Game Master's Blog

Have gear will travel - Using Game Boards in Class

23 July 2019

Picture this. It shouldn’t be difficult, as we’ve all been there. The game is Trouble! and your last game piece is nearly around the circuit. One of your opponents, however, is right on your tail and has ended their turn just a few short spaces behind you. If they catch up and land on you, you will have to begin this agonizing journey all over again. Channeling all the good energy you are able, you press down on the pop-o-matic dice turner and hear that familiar ch-chunk sound. The dice lands on a six and you smile wide, advancing your game piece to the safety zone. You have secured your spot, and now it is up to the remaining characters to fight it out.

The reason I think this feeling is an important one for gamified teachers to think about is that many of us are beginning to (or are continuing to) use game boards and RPG maps as an important part of our classroom games. During my time as a gamified teacher, my game board has undergone more changes than any other mechanic in Age Of Heroes. It’s actually not even close. Each year I have relaunched the game board map, and each year I have been increasingly happy with the impact it has had on my game, but this is only because I have taken the time to reflect on the purpose of this element.

My good friend John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) has a mantra that I love: What do you want your students to feel? For me, this is a loaded question when it comes to my map. I want them to feel pride in how far they’ve traveled. I want them to feel confident knowing that this long and impressive progress was due to many small achievements and the growth mindset they demonstrated along the way. I want them to feel a sense of team, understanding that they did not arrive here alone. And finally, I want them to feel a sense of urgency and uncertainty because anything can happen in the Age of Heroes.

In my class, we have moved to a digital game board out of necessity. Space is at a premium in our school, and it can be difficult to devote an area of the classroom to this. Prior to the change, I used a physical tabletop version (which I loved) and then a vertical board mounted on a white board. The latter caused nothing but issues in my class as crucial pieces would inevitably fall off or be bumped, ending in disaster. The digital version is a safe compromise, but I still love the action of having students move their pieces on a physical game board. I look at the tabletop setup that Scott Hebert (@MrHebertPE) has and I get so excited for his students. Maybe one day, my admin will allow me to commandeer a neighbouring classroom to provide more space for game play, but for now… digital it is.

My Age of Heroes gameplay involves a digital map depicting three islands and a lot of water. The students roll dice to determine their movements and, throughout the course of the year, they explore the territory while completing quest, side quests, and collecting loot. Each group charts their course and records their progress and before long, our map serves as an incredible communicative tool for our learning. If one knows what they are looking at, the map shows goal setting, teamwork and collaboration, and the learning that has taken place along the way.

The thing I enjoy most about using a classroom game board is the way that it allows me to support my students in the shift to growth mindset. Rather than seeing a long to-do list, they focus on the single, manageable task that sits in their path. In anticipation of the upcoming challenge, many students will begin to apply their reading and viewing strategies in order to prepare themselves and their team for the challenge, even devising strategies for completing the work and the items they will use during the quest. As well, the celebration of exploration is such an exciting element, as students do not always travel along a linear path. The one piece of this that I have never been even remotely satisfied with however, is my sea travel mechanic, but the other day inspiration came in the form of tweet by the great Jamie Halsey (@mrsjamiehalsey).

In her tweet, Jamie mentioned that her students must collect fuel cells in order to move from planet to planet. Brilliant! Without knowing it, Jamie had solved a problem she didn’t even know I was having. The issue I have had in the past with sea travel, was that I had made my ships quite difficult to obtain, but once a group owned one, there was little to stop them from shifting their focus from becoming a group of brave explorers to a group of island hoppers. Many went from “Neil Armstrong on the moon” to “Ja Rule at the Fyre Festival” in record time, and as game master I found myself placing superficial obstacles like weather and creatures in their way to deter them from a life on the water. Now, with my newfound inspiration, I need to develop a list of essential items that groups must locate in order to set sail. This is still very much a work in progress, but I am approaching the work with renewed excitement and not from a place of frustration.

21 February 2019

We all remember that part of the story. Dorothy, accompanied by the lion, scarecrow, and tin man, stand in awe in the throne room in Emerald City. “Oh, great and powerful wizard,” Dorothy begins, her voice trembling. The party demands that the wizard grant their wishes and become frustrated when he delays. Just then, her little dog Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the shameful reality - The great and powerful wizard is actually neither. He is an ordinary man, and his entire reputation in Oz was built on the illusion of power.

The moment that resonates with me is when, in an act of embarrassment and panic, the man uses his holographic form to shout, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Think on that for a moment.

I have always been fascinated by creative people and the processes they use to create their work. Generally speaking, we get to know these creators through their finished works. Visual artists rarely show off their sketchbooks, just as musicians rarely release demos or studio footage, and I find these rare opportunities intoxicating. My family recently watched the movie Bohemian Rhapsody starring Rami Malik as the legendary Freddie Mercury. The movie was unbelievable and heartbreaking, and Malik’s performance was remarkable, but my favourite parts of the movie were the shots of the studio work while Queen recorded their debut album in 1973. Watching amps swinging on ropes and coins jangling on drum kits gave me a heightened appreciation for the vision of the creators and the experimentalism that is such a crucial part of the process. These were not glossy rock star moments, but moments where kids were having fun making something that no one else could.

Coincidentally, this is also a huge part of my attraction to my latest podcast obsession: The Sorcerer’s Orphan - A Song By Song History of The Flaming Lips. Full disclosure, I have been a Flaming Lips superfan since the mid-90s, and in his new podcast, founding band member Steven Drozd spends thirty minutes a week providing a behind-the-scenes oral history of a song from their catalogue. Sometimes, it is a well-known track, while others are relatively unknown, and while I sit in my car listening to Steven talk to me about the process and inspiration for these tracks makes me love the band even more. Sometimes, as is common in art, beautiful things are created intentionally and in short order - The muse effect. But other times, and more commonly, beautiful things emerge accidentally when something new and innovative was introduced. I am so grateful to Steven for allowing this sort of access, and I hope it inspires other artists to do the same.

I also have to do some self reflection here because one of my main roles outside of class is as the Dungeon Master of the Dungeons & Dragons club at my school. In this role, I collaborate with my players in real time to develop an engaging and exciting story for them and for their characters. This opportunity to be creative, imaginative, and collaborative is one of my favourite times of the week, but much of what I do is reminiscent of the “great and powerful wizard”. I work at home, online, and behind a screen. The only difference between my Middle School D&D party, and the party of Dorothy et al is that my players understand my role. As a beginning DM, I have reached out to a number of other DMs online and have been shocked by the hesitation to allow a peek behind the screen. There seems to be an understanding of the expectation of secrecy for how each DM runs their games. That said, a quick scan of the many D&D Facebook group threads makes it clear that many open communication makes everybody’s experience better. Knowing what your players love allows you to create the most engaging experience possible and, despite my limited experience, I know very well that when my players have a blast, I have a blast as well.

Now, in the off-chance that you are still reading, yes - there is an educational connection that I would like to make to all of this. As an educator in a gamified classroom, I have gotten to know so many great classroom innovators and each of them has eagerly welcomed me behind the curtain. The art of illusion is a huge part of what makes the gamified classroom such an effective instructional model. This is by no means a complete list, but I want to use this platform to thank some of the people who have pulled back the curtain so that we can all be better at what we do!

First on the list is Jayson Roy at Classcraft (@classcraftgame). I have been a Classcraft Ambassador for the better part of two years and have always been impressed by the level of communication that was there when I needed it. Since Jayson took over the social media side of things, though, he has gone above and beyond to push the product forward with input from the teachers who use this platform every day. As gamifiers, we are constantly in a phase of beta testing, and what works now might not work effectively in the future. To see a company like Classcraft place such a high priority on constant development is very impressive, and Jayson is a huge part of what makes the company feel like they work with us as teachers. I also appreciate the way he will tease new features to keep us excited because, as we all know, we are players too!

I have been so lucky to have connected regularly with Adam Powley (@MrPowley / Adam’s classroom game is by no means the same as mine, but his willingness to share (subscribe to his blog now, please!) has changed my game for the better in so many ways. My approach to gamified assessment models is largely informed by his work, and he is always looking for ways to breathe new life into his classroom routines. Adam is so eager to share, the most I’ve actually had to ask for is clarification, as much of what he does is readily available on his blog. He is definitely one of the most humble and generous game masters I know.

Like many other gamified teachers, my professional learning started with the book eXPlore Like a Pirate by Michael Matera (@MrMatera / XPLAP / This was a massive source of inspiration for me personally, and helped to set a semi-organized trajectory for the ideas that were swirling in my brain. One of the major questions I am asked is about what gamification “looks like” in the classroom, and Michael’s book has been cited regularly in my responses. Perhaps more impactful than his book however, has been the community that he has helped to create. Whether through his weekly #XPLAP chats or his weekly WellPlayED podcast/YouTube channel, he has encouraged other classroom innovators to pull back the curtain and move from isolation to collaboration.

Speaking of weekly chats, the great Melissa Pilakowski (@MPilakow / runs a great weekly discussion at #Games4Ed, and her topics and driving questions are always able to generate an amazing dialogue. Melissa is much more than a chat director however, as she turns up everywhere on Twitter. I can’t tell you how many times I have been part of a thread regarding gamification and had an “Oh! There’s Melissa!” moment. An incredible gamifier in her own right, Melissa is also quick to ask questions of other teachers and is incredibly generous with praise. Allowing us into her classroom and online space has made us all better.

I’ve gotten to know Charlie Mirus (@ATeachersTeach / @LovelandLegend) a lot over the last year. Like me, Charlie has taken the plunge into a fully gamified classroom complete with theme, tabletop elements, etc. The thing I respect most about Charlie is the way he seeks feedback from people. He has asked me for advice multiple times, floating ideas, troubleshooting potential issues, and so on, and I’m sure he has sought this connection with other gamified teachers as well. Most notably, Charlie recently took a risk that few of us do - He asked his students for their feedback. I have endless respect for this, as it came from a place of genuine humility and a desire to improve. As a result, his game (which he shares openly on Twitter) is an incredibly refined and engaging work.

As an RPG-based teacher, I would be remiss if I did not mention fellow gaming nerds Carrie Linden (@chocmoojoo / and Jestin Van Scoyoc (@jvanscoyoc). Carrie is a teacher and gaming streamer who also works with youth in game-based learning opportunities, while Jestin brings many D&D elements into his classroom and is a regular contributor to the greater gamification community. One thing I appreciate about both Carrie and Jestin is the passion they have for gaming. Carrie will often go on gaming nerd-outs over amazing games like Sea of Thieves, while Jestin will discuss TTRPG elements and resources. Heck, Jestin even gamifies his workouts and visits to the pub. Interacting with these two reminds me of the joy that should be a part of any game, and challenges me to include new elements to keep things fresh and exciting for my students.

Finally, for some wizards there is no curtain at all. Self declared student and teacher of people, John Meehan (@MeehanEDU /, is one of the most innovative and energized people I know in the gamification community. His attention to detail and use of gamified elements is enormous. I have had the chance to collaborate directly with John on a number of occasions, and I can honestly say that he approaches things from a very cool place. Always pushing his students forward in their learning, but never forgetting about foundational skills like communication and teamwork, John has made a reputation for himself as the king of “break in” education. John’s use of trap elements in his game has also resulted in a pivotal shift in my game, and now my sabotage elements are one of the things my students love the most. Any time I have asked for clarification on how John does something or for more information on how a game works in his class, I not only get a response but a complete shared document. Sometimes he even sends a video to show how his elements work. He is incredibly passionate about gamified learning, but his role as educator has pushed him to operate right out in the open to show his process to anyone who wishes to learn from him. I have endless respect for anyone who embraces this level of professional vulnerability, and encourage you to check out John’s lessons as they are just ridiculous.

As I said, there are many other Totos out there who are demystifying gamified education, and I hope that no one feels left out. I think that we could all benefit from reflecting on the Wizard of Oz as more than a fraud. He claims that he is “a very good man, but a very bad wizard”, but I would argue that the opposite was true. Like the wizard, it’s not the curtain that makes us great and powerful - it’s the ideas we share!

Numeracy Planning, RPG-Style!

14 August 2018

What is a Dungeon Crawl? Excuse me while I nerd out for a bit.

The term “Dungeon Crawl” harkens back to early editions of Dungeons and Dragons, referring to an underground adventure. Typically, these were experienced slowly and with caution, exploring all parts and watching for traps. Today, this model is used in popular games, TV, and movies. If you’ve ever played a game from the Legend of Zelda franchise, watched a movie like The Hobbit, or enjoyed a show like Adventure Time, then you are already familiar with this model.

Essentially, a dungeon involves a twisting, turning series of tunnels that include a number of challenges that must be “cleared” in order to advance. These challenges typically increase in difficulty as the player advances through the various stages, and may range between puzzles, traps, and hazards. There may be some other elements common to DnD as well, such as secret doors, side challenges that are not required in order to progress through the dungeon, hidden items, and (of course) loot. It is also common to encounter various creatures along the way as well. These creatures are usually not ridiculously imposing and, in video games, are often referred to as “mini bosses”.

Finally, in order to clear a dungeon entirely, players must face their greatest challenge yet - The Boss Monster. Defeating a boss monster should involve some level of creativity, problem solving, and strength. Some boss monsters require special weapons or spells in order to be defeated.

Now think about that language for a minute. “Increase in difficulty”, “challenging”, “problem solving”. It isn’t a huge stretch to connect this to the way our students learn various numeracy skills. A typical numeracy module will be introduced by bridging a new skill with a concept that is already familiar to students, such as connecting multiplication to addition, or using tiles and block to demonstrate fractional values. Then, once the students feel confident with the new material, there is typically an incremental increase in the level of difficulty and complexity in the subject matter itself. Consider the example below from a eighth grade numeracy module on linear equations:

  1. Using algebra to solve equations
  2. Solving equations using fractions
  3. Introduction to the distributive property
  4. Using distributive property to solve equations
  5. Creating a table of values
  6. Graphing linear equations

We do this sort of scaffolded learning all the time, and we do it for a reason. If, in this model, we had simply expected the students to create a graph for a linear equation, they would experience a high level of frustration and uncertainty. Even if exemplars were provided as supports, many students would likely have an incredibly difficult time creating context for this new concept. By scaffolding this learning, it allows us to give students the confidence they need by making connections between new and familiar content. That is exactly what a good Dungeon Master does!

Nerd out time again. Indulge me.

During a DnD campaign, a dungeon master would not throw a beholder in front of a guild of level 2 players. They simply don’t have the skills, resistance, or stamina to battle such an aberration. Fighting a monster like that is just going to result in the players being overpowered, killed off in short order, and giving up. There is no joy in that. Instead, that DM is going to give their players a much better experience by having them face realistic challenges, like owl bears or orcs. Let the students face a stronger monster when they have developed and honed the skills they need. See what I mean? A carefully scaffolded numeracy unit is planned with the same level of consideration to independence and differentiation as a carefully designed dungeon!

If we remember that the purpose of gamification is to create an engaging, immersive, and memorable experience for our students, we should keep in mind that creating these experiences takes some effort. This is not a huge seismic shift, obviously. Teachers have always worked hard. That’s not new! That work, however, can feel very different when you start to plan a numeracy dungeon for your students. In fact, even saying that out loud feels pretty unusual. In order to make this experience feel authentic, you should try to include some features that would commonly be found in video games. This means you get to have fun with elements such as secret doors, hidden loot, puzzles, and (of course) traps! I personally love this work, and planting these elements for students to stumble across can be a ton of fun.

Let’s start with loot! In my classroom game, students commonly collect and use items and power ups as a way to customize their experience. For them, items represent an ability that is exclusive to them. This could be something as simple as wearing a hat in class or as meaningful as eliminating an incorrect answer on a test. In the case of a dungeon crawl, I might provide them with items that might be more helpful in their actual clearing of the dungeon, as pictured below:

Obviously you, as the game master, have the freedom to distribute items in any way you like. You could physically hide them, plant an Easter egg on your dungeon map, hand them directly to students who might require that level of differentiation to ensure independence, or a combination of all three!

When it comes to loot, I like to plant small amounts of gold at various stages throughout a dungeon. This works for two reasons. First of all, it helps to authenticate the world they are in. Picture a huge monster lumbering through the catacombs with treasure they have found, dropping small amounts of coins as they make their way back to their lair. Secondly, and just as importantly, this helps to encourage and reward growth mindset. Students understand that they are working toward something greater, but there is an accumulation of riches as they progress on their path. Most students can understand that this is a metaphor for the learning, skills, and independence that they are acquiring along the way. I know some gamified classrooms that make use of physical, 3D printed currency, but my gold is entirely digital. As students reach various stages, I add the specific amount to their balance. I don’t like the idea of only giving this to the first student to reach the loot, as this promotes a speed-run approach and discourages reflection and accuracy. Every one of my students is able to retrieve dungeon gold, regardless of their speed.

Another major trope in Dungeons and Dragons and video games alike is the idea of traps. I like to incorporate these in the form of puzzles, and I tend to use at least one puzzle per dungeon. These take on a wide variety of forms, and come with no reward of XP or GP, but once triggered, they must be solved or they will result in the students taking damage, or losing HP. For this reason, it is important for these traps to be disguised as a regular, optional stage. I often use optional side stages as a means of refining specific, complex concepts for high reward, so my students are generally drawn to these. Despite the fact that they can result in the loss of HP, or even a student falling in battle, these traps are designed to be fun and collaborative. Some of the traps I have used in the past include STEM challenges, fixing broken code tasks, math riddles, blitz quizzes, and so on. You know your students best, so have fun with it!

Bowser, Ganon, Big Daddy, heck - even the original Donkey Kong… Most of us have some level of familiarity of the classic trope of the boss battle. Video game designers have been refining this structure for decades, and it is a huge part of the world our students inhabit. Consider the way that these experiences are designed: Increasingly difficult levels all leading toward this one, extremely challenging test, hints placed along the way to give the player clues as to the powers and abilities possessed by the boss and, finally, a face to face battle against a monster whose defeat will unlock treasure and abilities that were previously not possible. I have news for you: Bowser is a math test!

There are so many great assessment models out there, so please understand that when I use the term “math test”, I am not limiting that to a traditional pencil/paper exam (though this works just fine within this structure. Regardless of your approach, it is pretty common practice in numeracy to end a unit of study with a final demonstration of learning. This allows your students to show what they have learned, to apply their learning with greater independence, and to synthesize the lessons you have taught them. In this post, I will walk you through a typical boss battle in my class, but as with any other gamified element, your boss battles can take on any form you like.

I prepare my boss battle in a similar way to the way I used to prepare paper exams: repetitive, less challenging questions to start, followed by a few more complex problems. Depending on the numeracy concept, students may have to calculate, illustrate, or model their work in many ways, so I like to have a variety of manipulatives available at their tables as they work. I also make sure that every table group has scratch paper, pencils, dry erase boards and markers, and anything else they might need. It is up to the students to determine what strategies and tools will help them to solve the problems, which I will project one at a time at the front of the room. However, there is a little more set up required for dramatic effect!

I like to dim the lights (I really want to add electric candles to the mix this year!) and play some boss battle music. It is then time to reveal a monster - You can make this any way you like. I make common use of DeviantArt, and in my experience, artists are more than happy to share their work when asked for permission. Given that I teach middle school, I like to make my monsters as menacing and grotesque as possible, but don’t be afraid to cute it up a little if that’s what you and your students would prefer. I always name the monster and provide a bit of a back story. Obviously, the boss monster has a preset number of HP, and my students are able to keep track of damage. Defeating this monster will be a collaborative effort.

When the questions appear on the board, I start a timer (usually 2-3 mins per question) and the students get to work in their groups. What I expect is that each group has one clear response and is able to explain how they arrived at it, but only one group will be required to publicly share their work. I use the Classcraft randomizer tool to identify a specific team. If this team is able to answer and explain the question correctly, they land a blow against the monster and some HP is subtracted from the monster’s health. If the guild gets the answer incorrectly, that counts as a miss, and each member of the guild takes a small amount of damage. The objective in my class is not to cause any student to fall in battle during a boss fight, but to maintain a high expectation of accuracy throughout.

In the end, the students have worked together, had fun, earned a share of the treasure, and (hopefully) enjoyed the satisfaction of successfully overcoming a challenging experience. Personally, I am not terribly concerned with grading exams at this point, and my takeaway from this is largely anecdotal. For the most part I am looking to see if my students are able to demonstrate similar skills relating to the numeracy learning, but under less than ideal conditions (timed, noisy, etc). It is not in my interest to frustrate my students at this point. In addition to this, I am also able to make notes about various strategies used by students, their role within a group, their ability to collaborate, and so on. In my opinion, this is of much greater value than a percentage or letter grade.

That being said, I fully understand that certain school districts require a higher level of accounting and grade keeping, and that paper/pencil tests might be a part of this. In cases like these, I would be hesitant to use timed, pressurized elements, as they may not be conducive to the risk-taking and may likely result in frustration in many students. If this is the direction you are going in, you could always make your monster’s HP equal to a certain percentage and run it as an individual fight. I have also experimented with the idea of a guild test, in which each team member’s score is tallied in order to defeat the monster. This method requires a little more accounting from you, but I do like the way that regardless of a student’s score, they are able to contribute to the monster’s defeat. I also like the way that it promotes collaboration in preparation of the exam, as no one student can defeat the monster themselves. While running boss battles in this way, I saw many groups arrange study sessions to make sure that everyone in the guild was prepared for the challenge ahead. In my opinion, that’s a pretty cool thing to see.

Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions, please reach out via Twitter (@MrH_AoH)! Until next time, happy adventuring!

The death of imagination?

4 July 2018

How many times have you heard someone (generally starting at late thirties and getting progressively more opinionated from there) pining for the days where kids were able to use their imaginations. We’ve all seen it. It usually starts with a complaint about some of the thing that kids enjoy, generally video games, and quickly dissolves into nostalgia. The more people who are around, the faster this time lapse is going to unravel. Before you know it, you’re reliving every tech-free activity you’ve ever done, and many you haven’t. One minute you’re playing Red Rover or Kick the Can, and soon you’re seeing yourself playing Stick Ball with the neighbourhood kids in 1930s Queens wondering, “How did I get here?!?” About all of this… I have some thoughts.

First of all, allow me to be clear, as a person who grew up in the seventies and eighties, I lived through the golden age of video games*. I loved video games then, and I love them now. I also loved other normal kid stuff like comics, He-Man, and baseball, and in all of these activities and passions, my imagination was working overtime. The truth is, imaginative play takes many forms. When I was reading Fantastic Four, the art of the great Bill Sienkievicz was engrossing me in mind-bending adventures. When playing with my Masters of the Universe figures, I was able to move past the fact that Castle Greyskull’s drawbridge entrance was too small and imagine new ways to defeat Skeletor. Video games like Pitfall and, much later, The Legend of Zelda allowed me to experience story in a purely visual and emotional way. Heck, even when I was playing baseball, I was imagining that I was the great John Olerud half of the time. Imagination and childhood go hand in hand, and the notion that today’s young learners are somehow incapable of this is ludicrous.

What we often perceive as being a lost skill on the part of our students is often little more than a lack of opportunity and practice. When I present my class with curricular units framed as quests and adventures, they are immediately intrigued. When given the chance to work through this unit as a character that they have designed, they learn to take risks and have fun with the idea of role play. When they unlock an item or encounter a monster along the way, THEY. ARE. IN.

So if we know that engagement leads to deeper understanding and investment, why don’t we place more emphasis on this in our own planning? If we want our students to play, we simply need to be more fun to play with. Not taking ourselves too seriously as educators is sometimes the first step in opening some very exciting doors! Have fun!

*I use the term “golden age” here in the comic book sense and not to say that video games from this era were the best. We all know that, like golden age comics, video games from this era were campy, weird, and super repetitive.

Why Should I Gamify My Classroom?

1 July 2018

When you consider the basic aspects of gamification, it doesn't take long to realize that school as we know it is an extremely poorly designed game. We've been playing it for as long as we can remember, and there have been a few updates, new editions, and expansion packs over the years, but the basic core rule book has largely been left unchecked.

This is problematic when you begin to investigate the structures it's built on through a game-based lens, so let's explore this in depth:

Rules: The rules of school are murky at best. There always seems to be exceptions to every rule, but even these are inconsistently adhered to. Some people might suggest that the rules of school are connected to learning, but (as a teacher) I'm less sure of this than I would like to be.

In truth, the more I think about the rules for school, the more I believe that they are generally behavior based. “Show up on time” “Try your hardest” “Don’t you dare…” – These tend to be the rules that really count in our schools. The most obvious problem with this model are that there appears to be a clear disconnect when it comes to achievement and learning. We’ve all seen cases where the <blank> student’s learning needs go unrecognized because they are flying “below the radar”, just as we have all worked with students whose less than positive reputation seems to have negated any learning accomplishments they may have achieved. This is confusing for students in a lot of cases, and it makes the game of school a very difficult thing to navigate.

Objective: What is the purpose for school? How do I know if I am successful? What do I get when I win? These all sound like ridiculous questions, but the more we learn about student achievement and engagement, the more we realize that motivation is everything. In the game of school, the motivational factors are as unclear as you’d expect. More times than not, these incentives are actually delivered in negative ways, with threats of additional homework, meetings with parents, or even detention in some cases. This seems largely ineffective and actually encourages students to do just enough to not draw attention to themselves. This is also supported by a structure of celebrating students who are achieving at a high level to assist other students in a tutorial role, help out around the school, or do additional tasks within the classroom itself.

Each player in the game of school has motivations that are extremely individualized, but the core value of this game should be centered on the idea of gradual improvement in a variety of skills, specifically literacy, numeracy, and social development. Incremental growth is something that everyone – students and parents alike – can identify with and support. All too often, the traditional model of school uses long range goals such as end-of-term reporting, graduation, and post-secondary as motivating factors, but the truth is that these are just too far away for many of our students to connect with on a personal level. Instead, the gamified classroom uses in-the-moment feedback, incentivized tasks, and point systems to motivate students in much the same way as a traditional video game. This makes the connection to learning far more immediate and contextualized for many students in these classrooms.

This is clearly a topic that warrants further discussion, so please be sure to check back periodically! Please DM on Twitter (@MrH_AoH) if you have any specific questions or comments. Thanks for reading!