This is the longest I’ve gone without posting. I’m sorry. My plate is full of PARCC, but I found some time to wrap up my series on Gamifying Your Classroom! Before we get to that, though, if you are in Jersey or up for a road trip, we’d like to invite you to Ednado. Ednado will be a great day of learning and we’d love to have you attend or present!
Without further adieu:
To many students, an engaging Gamified classroom comes down to the rewards. The problem is, to some teachers, coming up to the bucket and picking out a prize or giving out a homework pass or stickers constitutes an engaging reward. These types of rewards are quickly forgotten and over time become less and less engaging. We can do better.
In previous posts, I’ve talked about how the most motivating rewards provide a student with Status, Access, and/or Power and we should be giving them very little Stuff. Leaderboards provide most of the Status in my Gamified classroom, so my Item Shop, the place where students cash in class currency (called Achievements Points (ap) in my class) for rewards, houses my Access and Power based goodies.
Before I talk about some of my rewards, I wanted to share a few lessons I’ve learned after three years of Gamification. I’ve learned that a good reward doesn’t just engage students, but also benefits the teacher. You’ll notice on top of granting Access/Power to students, I designed a lot of the Items in my Item Shop to solve problems, either mine or theirs. Next, Price your Items appropriately. You can control the frequency with which an Item is purchased by how much it costs and/or by how much currency you reward students. For me, I prefer to put students in a situation where they really have to think about what they buy and when. I do this by keeping class currency low and items expensive. Don’t be afraid to adjust the price of your rewards until you find your sweet spot. Finally, guess what! You’re giving things away for free that you should be charging students for:
Access – The ability to have something others cannot.
Music Pass – My students enjoy listening to music when working independently. Before I Gamified, I just let students listen to music while they worked. Now, listening to music costs ap. This was an aha moment for me: I was giving away things for free that should be in my Item Shop! Many more soon followed.
Bathroom Pass – I allow my students to go to the bathroom in the first five minutes of class at no cost, after that it cost ap. Students learned to either come to class early or go to the bathroom in another teacher’s class. Inadvertently, I solved students being late to class by charging to go to the bathroom. Kids will challenge you, but stick to your guns. The phrase that pays when students ask, “Can I go to the bathroom?” is “Sure, if you want to spend the points.” Put the onus on them. I was shocked how little students went to the bathroom; they wanted to save their points for something more worthwhile. What if a student has to go to the bathroom and doesn’t have enough points? A tip: On the first day of school, give out an achievement that just so happens to be worth enough for a student to go to the bathroom. That way they have a Bathroom Pass in the bank and you start off the year on a positive note with a first-day Achievement.
Print Pass – My kids were always asking me to print something for my class or another teacher’s class. It drove me nuts. What better way to handle this problem than to charge them. Students started to print at home. If they forgot to print at home, at least they had a way to fix their mistake.
Tipping Point – How many times has a student come to you and said some variation of “I have a 92.3, what can I do to get an A.” My school has no set rule for this problem and I am faced with a moral dilemma every time I’m asked. If a student has worked hard to earn their on-the-fence average, I’m inclined to give them the grade as a way of rewarding their hard work. Other times, students who have learned how to play school haven’t really worked hard enough to deserve the points gratis. So what did I use to do before Gamification? I’d have them write a paper, of course! Which, ultimately, just punished me with more papers to grade. With Tipping Point, students can save up their ap and use them at the end of the marking period to push their grade to the next letter. This item is expensive because it’s valuable, but it also provides a fair way to handle this issue especially when you recall that students earn ap in my class by doing heroic deeds and displaying heroic traits aka being awesome. By putting the choice back on the student, I haven’t had an issue with this topic since I created Tipping Point.
Charge Pass – My class was Bring Your Own Device. My kids would ask me if they could charge their device which then involve them moving to a new seat by an outlet and having to borrow a charger. It became frustrating and took time away from teaching, so I started to charge students to charge their device. If they needed to borrow a charger it cost even more. Most students began to come with their devices charged. Problem solved.
Locker Pass – Sometimes students forget things in their locker. With a Locker Pass they can go retrieve them. If they don’t have the ap points, they can’t. Simple fix to a persistent problem.
Blast – I am a huge fan of using Twitter in the classroom. Every teacher should be on Twitter. Students who buy Blast get to take over my Twitter account and Live Tweet the goings-on of our school day. Never had a student behave inappropriately, parents love seeing what goes on in class, and I got to tease my kids about having more followers than them. Win. Win. Win.
Me First – You know these kids: “Did you grade my essay yet? Did you grade my test yet?” What better way to solve this problem than to give students the ability to buy the right to be graded first. I even use this one on parents. “I haven’t gotten to your child yet, but if they’d like to buy Me First, I will grade them first.” Most students won’t spend the ap. They rather save it for something they deem more valuable. But what’s great about these kinds of Items is that it takes the decision out of my hands and puts it back on the student. If a student wants to spend their hard earned ap on being graded first they can. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to. All this gray-area-decision-making is taken out of my control and the control is given back to the student. A student in control of their own destiny is more likely to be engaged.
Unlock – In my class, students work independently on Levels (units). A Level was usually open for two weeks. Once a level is closed, the student is locked out and any work they did not complete received a zero. With an Unlock, students can reopen the level and complete the work that they did not finish or even redo any work that they’re not happy with. This is how I could have a self-paced, self-directed student-centered classroom that allowed for students to get the grade they wanted.
Power – The ability to have control over yourself and/or others.
Slander – By far Slander is the most purchased Item in my Item Shop. Slander allows a Guild to change another Guild’s name. When it comes to the Leaderboard, Guild projects, or anything else Guild related, whatever their name was is how I announced them. Kids love having the power to change a Guild’s name. My favorite Slander story is the time when a Guild of basketball players thought that a Guild of football players changed their name to 0-26, which was the basketball team’s record at the time. In reality, it was a group of quiet girls who changed the basketball Guild’s name and started an inter-Guild war that lasted all year. A clever false-flag operation! Tip: check Urban Dictionary before you change a Guild’s name.
Misnomer – If your Guild is Slandered and you want to change your Guild’s name back you have to buy Misnomer from the Item Shop. The funny thing? Misnomer costs more than Slander and no, Guilds cannot Slander themselves to save on the cost. This adds another level of Power to my Gamified classroom because if I Slander a Guild, and they want to change their name, it’s a way for me to control and drain their ap usage. Most Guilds choose to live with their new name, but I’ve had Guilds who take themselves very seriously so they spend the ap to constantly change their name back. The whole Slander/Misnomer process is awesome and has been the highlight of the class for many of my kids.
Purge – Similar to Slander, Guilds have the ability to take away a Guild or class’ xp in my class through buying Purge. My favorite Purge story is when an entire class banded together and spent a couple thousand ap to take almost all of the xp away from the first place class knocking them down to last place right at the end of last year’s game. I loved watching the politics of the Guilds and classes as they decide who to go after or attempt to negotiate immunity for themselves. It’s this Game of Thrones dynamic that makes these types of Power Items more engaging than any Stuff I could offer students.
Forgiveness – When students are late handing in work we punish them with a late penalty. If students have earned enough ap through performing heroic deeds and traits during the marking period, I feel they’ve earned the right to avoid this penalty. I allow students to remove the late penalty by buying Forgiveness. If I were still in the classroom (I’m an edTech Coach now) I would also allow students to buy extensions for major assignments.
XP Booster – Extra Credit is a gray area nightmare for many teachers. My school didn’t have a rule on Extra Credit. It was at my discretion, so if I didn’t give Extra Credit, I was the bad guy. What’s a teacher to do? I decided to put it back on the kids. XP Booster is how I handled extra credit. A student can buy an XP Booster on any assignment throughout the marking period. An XP Booster gives them a 10% boost on any assignment they want, but they cannot go over the Total Points the assignment is worth. A student can choose to spend all their ap on XP Boosters if they want, it doesn’t upset the system, and the great thing about that is that it’s another form of Power. If a student is trying to win the xp Leaderboard battle by having the most xp points for the year, if any other student wants to win too it forces them to also buy XP Boosters. I’ve seen some epic battles between students that has come down to smart management of ap and using XP Boosters at opportune times.
Pen and Paper – This is the only Stuff I give my students. No drinks, no snacks, no trinkets, and definitely no Homework Passes. The only stuff kids can buy is pen and paper. Rarely did a student ask me for pen and paper. They would rather borrow them from a friend than buy it with ap from me. After charging for pens and paper, for the first time ever I actualyl finished a school year with a full pen cup!
There are more Items in the Item Shop, but I think you get the idea. Access, Power, and an easier life for teachers and students is the name of the game. Students also knew in my class that they could suggest a reward and I would come up with the appropriate amount of ap to charge them. In fact, most issues in class were handled by negotiation and ap. The students enjoyed it because the system was fair and they had a voice and a choice.
Even though I taught at the the high school level, I’ve worked with many elementary school teachers to Gamify their class. For those brave enough to teach our youngest learners, consider this: some of the best rewards for your kids are, again, ones you’re giving away for free: line-leader, caboose, board cleaner, attendance taker, first-to-recess, last-in-from-recess, lunch with their teacher, first for show-and-tell. Think about it.
My Gamified classroom aimed to provide a fair system where students are further engaged by the layer of fun Gamification puts on top of their learning. My Item Shop made my life easier and gives students a way to fix any mistakes throughout the year, making their life easier. Consider upgrading your reward system to something similar. You’ll be happy you did.
Until Next Time,
cross-posted at Teched Up Teacher
Chris Aviles presents on education topics including gamification, technology integration, BYOD, blended learning, and the flipped classroom. Read more at Teched Up Teacher.