Gamification of Social Studies aka How I Got Kids to do Homework for Fun
Game On: Building the US
Game On: Building the US
Wikipedia defines “Gamification” as “the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts.” Apps like 4Square do this - you get points and earn badges and “mayorships” - and do this to compete against your friends. After attending a session at the 2012 ITEC conference on how one school (Bettendorf High School) “gamified” their professional development, I was intrigued. Could I pitch this to our administration for our own professional development? Maybe...
Then the first quarter ended. I wrote a blog about my daughter and her unbridled excitement about learning and trying new things without fear of making mistakes. So I applied it to my kids and I applied it to myself. Who cares if it doesn’t work out perfectly, I need to find a way to get kids excited about learning. Now. So over the weekend, before the start of quarter two (yes, I did this between Friday night and Monday morning), I redesigned my 8th grade social studies class into the game linked above (Game On: Building the US).
Here’s what I did:
Step 1: Identify all relevant content that I would normally teach during quarter 2. Fortunately I already had a sort of syllabus outlined - no need to reinvent the wheel, I just copied and pasted what I already had into a Pages document and then chunked it into 5 key topics/units.
*Founding Fathers/Early Presidents
*Expansion of America
*South & Slavery
Step 2: Quickly teach myself enough about Google Sites to be able to put the design together.
Step 3: Organize the content so that students are exposed to the different topic areas throughout each level, building from level to level.
Step 4: Incorporate the game aspects
*Badges for special “missions”
*Levels: My kids start at level 1 as “Noobs” and can work all the way up to level 10 to become “Dumbledore”
*Leader board (I only post the top 5, and only in the classroom so that I don’t publicly point out that Johnny only has 1 mission done, while Susie has done 24). A certain level of competition motivates some students
*Prizes - I have included small prizes at a few of the levels - when they get to level 2 they get a sticker, at level 9 they get a homework pass (they’ve obviously already gone above and beyond on the homework since I only require up to level 4), etc.
Step 5: Best Practices - Don’t worry, this wasn’t actually the last thing I considered, just the last one I’m typing
*Students are given a lot of choice over creation and demonstration of mastery
*The game lends itself to immediate extension activities for all types of learners, regardless of ability
*Students do MANY practice pieces (homework) before they work on the “assessment pieces” (the required assignments at the different levels)
*Assessments are based on the Core and the bigger picture- they are open ended and ask students to THINK, WRITE, and CREATE
*Students have rubrics for all summative assessments prior to even getting to any given level and have the opportunity to do them again to achieve a higher score - some of them (not all at this point) have more than one corresponding activity so students have choice in how they demonstrate mastery of the standard as well.
*All types of media, learning, and assessment are used - videos, text, primary sources, lecture, games, infographics, debate, discussion, creating, communicating, and more
Keys to Success:
*We still do some (1-2/week) group activities, videos, assignments in order to make sure that everyone is moving along, getting certain pieces of information that I want them to have, and to allow me to maintain a little bit of control as a check point.
*Because I was still building, I took the parts where I was stuck (coming up with names, developing levels, badges, etc) and asked for their input! It gave the students some ownership over the project.
*Twitter: I publicly praise those who are doing great work, who level up, or who earn a badge - I recognize any of their successes, large or small in a public sphere.
*Trust: I have a group of students whom I quickly developed a strong relationship with. They went with me on this crazy journey because we trust each other. If you don’t have that, this may not be for you.
*Kids going home over the weekend and working WAY beyond the suggested guidelines! I told them that they would be on track (I put all the required assignments in by level 4 so that all kids had the opportunity to work through the summative assessments before the end of the quarter) if they took 2 weeks per level. We started two weeks ago - I have kids who started level 2 on Friday and are ready for level 3 on Monday.
*Kids challenging themselves and setting goals! I have kids who are planning out how much they need to do by when to get to the level they want to achieve. Even though the minimum amount of work is to complete level 4, I have a kid whose goal is to get to level 10 because he wants nothing more than to be “Dumbledore”
*The leader board! I had a kid go home one night and complete 5 assignments beyond what he had done in class that day because he wanted to be on the leader board - it helped that up until that point no other boy had cracked the top 5, so the girls were dominating. :-)
*I don’t know if it’s a failure, but the kids who want a “traditional” classroom are the ones who are farther behind - there are a few who are good a different game: School. They want to get info, memorize, regurgitate, receive A. This isn’t really set up that way. I need to find a better way to motivate these couple students.
*My bad: I worked far enough ahead that the kids could get started (remember, I did this over the weekend), and then have continued building from there. They worked faster than I anticipated, so I had to play a little bit of catch up - can’t let that happen again!
*Because I am still held accountable by my district and parents for grades (obviously), I had to find a way to make this work within my traditional grade book (JMC). This is a constant struggle, and I’m still not sure I have found the best way to do this... Right now I just have about 50 assignments (and that’s only through part of level 3) and tried to explain to parents at conferences that their child is not responsible for all of them, and that many are optional.
So there’s a brief(ish) introduction to my latest education experiment. So far, I’m really excited. Will I turn every class into a game? Probably not. I want to offer my students a wide variety of learning experiences throughout their learning careers with me. Will I keep it for next year? Unless something drastically changes in the coming weeks, we will be doing this again next year.