Monthly Archives: July 2013

Keeping Myself in Check(mate)

I want to gamify* my classroom.  Like, real bad!  I’m always thinking about new, cool, innovative ways to make physics class more fun (on almost no budget, without a ton of cool equipment).  This past year I tried a few too many new things, and got overwhelmed.  Flipped class, standards-based assessment, mastery learning… all good ideas when implemented correctly, and ideas I don’t plan on abandoning.  But games just seems to click.   And adding game elements to school work or in-class activities sounds fun.  And since just about everybody loves games (even animals play games to an extent), it would make sense to add it into the one place almost every teenager hates to be: school.

But why? Why do students hate school?  I personally believe the biggest factor is the compulsory nature of school.  They have to be there, rain or shine, good mood or bad, for nine months.  Oh yeah, and they don’t get to choose the hours, or the people they are around, or their teachers… pretty lame!  But they like games.  They’re playing Candy Crush, or 4 Pics 1 Word, or whatever under the desk/at lunch/at home.  So they like games to some extent.  Either to kill time, distract themselves, or just for fun.  Attempting to channel that behavior is a natural reaction.  Just like having them discuss problems in groups is an attempt to channel their chatty behavior.  But without some serious structuring all that behavior channeling can backfire big time.

So, lots of planning, structuring, buy-in… let’s assume I’ve got that locked down.  Why exactly do I want to add gaming elements, and supposedly make my class more engaging?  I see two main goals a teacher could have:

Blue Pill: Have students be more engaged in content delivery (its a game now 😀 !) and thus earn better grades, score higher on benchmarks/standardized tests/AP Exams, etc.

Red Pill: Have students be more engaged in methods used by professional insert profession, thereby learning more than they would traditionally.


The Matrix, Warner Bros. (1999)

I’ll take the red pill.  Sure the blue pill seems easier, heck its probably what most teachers and admins would think the ultimate goal of any trendy, talked-about, TED Talk method of teaching.  And all those things would be great, but they’re not what I really care about.  I want kids to think like a scientist, ask questions, work through problems, fail, retry, succeed, share with others, and become better students learners as a result.  In order to make that happen I can’t simply rename points into XP, or Gold Coins, or Cheeseburgers (never use food references in class anyway, it just makes the kids complain that they’re hungry… Now I’m hungry), or some other item, and just change “units” into “worlds!”  That will just be rebranding, like calling grape-lemonade “Purplesaurus Rex” … fun, but without any real change.


What comes next, then?  Making some big decisions!  I will be teaching mostly AP Physics next year (3 periods of AP, 2 of general physics).  The issue there is that AP is on such a ridiculously tight schedule that “adding” games to the curriculum is a no-go.  Stuff needs to be transformed.  Rather than posting video lectures on our Canvas page, which would run 20min sometimes, I can post shorter snippets on specific topics or example problems, and call those something fun, like “elements.”  And the students can assemble them into “circuits” (I’m taking an electric circuits approach here), which the information can flow through.  And these “circuits” can be collected as evidence of content exposure, which I will allow them to “trade in” for some sort of “weapon”, provided they understand the “circuit”, with which they will attempt to take down the all-powerful AP Overlord!!!  But that is sounding a little blue pill-ish.  Ultimately, there isn’t a lot of time for complete transformation here.  I’ve got about 6 weeks to come up with something.  And I’d rather it be a fully-baked and simple…

than rush something huge and risk ruining it…

I’ll probably do the same sort of ingamifusing™ in general physics too.  And as time allows I might add some more complex elements such as quests!  We’ll see.

*I am starting to hate** the term “gamify” as of late.  It sounds gimmicky and cheap.  Gamifying is really just adding game elements to something.  Though, if I added learning elements to a game, I would definitely call that “learnifying.”

**Hate is a strong word.  I don’t think I am concerned enough to actually hate it.  But I’ll do my damnedest to not use it anymore!

Gaming in Education: my Who, What, When, Where, Why, KAPOW!


It has been months since I last blogged.  Without actually looking at the date, I’m going to guess around January.  That is when I was thinking about implementing a standards-based grading scheme for my classes.  Follow-up: I did, and I liked it, the students sort of hated it (at first), and it needs a LOT of tweaking.  Lesson: don’t implement a radically different grading system at the semester 🙂

Who? What? When? Where?

On to the gaming.  At my district’s TechFest this past month I had the pleasure of sitting in on a session on “gamification” hosted by Michael Matera and Rory Newcomb (check out their blogs!).  They discussed how they each used gaming in their classrooms to encourage participation and help in learning.  Michael transformed his 6th grade history class into a ‘Game of Thrones’-esqe battle between class periods.  Rory used gaming for the physics unit of her high school science course.  Very different levels of gaming, but both very well planned and executed.  Their accounts of the trial-and-error involved in setting up the games, and the fun they had along the way was appealing.  Videos and pics of their students in excited states of learning sealed the deal.  I just HAD to try gaming.

I then began some modest research.  Hey, school was still in session and I was burnt out!  So, I tried looking up other teachers who had done physics gaming.  Not many results beyond individual games for a chapter.  I also tried to find teachers using Canvas to implement the games.  Again, not much luck.   But I did find Jane McGonigal‘s book Reality is Broken.  The book is great.  It doesn’t try to convert the reader into a D&D player, or a World of Warcraft addict, it just outlines why games hold our attention for hours/days/years! at a time.  And she doesn’t stick to video games.  She discusses how turning daily activities into games is motivating, too.  I’m only about half-way through the book (I’m a slow reader), but am loving every bit of it.

The icing on the cake of, er, gaming, was going to InstructureCon 2013.  I love using Canvas in my classes.  And I jumped at the chance to attend the conference in Park City, Utah a couple of weeks ago.  Aside from learning all sorts of cool things about Canvas there was a session on gaming.  It was called “The Saga Continues: Dungeons & Discourse, Level 2” and was presented by Gerol Petruzella (who did the webinar for GE4L).  He showed us how he implemented gaming in his college philosophy course.  He used Canvas as the delivery system and had friends create artwork and music for the role-playing game quests his students would follow.  I’ll add a link to the video stream of his talk once Instructure posts in on youtube.


Why gaming in class?  Well, I’m not an expert, but I’ll share why I want to try it.

  1. Students need feedback, and from what I’ve been shown by other teachers, games can provide very positive feedback
  2. Students need a goal, or objective, to complete.  Games are all about goals.
  3. Games can, if made correctly, keep students coming back for more.  Failing in a game is followed by a try-again screen.  In the classroom failing is followed by anger and accusations!


Hmmm.  Kapow.  It rhymes with “how” so I threw it in there.  “Kapow!” is what I want my students to feel after they finish their first challenge/quest when I start gaming in class.  “Kapow!” is what I want their minds to feel once they realize that they can learn while having tons of fun.  And “Kapow!” is what I want other teachers to experience when the students we share ask them, “Why don’t we play games in your class?”

>> This post is part of some posts I will be making for the course “Gaming Elements For Education” I am taking.