Gamification in the Classroom

1 Mar

I’ve posted before on the gamification of our society (search for Gabe Zicherman in this blog) and the brain based research on why video games are so “addictive.” An obvious question is, why can’t we make education addictive in the same way? Below is Andrew Miller’s How-To guide on creating units with gamification in mind. It just, plain makes sense. If you want to engage students, see below!

Get Your Game On: How to Build Curriculum Units Using the Video Game Model


Andrew Miller (@betamiller on Twitter) is a National Faculty member for the Buck Institute for Education, an org that specializes in project-based curriculum, and a collaborator with Abeo School Change, committed to make powerful learning a reality for every student. He is also a regular blogger for Edutopia.

In the last post I wrote, I explained many of the important in game-based learning unit. GBL continues to get national press. Game design company Valve is working on digital learning in partnership with the White House. Mashable just touted in a post that “Education needs to get its game on.” I couldn’t agree more!

I promised to give some tips on how to make one of the units in your teacher bag of tricks into a game-based unit. Before I move forward with that, I need to clarify a couple terms: game-based learning and “gamification.” Gamification is the process of applying game design principles into another field. Game-based learning is the process of using games to teach content, critical thinking, and other important outcomes. When you make a game-based learning unit, you are doing both. The entire unit, as well as the individual missions and boss levels, are gamified. They contain important principles of game design. In addition, the individual mission, quests or boss levels can be games themselves. So to summarize, what you are doing when you are creating a game-based learning unit you are not only apply overall principles of game design, but you are also using individual games.

In order to help you create your own unit, I’m going to be using an already proven effective unit by Quest to Learn from their website. So how do you start?

Begin with the End In Mind

No surprises here. You must use the Understanding By Design principles to effectively plan the GBL unit. Think about the enduring understands, learning targets, standards etc, that you want students to target and achieve by the end of the unit. GBL Units are often interdisciplinary, and target standards from a variety of subjects. For this unit the standards targeted and content knowledge are:

Social Studies

  • Interpret, analyze and evaluate different forms of evidence and determine which pieces are most convincing.
  • Apply evidence to support a theory of action (war, neutrality, or diplomacy), and understand how the choice of action affects systems.


  • Write and deliver a persuasive oral report in the format of a policy brief.
  • Use the writing process to develop and revise their writing.
  • Read, respond to, critique and discuss a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts.

Digital Media

  • Select an appropriate tool for research and presentation.


  • Specific historic events that help us understand why Athens and Sparta developed uniquely different cultures within the same area during the same time period (e.g., Messenian Wars, Peisistratos grants rights to the poor, Thermopylae, Salamis, etc.).
  • The advantages and disadvantages of all the 3 resolution strategies (War, Diplomacy, Neutrality).
  • How to synthesize key information about the daily life, social and political organization, culture, religious beliefs, economic systems, use of land and resources, development of science and technology of Ancient Greece.

In addition, making sure to create a driving question that summarizes the game and its purpose or include essential questions. They list essential questions such as “How do the actions of one society impact other societies?” and “How can a system function within a larger system?” For a DQ I would suggest “How can we convince the Spartan Council of Elders the best course of action to take?” or something related to the objective and purpose. This leads to the next step.

Brainstorm a Rigorous Scenario

This could be your “boss level.” Your boss level needs to require students to synthesize the content they will learn from the other quests without the unit. In this case, the students will be presenting to a council of elders about war strategies that will be beneficial to Sparta. They will work in teams to critically think and collaborate as they gather evidence, consider different points of view, and ultimately come up with the best possible answer in a fictitious scenario. You will see major similarities here to PBL, but the difference here is that there is a focus on a scenario rather than an authentic current situation. This scenario is the major summative assessment, and as you can see will show that the standards and content have been learned. As you come up with this scenario, you may add or remove standards to meet the needs of the “boss level.” This scenario is also the whole frame of the unit, where all quests fit within the structure and theme.

Design Quests

Consider these quests your individual lessons and learning activities, some that you already have, some that you may need to create, some that you may need to steal! (Remember, it’s ok to steal.) Look at the skills, content and standards to craft quests to arm students with what they will need to be successful for the boss level. In these quests, you may have some modeling, direct instruction and other teacher driven activities, but make sure think outside the box in terms of what the goal of the quest could be. Yes, the major objective is to accomplish learning, but what is the more game-based learning goal? In one of their core documents about their work with Quest to Learn, the Institute of Play articulates the plethora of quests you could create as a teacher. These include:

  • Collect Quest Goal is to collect/harvest x resources.
  • Puzzle Quest Goal is to solve a problem (might also be called a Code Cracker Quest).
  • Share Quest Goal is to share x resources.
  • Drama Quest Goal is to enact a system or behavior.
  • Conquest Goal is to capture a territory or resource.
  • Spy or Scout Quest Goal is to observe and gather information and report back.
  • Research Quest Research a question and return with the answer. This research might take any number of forms, from questioning friends and teachers for viewpoints to reading and more.

From this you can see how easy these quests can align to the activities and learning tasks you probably already have as a teacher. Now you just need to modify them to fit within the overall challenge and scenario of the GBL unit.

Don’t Forget!

The quests, boss levels and content explained in this blog here must also include the core tenants of Game Based Learning from my last blog. Students need to be able to tinker and fail, and then get back up again. Students should be given incentives like badges and rewards for their avatar. Students should role play as characters in the scenario of the unit. When you create an engaging and fun game, it will create a “need to know” the content and allow for the inquiry process. Now get your game on and gamify the learning for your students!

If you like this, you might also like

6 Responses to “Gamification in the Classroom”

  1. Amanda Stark March 6, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Thanks Karen. I’ll check it out. I was not aware that you made this. Thank you.

  2. Mary Lou Donahoe March 2, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    WOW, unbelievable. As I try to place this post in my “schema” of a unit or overall gaming knowledge, or what I understand how this gaming would look like; I need to break it into smaller pieces. This reminds me of a video I recently watched about students performing a poem, they needed to develop movement for each stanza. So instead of memorizing the poem, they had to go deeper to gain meaning and act/dance the deeper meaning of the poem. Again, to implement this I need to think of baby steps. I can imagine it better if I think of the quests. I can easily visualize a spy quest to have students look up information in a given text or a puzzle quest to find investigate different areas of a unit of study then all come together to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find the deeper meaning. Basically break it down into groups with different quests and come up with a bigger solution at the boss level. Of course successful implementation of the quests, is a form of assessment. Glad we still have a couple of vacation days and some breather from reading…. to think more deeply about this.

    • Amanda Stark March 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

      Hi Mary Lou.
      In my classwork I have developed a number of web quests to coincide with lessons. I find them fun to do. Here is a simple one that I made:!
      (you can copy and paste to check it out)
      This is just one way to creatively approach students new learning styles.

      I have also started putting lessons onto glog pages so that I can use the main page in the classroom while facilitating a lesson. On this page I created I have all links and activities in one spot that I would use for a lesson. Check it out.

      It’s just another way of appealing to the digital native student.

      • J. Andrew Bairstow March 4, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

        A big thank you to you, Amanda and Mary Lou. Sharing ideas and resources in this forum is what I had pictured when I began posting. I love seeing this come to fruition.

      • Mary Lou Donahoe March 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

        Thank you, Amanda. I will definitely check the sites you have recommended. What I like is what you say about approaching student’s learning styles. That is the key to teaching AND assessing. When we use gaming or any other strategies/tools we are assessing our students. So many times we are bogged down by paper and pencil assessment, but it is important to allow students to show us what they know in different ways. At our level is so rewarding because students are not afraid of taking risks and they will enthusiastically do their best and try anything. Good thing you are across the back door from me…I’ll run to you for help and advice! Collaboration is a “good thing.”

      • Karen Landsman March 6, 2012 at 11:18 am #

        Hi Amanda,
        I love that you make your own Webquests. I had created a wikipage all about Webquests at Underhill School a few years ago following a staff workshop I did on webquests.
        Here is the link:

        I hope you’ll check it out and post some of your favorite webquests (yours or others) to share…that was what the WIKI was created for!
        Karen L.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: