Now onto today's topic at hand: gamification. As many of you know, I teach middle school English and technology as my 9-5 (and 5-9...I have no life [see Unplugged 2 for more on how having a life sucks])). Enough with the parentheticals.
We are officially two months into the school year, and this year has gone pretty well. As for my English classes, I've been throwing a lot at them, and they've been throwing it right back at me since Day One. We keep each other on our toes. Technology on the other hand...
...nah, it's still awesome.
Let me explain. I'm not some educational narcissist who goes around all day patting myself on the butt, muttering, "good job, Sarah." No, it's not eeeeven like that. I wish you could have been a fly on the wall the first couple weeks of my fifth period (Tech) class. Well, actually, no, because I'd probably spray you with Raid.
This group of students that I have now, they are my babies. I've been working with them going on six years. Now, they are in eighth grade. The first two weeks of school, they had an acute case of "Big Fish, Little Pond" syndrome. You know, how high school seniors are...but without the additional four years of maturity. Dun dun dun.
It didn't really help things that technology is classified under electives. Historically, some students have taken this to mean, "Easy A." And really, who could blame them? The way I'd been teaching it in previous years, it was pretty much showing kids stuff they already knew. I thought I was really doing something, and I guess I was (for maybe, a third grader...), but it was really basic and not very challenging. Microsoft Office, blah blah blah, internet searching skills, yadda yadda yadda, BORING!!!!
So this year, these SAME kids who have taken pretty much the SAME course for the fiftieth time, came in expecting the SAME thing. There were some behavioral issues...I'm not going to lie. But, little did they know that I had a secret weapon in my back pocket.
One word: gamification. *GASP*
What is gamification, you may ask? I'm so glad you did. I'm no expert, but what gamification means in my class is that we apply video game concepts to learning. Remember all those hours you used to waste, playing Donkey Kong Country? You know, the one with Kong and his annoying sidekick Diddy, who would always get in the way when you were trying to jump on bad guys' heads? Well, I do. We used to play that game (or Q-Bert, depending on your generation) for hours on end, when we should have been doing our homework. Shame on us.
That was about twenty years ago for me, but really, nothing has changed. I mean, everything has changed, but nothing has really changed. Sigh. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!!!!
The fact remains that kids still love games. Luckily for me, I went to this amazing PD session over the summer offered through my county (shoutout to #pgtech, whut whut) that taught us how to gamify our instruction. Here's how it works.
There are certain things common to most popular video games. You usually have levels. You usually have points. You usually have strategy guides. You usually have some Big Bad to defeat at the end. What gamifying instruction does, in a nutshell, is applies what kids love about games, to get them excited about learning. Well, except for the Big Bad. Let's call it a Big Good...that helps you pass the levels...and gives you grades and stuff...ah, nevermind. This extended metaphor just isn't working out the way it sounded in my head.
Anyway...back to the subject. Just like in a video game, everybody starts off at the beginning level. In my class, I call it the "Tutorial Stage." Here, I have placed several basic assignments that all students must complete before they are allowed to move onto the fun stuff. They earn points for each assignment, and level up every time they hit a certain point threshold. I chose the arbitrary number of 2100 points, because every major assignment is worth 700 points. So, if they complete each assignment perfectly, they only have to do three at each level.
In each level, the assignments get harder and harder, building on skills that the students learned in previous stages. However, the higher level assignments tend to be more fun. Students are allowed to go back, but not allowed to skip ahead...just like a video game!
Each assignment has a specified number of players. Some are solo missions, and some are multiplayer. Just like a video game!
Each stage has multiple missions. Of these missions, students can pick what interests them, as long as they reach the 2100 point threshold. These missions are usually new skills that the student isn't as familiar with, such as coding and video production. As stated earlier, there are strategy guides and walkthroughs for most missions...get this...video tutorials. Just like a video game!
This post is getting really long and my eyes are starting to shut, so I'm going to go ahead and post it now. If you would like to see an example of gamification in action, feel free to visit our class site at www.tinyurl.com/madamethomas. Go to the Technology subheading, and click on the Class Structure page. There, you can see all of the rules, and links to assignments.
I'm always telling my students to end their writing with a proper conclusion, so I should follow my own advice, no matter how sleepy I am lol. We are nearing the end of the first quarter, and the inaugural run of the gamification of Tech. I am so impressed by everything the students have done so far. I can't say that they've turned a 180 in terms of behavior, but it's definitely north of 150.
I'm sure that there will soon come a time when students are regularly teaching me new things about technology. That's how I'll know that I've done right by them. Already, they are turning in projects that are way better than my crappy examples. Gamification is rooted in inquiry and PBL, and helps to address the multiple intelligences. There's some teacher-talk for you academic types. Ok, that was the Nyquil talking, so don't blame me. Nighty night.
Last thing: I'm so grateful to have learned about this concept from my fellow educators. Thanks so much for sharing :) :) :)