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How to Engage Any Student Via Gamification

Editor's note: We are always working to engage students in their learning. Gamification is one strategy used by Scott Hebert, a teacher from Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School, in Fort Saskatchewan, Canada, and the 2013 Alberta Excellence in Teaching Award Recipient as well as the 2015 Gamification in Education Project of the Year Award Recipient. He shares his thoughts and some actitivies to get started. Scott will host a discussion and answer your questions on Twitter this Thursday, October 19 at 8pm US Eastern time. Type #Globaledchat into the search box to join the conversation!

By guest blogger Scott Hebert

Take a moment to think back on your most enjoyable moments as a student.

I'm going to venture a guess here that you did not think of a teacher who lectured to you incessantly, silent reading from the textbook, or never being able to work in a group setting. I would imagine you thought of teams or activities you participated in, the teacher who did whatever they could to help their students, or that one lesson that got you moving and thinking. No matter what you thought of, I can almost guarantee that it had something to do with one key word - fun. Education often lacks this essential component to engage students.

But all is not lost, as I believe I have a solution.

Before we get there, it is important to understand how I got here.

When I decided to be a teacher, I decided that I was going to change how students viewed education. I wanted them to view education exactly as the day they arrived in the system, as a fun and engaging environment.

gamification image.pngI started my career as an elementary physical education specialist where I could focus on fun and play. The connections were easy and the enjoyment was tangible. But shortly after starting that job, I moved from elementary physical education to middle school sciences.

Arriving in my new class, which I took over from another teacher, I was bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm and excitement but was met with the sobering, icy glares of 13-year-old children. The spark in the eyes of my students I had so vibrantly seen in my previous position was snuffed out and I immediately saw myself as a student in each of them. This was the game-changing moment. I needed to find a way to rekindle their interest in a subject, and system as a whole, very few of them cared for. After some research and planning, I decided to explore the then-emerging concept of gamification!

The Basics of Gamification

So what is gamification?

Gamification is a concept used from business to marketing, but it hadn't been used a whole lot in education. However, it is beginning to be used with more regularity. In essence, gamification is the idea of using game design principals and elements in a non-game setting. This concept can be applied in small bursts or to entire units or courses.

But how and why is it so successful?

Traditional models of education often focus on a model of information regurgitation and step-following, done almost entirely in isolation. Traditional education seems to put an emphasis on "playing it safe." Gamification, on the other hand, attacks these notions head on by emphasizing growth, creativity, and collaboration in a student-focused classroom. Also, let us not forget that it engages students because it is fun.

All that being said, is it easy to do? Gamification can be anything you want it to be. It can be large and elaborate or quick and used in small doses. It is limited not by money or time but by the creativity and risk-taking of the designer—in this case, you!

Here are some helpful tips for "gamifying" your classroom!

Gamify your Classroom

Activity #1: Mystery

Walk into your class and just put the number '5' on your board. Ask your students where it came from and if they know who did it. The next day change it to '4,' and so on. Ask students to speculate what it could be counting down to or who is doing it.

Wrap something in your room in black paper and put a white question mark on it. Encourage inferences, observations, and hypothesizing. Let your mystery lead up to a large reveal.

This activity is great for language arts writing activities, math estimation activities, or science hypothesis activities. You can even turn it into a story when something goes missing from the classroom and you need to solve a series of puzzles that lead to clues to find out who took it! This activity is great for elementary school students.

Activity #2: Create Game Cards

Use online tools such as MTG Cardsmith to create custom trading cards for your class. Create cards that allow students to access different privileges, like wearing their hat in class or listening to music. You can even create cards that give advantages on assessments, such as time to talk with a friend or asking you to provide an answer to any 1-point question they choose. Use these cards as perks for above-and-beyond work, creativity, or risk taking. Student will become hooked on the tangibility of this concept as it breeds collaboration and students begin to trade and share cards with classmates. This activity is great for students at all ages, but especially elementary and middle school students.

Activity #3: Review Games and Randomness

Follow up on "Activity #2" to lead up to a review game. Do this by taking an old board game and bringing it back to life. Here is an example for Jenga:

Set up the Jenga tower and ask the students trivia questions. "Jeopardy-style" questions are recommended, or picking popsicle sticks numbered to associated Post-Its that have questions - this is the element of randomness that really captures the students' attention. Answering these questions earn them points; however, they can only access the total points for their team if they successfully pull a block from the tower. To spice it up, you can write rules on specific blocks, like picking one only from the middle column or picking from behind their back. Something that should be simple becomes really difficult and fun! Award a prize to the winning team, such as 30 seconds to see an upcoming test in advance or pick a number between 1 and (# of questions on test) and give them one question early. Students love this!

While there are so many more ways to add gamification to your classrooms, these three simple concepts can be applied in no time and really increase your student engagement.

For more ideas on gamification in the classroom, please feel free to visit my website.

Best of luck in your gamification journey!

Follow Scott, Heather, and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Image created on Pablo.

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