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!

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