wearing a cone of shame because he won't stop licking a wound on his leg.  I love these dogs, they're stumpy and adorable and drive me a bit crazy sometimes.

Previous attempts to nap on our quiet, lovely, breezy patio, have resulted in ear nibbles and corgi paw prints.  But not today.

Today, the blanket was clean.  Today, the breeze was there, as was the tiredness.  We lay down, and Griff only nibbled a little before setting to sleep in between the two of us.  Seb was very snuggly, and a lot less painful once we took of his cone.  Then, we all just slept.  Seb got pats and cuddles, Griff was still, I managed to lose track of enough time that I slept through til my tutee arrived.

It was a very special nap and deserves a post.  That is all.

Monday, 10 February 2014

I don't like inappropriate metaphors

Every time I see this 

I get really annoyed.

No, it's not because it makes me realise how unfair our education system is, it's because it makes me realise how far the anti-intellectual movement and post-modernist society have both gone. We teach and test certain things in schools because those are the things that mark you as an intelligent member of society. In order to learn things, there are certain things you already need to know, so we test you to make sure you know them.

If we were to test the specific gifts of the animals in this image, we would be wasting our time just to tell kids 'you're super special and amazing and you don't need to try to be better at anything else!'.

The human terms, I suppose collecting and building their home, we don't care about...oh wait, yes we do, that's furnishing studies. The penguin...strong swimmer, who car...oh yeah, we test for that in HPE (this would go the same for the fish and seal). The elephant, really strong, caring pack animal (I think?)...hmm, sounds like someone bound for our leadership/peer mentor programs. The Why would we care about fo...oh yeah, we have both an OP and non-OP program based around cooking, gee.

But heck, when we go to test these people on their numeracy and literacy that isn't in a way that only they can do (this will almost always mean cropping things or dumbing things down or helping a lot...which is important for some students who have identified learning difficulties, but this image doesn't necessarily seem to be referring to learning difficulties, it's talking about how everyone is 'different') then we're all evil, unfeeling bastards.

Please accept that if a piece of assessment says your child is not good at maths, then they're not. That doesn't mean it is beyond their ability to change that, and perhaps they will have to try harder to achieve what they want (oh no, can't have 'trying hard', natural abilities are all we should care about) and maybe get some help.

I want people to stop saying it is education's fault that their child 'thinks they're an idiot'. A poor mark should only be an indicator that they need to change or try harder, the idea that this makes them stupid or less good does not come from us, it comes from the reactions parents give to those results. A bad mark is only bad if you don't learn from it (I tell my students this a lot). If a student actually tried and they got a bad mark, that's a sign they need help, extra attention, tutoring, not that they are a failure as a human being. Perhaps they are 'dumb', but instead of changing the definition of 'smart', we should be encouraging students to see their other talents whilst helping them to change, to the complete limit of their still vast potential, what they want about themselves, whether it be that they're 'dumb at maths' or 'can't write'. Literacy and numeracy are things that can be developed unless you have a legitimate learning difficulty, in which case you get more specialist support and keep trying and end up making progress anyway.

Don't make excuses for 'dumb', stop hating on society for wanting you to be 'smart', just try!