A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to give gamification of my Year 8 Flash unit a go. The general idea is that the students would proceed through a set of nine levels that alternated through Flash skill building tasks and more curriculum based tasks like defining Design Specifications or creating a storyboard. I was interested to see how the students would react to this approach and so far the results have been amazing.
I decided to set up nine different blog posts and password protect them. To receive the password for the next level, the students would need to complete the previous level to an acceptable degree. Each blog post contains instructions for how to complete the level’s challenge and how to show proof of completion. Here’s an example of how one of the blog posts was set up:
When reading this post, you might think that it sounds a bit prescribed and that it doesn’t allow the students to the students to inquire and learn on their own but in practice, it has actually been quite the opposite. Each level becomes more challenging than the last by asking the student to solve more problems on their own. As students work their way through them, they begin to differentiate themselves based on their understanding of different tasks and, as you might expect, some students get through some of the tasks more quickly than others.
Increased Peer Support
When the students have completed a level, they are supposed to send me an email, which I automatically filter to the corresponding Outlook folder. I’ve told them that if they are waiting for a reply to an email, they can verbally let me know they are waiting and be patient. While they are waiting, they should be helping those around them, especially those that are at lower levels in the game. It’s now at the point where students check the help resources and then if they can’t complete the challenge, their next point of contact for help is their peers. If they’re still stuck, I can then come over and help them to get past whatever obstacle is preventing them from progressing to the next level but for the most part, the students are solving things together.
Going into this, I had a hunch that students would enjoy the unique approach, as it’s definitely different from their typical class structures, but I didn’t expect the engagement that I’ve seen so far. I have explicitly said that students do not need to do any of this work outside of class time and yet I get students sending me emails looking for passwords to the next level at all times of the day, inside or outside of school. This isn’t only for the “more fun” tasks like making things in Flash but even for tasks like making a storyboard or writing design specifications. They want to be able to set their red, incomplete levels to green, complete levels.
I have informally polled my two classes that are doing this unit and when I asked how many preferred this approach to work compared to the more “normal classroom” approach, it was pretty much unanimous that they preferred this. When asked if they thought it would ‘get old’ over the course of a trimester (2-3 months), most seemed to think that they would be happy to work through this learning method for extended periods of time.
In the current incarnation, I am in charge of reviewing each piece of work and providing passwords for subsequent levels. At first, it felt like all I did was stand at my computer and review work and I was worried that I wouldn’t be available to help students but, as students began to advance to higher levels, those levels would take longer to complete and the amount of email approvals has steadied out. Indirectly, it probably forced me to let the kids figure out more on their own or through their peers and get a chance to see that that method can be (and has been) successful. (NOTE: Having prepared video and text tutorials for many of the tasks was extremely helpful for supporting those early stages as it allowed me to say things like, “Check the 4 minute mark of the video and see if that helps”). Another advantage of being in charge of giving out the passwords for subsequent levels can be in giving students a slight delay between levels which encourages them to look beyond their own work to see who they can help before they more on to the next level.
The success I’ve seen with this has encouraged me to try the game method for a full trimester of work when school resumes after summer break. I have aspirations of being more explicit so that certain levels become official assessment levels (to keep the following example more globally understandable, I will use percentages with the explicit caveat that even mentioning the idea of percentages is completely anti-MYP). For example, perhaps by the time a student has successfully completed Level 3, this is enough to show 60% understanding for Criterion A and by the time they successfully complete Level 12, they can prove an 80% understanding of Criterion D. This would make assessment simpler but it will take a lot of planning to ensure that students are in fact given challenges that give them the opportunity to effectively prove their understanding of a particular criterion to at a particular level of understanding. I think it would help to make achievement more transparent for my students (typically between 10 and 14 years old) because I can clearly set minimum achievement levels, e.g. If you want 60% (again, for example purposes only), you will need to successfully complete 8 levels.
My next step with this is going to be looking at my unit of work and each of the criteria to break them down into small, achievable tasks that show evidence towards a certain mark band within a particular criterion. In addition to these, I can supplement the criteria-based stages with relevant but perhaps not directly related tasks like having students find recent Technology news and blogging about it or presenting it to the class to help keep the tasks fresh and varied or getting students to read other students’ work and leave them feedback about it. Since I have fairly successful units of work prepared already, it’s basically a jigsaw puzzle at this point. I just need to break it apart so that I can reassemble all the pieces into a new, hopefully more interesting and effective picture.