Gamification Extended

Late Night Gamer by 2create Louis du Mont

It has been quite a few months since Loren first brought the idea of gamification to my attention, as discussed in the earlier post Gamifying Education.  His enthusiasm and prodding has lead me to plan to rethink my approach to homework over the summer (Radical Revamp … in Small Increments).  But I need to take the time to research this concept.  Hopefully I can then avoid making some basic mistakes in implementation by building on the insights and research of others.  With this in mind, I was intrigued to see the article Study’s the name of the game by Megan Johnston in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The article begins:

Inside a school laboratory, students gather around the bench for today’s lesson: how to create a chemical reaction. Yet instead of turning to their worksheets, these young investigators try some role play. Each budding scientist dons a lab coat and begins to experiment until – voila! – beakers erupt all over the room.

Their reward? Not a mark or score but a handful of special tokens. The student who makes the biggest explosion also wins the title of professor.

Who would not want to be part of that Science class?  Megan continues:

A growing band of teachers and researchers is already using games to boost student motivation and engagement, borrowing the structure of a typical computer game in which users overcome small challenges to collect points. Players – or in this case, students – work through levels of increasing difficulty until they reach their goal.

”Computer games have almost perfected the art form of ‘incentivisation’,” says the director of innovation at Northern Beaches Christian School, Stephen Collis.

From this, my challenge is to figure out how to structure course challenges so students are gaining knowledge, learning to think critically, and developing their mathematical understanding, not just accumulating rewards.  This is the part I need to look into over the summer.  How do I make sure my rewards system has a higher goal?  Though since I am focusing simply on increasing student motivation to do homework appropriately, I might be overstating the outcomes I hope to see.

It is encouraging to know that

Game-based learning is ranked as one of six ”technologies to watch” by international organisations New Media Consortium and Educause Learning Initiative in their annual Horizon Report, citing its potential to foster student collaboration, problem solving and procedural thinking.

This article intrigued me so much that I am tempted to quote the whole thing here, but I will try to resist.  Instead, here are some of the key points that the article brings up.

  • The game system allows differentiation to occur as students’ progress at their own pace.
  • Gamification allows self-directed learning, and helps students manage their time better.
  • Students are motivated by seeing their friends’ progress as well as by the rewards they gain for themselves.
  •  One study showed that students learning through playing a game retained more information than those who read the same content in a book.

My thought:  Retention is not the same as understanding, analyzing or synthesizing.  Does gamification help with these higher-order skills too?

Ok … I admit temporary defeat.  Megan begins to addresses some of my questions, so I need to just quote her:

The theory is that games boost students’ motivation – and thereby their learning – by leveraging cognitive, emotional and social needs. The narrative of a game helps players master difficult intellectual tasks, for example, while also invoking emotions such as pride and frustration and letting students test out new social identities that grant them academic credibility.

”It’s actually much more complicated than just adding points and badges to the classroom,” Lee says.

”There’s nothing inherently wrong with extrinsic motivation but we really need to couple that with trying to cultivate intrinsic motivation – so getting students to love learning and see themselves as successful at what they do.”

Games are especially useful in helping students overcome their fear of failure, Lee says. In fact, many games require players to fail repeatedly until the correct answer is found. And, unlike traditional exams, games give frequent feedback and keep the stakes low.

Too often in schools where I have worked students are no longer allowed to fail.  I, as the teacher, am expected to do everything in my power to ensure they “succeed”, where success is measured in terms of grades rather than in terms of learning.  (I obviously have my own very strong feelings about this, but this is not the place to vent them!!)  I love the idea of allowing students to fail while motivating them to keep trying and proving to them that they can come back from apparent failure, and they come back stronger, smarter, and wiser!

Though this article does not answer the question of how can I restructure my homework grading system, it highlights current thinking and research in the field of gamification, letting me know that this is a worthwhile avenue to pursue.  Not that I ever doubted Loren of course!

My plan to implement a systematic rewards system is barely worthy of being titled as gamification, but I need to start small and see where it leads.  Stay tuned!

Gamifying Education

Anyone Who Stops Learning is Old by Keri-Lee Beasley

Anyone who stops learning is old …

I, like most people don’t want to get old.  So if Henry Ford’s quote “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”   is true, then I need to keep learning.

Fortunately, I have some great teachers challenging me to think and rethink ideas.  Some of these teachers are sitting in my classroom every day.  The discussions I have with students educate me in so many areas.  They teach me about the latest technology they are using, the games they are playing, and the thought processes they are evaluating.  They share what motivates and challenges them, what they find interesting, … and what they find BORING!  I have been introduced to books I would never have read and logic questions I would never have pursued by their queries and insights.  Some days it is more than I can take in.  But, it gets better.  While my students teach me so many things, they have now taken their role one fabulous step further …

Students are now doing my homework for me!  Sweet!

After an intriguing discussion with Loren about game design and future career prospects in the gaming industry (obviously for Loren and not for me), I received an email that said:

Dear Ms. Connor,

This might be something you would be able to write about on your blog post, and if not, is still very stimulating brain exercise.

Hope you enjoy it:

This video intrigued me as it provided some very simple steps to help students be more engaged in learning.  (The fact that a student recommended it also suggests that the concepts are on the right track.)  Next year I am going to try and readjust my homework grading approach in a similar manner to that discussed in the presentation and see what happens.

It makes sense that by gaining points for work done rather than losing them would increase motivation as students work toward specifically identified goals and rewards.  The idea of employing this reward system to encourage students to think, to research, to collaborate, to communicate, to learn and to be independent makes sense.  And considering the time students spend earning rewards in their game scenarios, it might engage some students who have otherwise not been involved.

Rewards from MrTPlus

The idea of having class rewards when certain goals are attained also encourages collaboration as the strong students want to help those that are struggling so they can reach the class goal faster.  And the weaker students cheer on the success of the others.

Loren and I have discussed these ideas at length.  In fact, Loren came back a few weeks later and told me some of the down-sides of gamifying education, comparing it to some of the rewards systems employed by airline and other commercial enterprises.  (I need to talk with him again to share further about this.)

Over the summer I hope to get a plan together for how this might be used in my classroom.  Only by testing it out will I truly see if it is effective.  Having Loren help design this plan to “gamify” parts of my class greatly increases the likelihood of it catching student’s attention as he knows what would motivate him.  He also looks at the implementation from a student perspective.  Loren found this site where R. Spicar shares how he has gamified his courses.  Since finding this, Loren has been working on a plan for me.  If his ideas come to fruition, I will share them with you as I know he is contemplating how to reward true learning and prevent cheating, how to motivate and engage.

To investigate some of these ideas, I hope to use some insights in the following papers:

Gamification of Education

What Games Have to Teach Us About Teaching and Learning:  Game Design as a Model for Course and Curricular Development by Kimon Keramidas

Gamification in Education:  What, How, Why Bother?

Gamifying Homework

I for one can’t wait to see his plan and look forward to learning from him for many years to come.

Revisiting the Dreaded Quadratic Formula

It is hard to believe that it was one year ago that I posted “DON’T MAKE ME LISTEN TO THAT SONG AGAIN!!” reflecting on how technology was used (in a small way) to help students learn the Quadratic Formula .  My nightmares all had a “Pop Goes the Weasel” soundtrack  after listening to the quadratic formula sung to this tune many, many, many times!  So this year as I turned the page in my notes and saw the words “Quadratic Formula” my heart skipped a beat and my palms began to sweat.  How was I going to survive the trauma again this year?

Fear the Dark by Stuant63

Fortunately, this year I was spared some of the agony.  I only have one Algebra 1 class and we very quickly looked at some of the quadratic formula videos from YouTube.  It was comparatively quick and painless.  But last year I had said that I might extend the technology use this year … so why not?  My nightmares have diminished and I can take it!  So students were asked to create a video of their own to help them remember the formula.  I was very impressed with the results!  The quadratic formula was put to music in unique and creative ways.  The music used included “Happy Birthday”, the “ABC Song”, a couple of raps, a song by “One Direction”, and some original music.  The creativity with the songs as well as the video editing skills of the class impressed me.  Once the videos were finished, students uploaded them to the class Google site.  One video was not able to be viewed after it was linked to the site.  Before I was even aware of the problem, another student has posted instructions on how to correctly upload the video!  Thank goodness, because I have no idea how to do that … it all seems like magic to me!

Here are some of the videos created by my class!


The bloopers and “historical perspective” added to the charm of this video.

This group could run a course in “How to Earn Brownie Points” for the way they ended their video, but it made me smile!!

This student did a great job of taking a well known song, adapting the words to fit the formula and using appropriate props!

Besides recording their videos, many students extended their production by including bloopers which is always good for a laugh. What a privilege to be blessed with such a creative group of students.

There were a number of other excellent videos submitted, but this gives you an idea of the craftsmanship of these students!

So next time those infamous words “Quadratic Formula” end up in front of me, there will be no need to panic … the students have got this!


Photo by Susanica

Over the course of the past year we have been slowly, piece-by-piece, thought-by-thought, prejudice-by-prejudice, reexamining our view of what our classroom of digital natives should look like.  We have implemented small changes here and there to either integrate (or hopefully embed) technology into individual lessons, but it is now time to take that big step and create a unit that utilizes technology.

When considering options for this process the idea of a flipped classroom was very intriguing.  However, I feel it would be impractical to try and implement a flipped classroom for one unit so close to the end of the year.  As Brian Bennett mentioned in his google hangout presentation during our last COETAIL TAS face-to-face meeting, it takes time and patience to train a class in the ways that most effectively utilize the idea of a flipped classroom.  So before I flip, I want to take the time to work through the “training” stage for a class.  If I have not clearly thought through how to implement a flipped classroom, then I set the process up for failure. Whenever we take a risk, failure is a possible outcome, but I do not want that failure to be simply because I did not do my part in preparing.  To start getting a clearer picture of how the process works though, I am going to try and implement a flipped classroom on a small scale in a couple of individual lessons now but I will save a full unit until I have gained greater confidence with the process.

Hell Freezes Over by erutan

Instead, for my project I want to go back to an idea I addressed in Course I: the digital gathering of notes.  In the post Shortcomings … and Hell Freezing Over” I said:

The Techticker site maintained by Mike Bogle, Educational Technologist at the University of New South Wales contained one entry in particular that has inspired me:  “Student Engagement and Technology in the Classroom”.  Mike Bogle uses Richard Buckland as an example of how “the combination of an engaging instructor and empowering technology can have incredible results for student participation.”  Richard Buckland did what I am afraid to do.  Having identified that students were not taking notes in his classes and therefore had trouble recalling details in the future, he began to post his notes on a wiki.  Richard’s presentation “Wikis for Collaborative Learning and Teaching” on this problem can be accessed through this or directly from Youtube.  This presentation intrigued me because Richard Buckland began with some of the same fears that I have, yet his courage to open his notes to the world enhanced the learning experience for students in his class. …

So if you check my OLC, you won’t find my notes posted there yet.  I am still cautious, but I am considering the possibility of changing.  See … miracles do still happen … and I think you will see my “notes”, as generated by students in my classes posted long before Hell freezes over!”

So let’s make a miracle!

The current intention is to have either one or both of my Honors Calculus A classes take notes using googledocs for one chapter.  Though I have not worked out all the details, I intend to have one student responsible for taking notes each class.  These notes will be designed to present the main ideas of the lesson, the key underlying concepts to understand, the “tricks” or hints to look for or help with solving problems and connections with previous topics.  The number of examples they include will be up to them.  The reason for having only one student take notes at this point is two-fold.  Firstly, if the whole class is taking notes on one googledoc, there will be some students who will be off task, letting the rest of the class take their notes for them.  Having one or two official note-takers each class will hopefully help the note-taker stay focused despite having their computer open; and since the class will not see the quality of the notes being produced, they will hopefully be motivated to stay focused.  Secondly, once the notes have been taken, everyone else will have to write a summary reflection on the content of the class as presented by the notetaker(s).  The benefit of this reflection is that students will become reflective thinkers and learn to provide constructive criticism.

It is hoped that these notes will provide benefits for both the students and for me.

For the students, this experience will:

  • Encourage collaboration as they build knowledge as a community of learners.
  • Allow them to go back and revise their notes as their knowledge improves.
  • Archive their growth as learners.
  • Provide them with the same content from multiple sources (classtime, notes and peer reflections).
  • Provide a valuable review tool in the form of a personalized textbook.

For me, this experience will:

  • Provide me with an extra avenue of feedback for students.
  • Allow me to rapidly identify misconceptions.
  • Provide data that will hopefully highlight whether my current method of presenting notes is cumbersome and restrictive or beneficial and directed.

Some of the challenges will be

  • Embracing the changes that occur in the classroom where one or two computers are always open.
  • Structuring pre-project information so students know exactly what is expected of them.
  • Surrendering the control!

Initially there is a strong potential for this to have a disruptive impact on the class simply because it is different from the way we have run class for the previous six months.  Anytime we change routine, there is a period of transition.  Strong scaffolding will be needed to help students know what is expected of them.  This relates to both the note-taking and the reflective comments.  A rubric for tone and quality on how they take notes and comment will be essential.  An example of notes taken in another class would help give direction; as would previewing comments that address both the content of the notes and any missing information, highlighting positives to encourage the note-taker and identifying areas for improvement.

Having started to think through the structure and implications of this project my innate fear is beginning to be transformed into eager anticipation.  I can see the possibilities and dream of the benefits that will result.  For example, how cool would it be if the note-takers began to supplement the notes with external resources they have researched and found, such as YouTube videos, or online university material?  Imagine if the reflective comments began to do the same.  The students would be creating their own version of a flipped classroom where the supplemental material directly addresses the issues they are having rather than the ones I think they might have.  Imagine if the person addressing their areas of uncertainty were their peers through the reflective comments.  Imagine if the reflective comments helped them gain a deeper sense of empathy for others as they see how positive and constructive comments can benefit, encourage, challenge and build up, but destructive comments tear down and destroy.  Imagine if they went back later and referenced where a particular days material was used (eg: “This content is important for when we study derivatives.”) or linked it to content they already know.  Imagine …

Well the groundwork has been laid.  Now all that is left is just to  … JUMP …

Hyperventilation and a New Dawn

The final blog post for this course is to be a revelation of what the last eight weeks has accomplished in my classroom.  Somehow this suggests (to me at least) that the second to last blog post should be radical, should reveal great depth of insight and understanding, should have readers (or … let’s be honest … reader … thanks Jeff ) fluctuating between laughter and tears as they (he) are shocked, inspired, challenged, provoked, and amazed by the over-whelming illustrations of exponential growth in effective technology usage in my math classroom.  This should be a mini-magnum opus (defined by the free online dictionary to be “1.  A great work, especially a literary or artistic masterpiece.  2.  The greatest single work of an artist, writer, or composer.”) as it were.

With this internal pressure building in my mind, I have googled, searched, clicked, linked, connected, re-searched, interviewed, discussed, argued, cajoled, collected and collated sites, resources and people in search of that elusive inspiration that will tie stage one of this journey together.  (The very nature of the previous sentence gives you insight into my current state of mind.)  Each internet search began with hope and determination, continued with stubbornness and frustration, and ended in despair and annoyance.   But just because hours of internet searching had once again proven fruitless, I did not lose faith in the insights that face-to-face communication would reveal.  So lunch discussions and informal office interviews were undertaken.  Data was collected.  Unfortunately, these too ended in disappointment.  Colleagues confirmed my fluid views on technology in the math classroom and expounded on their use of the same technology that I currently use.  While there is comfort in knowing that I am not behind the curve as far as technology goes, there was no radical “aha” moment that spurred me on to greater heights.  What do I do now?  Deadlines loom and my blank computer screen seems to be laughing at me.  (Yes … I am well past the first signs of delirium and insanity.)

Then a flicker of light … a brief illumination in the darkness of my despairing cerebral cortex.

What was it that Marc Prensky said in his edutopia article “Shaping Tech for the Classroom”?  “How, then, do we move forward?  First, consult the students.  They are far ahead of their educators in terms of taking advantage of digital technology and using it to their advantage.”  So I seek out the best and the brightest students that I know and ask for their insights.  “Tell me great gurus, how can I effectively integrate technology into my humble classroom?”  Invariably these students expressed similar sentiments to my own.  Technology can be cool for exploration but generally does not have a place in the Math classroom.

Now what am I to do?

I don’t give up.  I keep searching.  I hold my breath, fearful to give in to hope again.

But wait, after a few more searches I actually seem to be yielding some promising results.  Quick!  Bookmark them, import them to my netvibes RSS reader, print them, and save them before they disappear again into oblivion.

The blog Teaching College Math catches my eye.  Maria Andersen seems to be talking about technology in the math classroom in a useful and constructive manner.  I investigate her site further which quickly confirms that her blog should have a prominent place on my netvibes page for easy reference in the future.  I read a couple of her posts.  “Shifting Assessment in a World with WolframAlpha” looks interesting.  Maria talks about an issue I have been struggling with.  When students have access to tools such as WolframAlpha that not only give the answer, but also give all of the steps, how do I ensure that my students are learning?  Her solution is so simple that I am embarrassed by the time I have spent obsessing about this.  Assessments should no longer be about giving the answer to a question.  Rather they should focus on the proof, the justification of the answer.  The mathematical thinking process is encouraged and supported.  The “answer”  to the question is of so little consequence that it is actually given as part of the question.  This mirrors statements that I regularly make in my classroom about the need to show work and demonstrate logical thinking in solution development.  Her last statement sums up this sentiment:  “If you can be replaced by a computer, you’re likely to be replaced by a computer.  Let’s make sure we’re teaching students how to think mathematically, not how to compute mathematically.”

Darkness is slowly giving way as light begins to penetrate the dark recesses of my mind, like a new dawn lurking just over the horizon.  One post, a simple idea, and a challenge to rethink my views on WolframAlpha.  Maybe I can allow students access to this tool in class without fear that it will stop them from thinking.  Isn’t my job about providing students with opportunities and challenges that require them to think?  With this in mind, dare I continue the journey to move towards the light?

I scan through some of Maria’s other posts.  The list looks promising!

Math Technology to Engage, Delight and Excite” sounds interesting.  A twitter comment linked to the post further entices me to return later.

  1. Pete Welter says:  July 26, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Wonderful presentation. Your emphasis on the philosophy of using tech and on creating a framework in which to place the tools you mentioned was extremely valuable. The idea that tools like Wolfram Alpha change what we teach as well as how we teach is not something heard often enough in the math education community.

As a preservice secondary math teacher (although I’m coming into education after 25 years developing software), I continue to be amazed (appalled?) that for many math teachers, technology is a calculator and a projector. Sadly, I can count on one hand with fingers left over the number of teachers and my fellow preservice teachers who have even heard of Wolfram Alpha.

Whew!  Luckily I have heard of Wolfram Alpha!  But still, I will save this presentation for another time.  At least this comment confirms that Maria’s site is going to constantly challenge and stretch me, taking me closer to my goal of a technologically enhanced classroom.

What other gems are contained in Maria’s blog?  The NYT Opinionator Series about Math is mentioned.  I was fortunate enough to hear the author of this series Steven Strogatz, an Applied Mathematician at Cornell University, speak at The Anja S. Greer Conference on Secondary School Mathematics, Science and Technology at Exeter this summer.  He spoke about his new book The Calculus of Friendship that deals with the relationship he has with his high school Calculus teacher.  You can listen to Steven talk about this friendship here.  His Exeter presentation was touching and inspiring, ending with a standing ovation.  Not only did Maria remind me that I wanted to go and look at the Opinionator series, she also brought up another issue that I have spoken about in a previous blog.  Maria said, “Given the discussions we’ve been having about teaching Series and Series approximations lately on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I wonder if he’d consider writing an article explaining “Why Series?” to students.”  Hmmm!  This sounds like teachers “geeking out”, and gives me another reason for getting that facebook account.

Another positive step … one more rung up the ladder out of the pit of despair for me. 

A quick glance at other posts on Maria’s site guarantees that I will be spending many more hours here: reading, contemplating, analyzing and hopefully, in time, putting into practice some of the tech tools Maria has discussed.

Now, before I lose the google search that resulted in these illustrious finds, let me see what else it has to offer.  “Web 2.0 in Instruction:  Adding Spice to Math Education” by Patricia Deubel sounds especially promising.  As I start to read the article Patricia says, “These are some of the resources I’ve found that might help propel math instruction into the era of Web 2.0.”  This is it.  This is exactly what I have been looking for.  Eagerly, I read on.

Wait.  Oh no!  Where is the paper bag for me to breathe into so that I don’t hyperventilate?  Quick!  Help.

Now don’t get me wrong.  It is not that this article has nothing to offer.  On the contrary, there are so many links to blogs and examples and videos and slideshows and wikis and collaboration sites and social cartoon making sites and …  The world is spinning.  I need to pause till my heart beat slows!  Ah.  Take a deep breath.  Calmly I bookmark the site.  This site will still be here tomorrow.  Later, I will begin to investigate each of these links in turn, drawing inspiration from the global community of mathematics educators until I have “spiced up” my own math classroom.

I am once again inspired to continue the journey, to seek to be a better, more engaging, more tech savvy teacher who delights and challenges students to think mathematically and to value the process, not just the final answer.

Is that the red streaks of sunrise that I see on the horizon, bidding farewell to the darkness that has consumed me?

Photo credit : (cc-by-nc-nd) Bruno Monginoux / : nature and urban photography, free stock photos

Looking Back

I am on a journey to learn how to effectively use technology to enhance teaching and learning.  The final destination of this journey is an elusive, currently undefined, technologically enhanced Math classroom based on the disruptive-innovation theory.  But since my goal is so far off in the distance that it appears to be a mere mirage, it is time to stop and take stock, to contemplate how far I have come, to look back to the beginning of this journey, in the hopes that this reflection will stave off despair and feelings of being overwhelmed, replacing these overwrought emotions with courage and strength to continue the journey.

So let’s flashback to ten years ago.  I am working in a segregated school in Abu Dhabi.  There is a big wall down the middle of campus separating the boys from the girls.  The Math office is on the boys’ side, so if the girls want to see me for extra help, they have to send a message to me.  Then I cross to the girls’ side to meet with them.  In my classrooms there is a chalkboard or whiteboard, coloured chalk (on a good day), and an overhead projector.  If I want to demonstrate calculator key strokes, the class goes one key stroke at a time, pausing to ensure everyone is ready to push the next key before we move on.  There is a computer lab down the hall for the computer classes and we have one computer in the Math office, shared by 8 of us.

Now speed forward to today.  I work in a one-to-one laptop school.  My tablet, smartboard, and projector are everyday tools.  When I want to demonstrate keystrokes on the calculator, I bring up my TI Smartview on the smartboard.  Students can watch me press each key on the huge projected calculator.  The tri-window view lets them know what all my background settings look like while the key stroke recorder allows them to work back through previous steps.  This is especially helpful for Algebra 1 students who may be using a graphing calculator for the first time.  These are tools that I now consider essential.  But if you add to that all the other accessories that are now utilized, even if on a less regular basis the list grows exponentially.  There is a document camera used to display and record exemplars of exceptional student work.  Numerous graphing software programs are used to bring clarity to messy, hand-drawn graphs (Padowan, Winplot, and Mathematica to name but a few).  Youtube videos are used to demonstrate concepts in a dynamic manner.  Java applets are used for both demonstration and investigation purposes.  Wikipedia and a host of internet sites allow for rapid gathering of information and tidbits to supplement and enhance the mathematical content.  Geometer’s Sketchpad, Geogebra and Sketchup provide dynamic tools for visualizing and understanding key mathematical concepts, such as parallel lines and planes, centers of triangles, and three dimensional figures.  The dynamic nature of these programs accomplishes understanding and engagement for students in a way that traditional methods of teaching never could.  When talking about volumes of revolution in Calculus, understanding dawns as students see the 3-dimensional shape develop as a curve rotates around an axis.  A recent addition to this list of tech tools used is Skype.  Students who were quarantined last year due to H1N1 “attended” class by having a friend call them on Skype and turn their laptops so the camera was facing the front of the room.  They were able to ask questions and follow along with the lesson.  What a change from ten years ago!

 This list of some currently utilized resources is not comprehensive, but it does encourage me to continue the journey.  Who knows, maybe that radically transformed math classroom is not so far away!  At least let’s hope it isn’t!