It may seem overwhelming in the beginning, but it really doesn’t have to be that tough. The key is to not bite off more than you can chew. Use what you’re already comfortable and familiar with. You can always modify it later on if you need to. Then take baby steps if you have to. I chose to use my summer break to start reinventing my classes. That way I had plenty of time to think it through as much as I could. You can never plan for everything so only plan a little at a time.
The first decision I needed to make about gamification was to determine the type of scoring method I was going to use. Like me, you may have to use your school district’s A/F grading expectations (that fit the standard, top-down, success/failure model) and still be able to incorporate a year-long XP (Experience Points) leveling-up model at the same time. I decided to take the easy way out and make each assignment count the same amount for both: the assignment would receive a percentage score for the gradebook and also receive the same amount of XP for the class “game”. That way, I would still be meeting my district’s expectations, parents and students would both continue to have the same understanding about grade performance, and the XP could be continually added up all year long. Win-win. The challenge for me was to find a way to manage both. Here’s how I modified my grade sheets:
At the top of each assignment column I write how many XP the assignment is worth. Every week or so I create a column labeled “XP” where I calculate and record all the XP each student has earned since the last time I added them up. The amount of XP is entered into a Google Doc Spreadsheet I created (I’ve found that it’s much easier to share the link once, allowing future changes to show up automatically using the same link, instead of uploading or re-linking a new document every time an update is made to the spreadsheet). Once entered, the scores are sorted by the highest XP and voila, we have a Leaderboard.
In addition to XP, in order to make the Leaderboard and gamification really take off with the students, I decided that I needed to consider level and reward systems. In addition to individual rewards, I also liked the idea of building in class rewards to support each class’ community of learners. Edmodo’s badge component was already available to me and I had “stolen” many level badges from some of the teachers I’d connected with. I could see some of my students valuing the badges (some a little too much), but I knew it wouldn’t be enough motivation for everyone. Once again, I went back to Edmodo and put the question out to my students: “What types of class rewards would you want to earn if your entire class was the first to get everyone to a level before the other classes?” Their responses were very creative. After considering and evaluating their responses for options that I could realistically follow-through with without much effort and that wouldn’t require very much money (if any), I created a chart that I posted to my class “game” website (I’ll be getting into the notion of creating a game site in a future post).
I work in additional game rewards through the use of “Tokens” and extra credit “Mini Games”. To make things simple for this non-math teacher, students receive one token for each 10XP they earn (100XP = 10 tokens). Students can choose to earn extra credit (extra XP and points added to their end of term grade) by completing online educational games that support the course content and benchmark standards, taking Accelerated Reader book quizzes, etc. Generally, extra credit options are worth 25XP and 2.5 extra credit points are added to their class grade point average. After a while, I had to modify the amount of XP that students could earn when several students began focusing more on turning in gobs of extra credit instead of the standards-based assignment tasks for actual grades. Now, the first (3) are worth 25XP each, the next (3) are worth 10XP each, and any after that are only worth 1XP each. I had students trying to submit 20 or more extra credit options right before Progress Reports or Report Cards as a mad rush to bring their grade up, which I obviously had a philosophical issue with.
I also created a virtual “Item Shop” where students could spend their tokens.
I really like the idea of giving students more choices, which hopefully would encourage them to put forth more quality work while at the same time demonstrating that I value their commitments to their other classes, families, and extra curricular activities. Let’s face it, we all struggle juggling everything all the time! I’d used Homework Passes for many years and I thought this would easily offer them the choice component. Some students realized quickly that, in order to earn enough tokens to purchase a Homework Pass, they would have to do work well enough to earn the tokens. They weren’t getting them for free! I still have to occasionally remind them about using them if I start hearing them moan about all the work they have in other classes or about tournaments and family gatherings coming up over a weekend. I still find myself reminding them that they need to purchase a Homework Pass before an assignment is due, not the day or day after and that they cannot be used for Quizzes, Tests, or Projects. It’s become popular to use for their Weekly Reading Log when they find that they haven’t read the required hours one week or have too much work to read the required time.
Before I came up with the list of items, I created a poll on Edmodo to survey students’ favorite snacks and candy (there are several free online poll-generating sites, like Easy Polls, if you’re not familiar with or have access to Edmodo). With student input in hand, I purchased one or two large cases of individual snack bags and candy at a local wholesale market. I struggled with how to price the items in order to encourage students to make wise choices. The price for candy and snacks was originally the same price as the Homework Passes, but that changed quickly. Students were required to message me any purchases they’d like to make from the Item Shop through Edmodo. By the end of the first day that the snacks were available for purchase, the shop was totally sold out of candy! No one had purchased Homework Passes like I had hoped. What was wrong with this picture?! Duh – they’re 11 and 12 year olds! A couple of students had surprised me, and purchased lunch passes. While they were eating lunch with me, I asked them if they’d mind giving me their input and suggestions for making modifications to the Item Shop list. They suggested making the snacks more expensive than the Homework Passes and, if I wanted to give them more options for academic motivation, add Task Extension Passes and Task Re-Do options to the list. What a great marketing idea! It was brilliant! I am happy to report that the purchase of snacks has dramatically decreased and the purchase of Homework Passes (which I now limit to one a week because of abuse by a few students) has risen. Maybe students are now evaluating their purchases more wisely, which is what I was aiming for from the start.
NEXT: Creating “The Game” site to support my curriculum and the gamified class structure (changing the structure of my instruction = inStructural)