About Linda Darcy

Linda T. Darcy serves as the Director of Human Capital Development for the Newington Public Schools in Connecticut. She recently assumed this position after having worked as the Coordinator of Professional Learning for the Capitol Region Education Council in Hartford. Linda began her career as a teacher of French and Spanish on the secondary level. She has presented at national conferences such as the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages, Phi Delta Kappa’s Conference for Future Educators, Learning Forward New England, and the Learning Forward National Conference on the topics of professional learning systems, teacher retention and motivating learners. She is currently studying for her doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Connecticut. Her primary areas of research include culturally relevant pedagogy, teacher retention and urban education.

Card DeckClass Dojo, Socrative, Nearpod, Zondle and Play Brighter dominate most conversations about gamification in education. This focus on technology and apps automatically alienates some teachers: “I don’t have any computers in my room, so that leaves me out!” However, it is possible to gamify your class in the absence of any technology . . . even in the absence of electricity. This is because to ‘gamify’ is to use ‘game mechanics’ to motivate students. The concepts behind a good game are the same whether that game is on the internet or in a box with dice and a board.

There are several concepts that make games so engaging.  Games give us instant, constructive feedback. We are given the opportunity to try again, using the recently given feedback, to go further in the game. Games have stories at their center and players take ownership of their own progress. Video games are scaffolded. In the beginning, the tasks are easy, requiring simple skills. As the game progresses, the quests become more difficult and the final ‘boss fight’ (the most difficult quest of all) requires the player to exhibit mastery of all the skills used previously in the game.

Here are 5 simple jumping off points to gamify your class: none of which require technology. The target age-group here is middle school, but many of these tools, tips and techniques would work in any grade.

1. Use gaming vocabulary: Using game vocabulary alone is certainly not gamifying your class. However, it is one of the easier steps toward that end. Traditional school tasks carry with them traditional labels.  Many teachers no longer use red ink to correct papers, hoping it will ease the stigma of being corrected. In the same way, changing to gaming vocabulary can allay some of the built in anxiety attached to academic activities.

Quiz : Quest

Formative Assessment : Beta

Summative Assessment : Boss Fight

Writing Assignment : Crafting

Students : Players

Student groups : Guilds

Teacher : Game Master

Enrichment : Expansion pack

Review : Walkthru

2.  Badges: The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts gamified years ago. Badges are an outward signal of having mastered a skill. When you read student writing samples, have badges at the ready. You can have a Spelling Badge, Grammar Badge, Comma Badge etc. If a student demonstrates mastery of a particular concept in the paper, award the appropriate badge.

3.  Count up, not down:  It feels good to earn things. It feels bad to lose things. Yet, our entire grading system is based on the idea of losing points for wrong answers, rather than gaining points for new learning. In board games like Monopoly and Life, you earn money. In video games you earn experience points and advance to higher levels. Teachers can rework their grading so that students gain points to work toward a goal.

4. Create ‘Hero’s Journey” story for your class: A friend of mine created a huge game board based on the book The Hobbit along one of the walls of her classroom. Several of the major plot points of the book were represented on the board. All students began the year at the starting point and worked their way from the party in the shire with the dwarves, through Rivendell and the Misty Mountains toward the ultimate goal, the Battle of Five Armies and then back home again to the shire.  For each section of the journey, students set their own goals, perhaps a B+ on a writing assignment, and when that goal is achieved, their game piece moved to the next section of the journey.

5Sdraob Redael: Sorry about the gibberish, but I needed to make sure you didn’t just read the topic and interpret it on your own, without reading this paragraph.  Leader boards: Remember the Pac Man machine at the pizza place down the street? How many quarters did you pour in that game to make sure that your initials remained in the top ten? Posting leader boards in the classroom can be very motivating. However, and this is a huge ‘however’, the leader board must not recognize the highest grades or scores, but be indicative of progress. Each student must have an equal, fighting chance to be on the leader board based on their improvement and progression to their individual goals for the class.  We must honor ‘personal best’ rather than ‘the best.’  Beware of incorporating competition into your classroom. Remember that competition is only motivating to students who have a chance at winning.

Any teacher who is interested in gamifying their class need not wait until the technology is available. Using game mechanics to motivate and engage students can be done anywhere, in any grade and subject, regardless of the availability of snazzy computing devices.

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