Gamification of K-12 Education – Q&A


Gamification Summit This post originally appeared on the Gamification Blog, one stop for the latest news, insight, research and commentary on gamification.View Original >


Many people have submitted questions to virtual schools about whether of gamification is being utlized in the structure and model of learning. The quick answer is Yes! However, the momentum and legitimacy of it is just getting started. Here are some answers to some questions:

What examples are there of “gamified” schools?

Quest2Learn is probably one of the most famous of schools that have embraced gamification. There curriculum and instruction has been transformed into a elaborate set of quests, boss levels, and includes many other elements of gamification. GameDesk has also created a school, Playmaker, which uses a similar method where play and making have been infused into the learning process.

What research or work is out there about Gamification of Education?

The research on Gamification and education specifically is limited. There is a lot of literature about using games in the classroom, but James Paul Gee’s “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning,” is a great book to start your learning on how elements within games can be applied to the learning process. In addition, the MacArthur Foundation, of the partners in Quest 2 Learn, published “Quest to Learn: Developing the School for Digital Kids,” which explains their rationale and implementation methods for their “gamified” school.

What about the critics that say that gamification that say it is “manipulation?”

Gamification is a tool for engagement. It creates situated learning experiences with incentives and clear objectives. The Gamification Summit, which occurs every year has some of the best and brightest speak. Esteban Contreras of Samsung said, “Gamification is ultimately not about buzzwords and mechanics, but better and more meaningful experiences.” Jane McGonigal, game guru, also echos this sentiment in her book, Reality is Broken. Gamification is in fact meaningful play.

Is “gamification” more effective than traditional teaching methods? What age group is recommended?

As seen in the examples of schools above, we can see that gamification is being used with students of all ages, but mostly middle and high school. I think there is a misconception that gamification and traditional teaching do no co-exist. In fact, within a gamified curriculum, there are moments for traditional instructional strategies such as research activities, direct instruction, and the like. The difference is that these strategies do not dominate the entire learning experience. They are part of the engaging “gamification” model to support students.

Related to “gamification,” critics say that games have no place in schools. What response do you have to that?

There are many examples of teachers using games intentionally in the instruction process, and with serious games. Serious games balance play and learning objectives, where assessment is embedded along with learning of content. From games on BrainPop, to iCivics, teachers are using them as another tool to engage all students. There is a stigma attached to gaming, but that stigma is quickly fading, as more and more people realize that there is great potential to engage students in learning content and 21st century skills.

Kinect in the Classroom


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


One of the most interesting ways game-based learning (GBL) is being implemented is with the use of Microsoft’s Kinect. Kinect specifically is an accessory to the Xbox 360, where motion and gestures control game functions. From sports games, to “hack and slash,” the Kinect physically involves the player in gameplay. But why use it in the classroom? And how should you use it in the classroom? Today I present not only a great rationale for use the Kinect in the classroom, but also some specific ideas and resources for doing so.

Brain-Based Learning
As articulated in Edutopia’s “Six Tips for Brain Based Learning,” using active, physical modalities can help the learning process. John Medina author of Brain Rules shows how exercise boosts oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain, which helps students concentrate better. In fact, many schools and classrooms are integrating more physical activity into the school, not just your regular P.E. class. Naperville Central High, for example, uses “brain breaks.

Instead of having the physical activity as a break from learning to engage in later learning, the Kinect can use the best of both worlds, coupling brain-based physical learning and gestures with learning of content. In addition, we know that games engage us and motivate us to play, provide needed feedback, and provide a safe space to fail. These are all principles of brain-based learning!

Building Lessons
When building a lesson to use the Kinect, make sure you know the instructional purpose of using the Kinect. If you intend to use it as part of the lesson, why are you using it as opposed to something else? Is it used as guided practice? A formative assessment? An extension activity? A piece to differentiate? These are all good purposes, and you might use one or more of them in the lesson planning.

Another important consideration is what game to use. This also relates to cost. Kinect Adventures comes with the purchase of the Kinect itself, but you may have to purchase other games. If cost is a concern, there are many ways to mitigate this issue. I’m a big fan of Donors Choose, and I’ve been successfully funded through them. Just make sure you indicate specific objectives and clear plan. Also, Microsoft offers discounts on the Kinect, and includes a great chart that can help you make decisions for buying.

There are a great many resources to find not only lessons that use Kinect in the classroom, but also apps that can support more specific learning. One example is Kinect Math – A Kinesthetic Learning Experience that allows teachers to make abstract mathematical concepts more interactive through using the Kinect. Students can manipulate graphs, variables, and more.

In addition, Microsoft has a huge library of classroom lessons, many of which are aligned to the Common Core standards, as well as other learning objectives in physical education and science. The lessons include step by step instructions, grade level and the game that must be used with the game.

There is a great opportunity to use the Kinect in the classroom to not only meet specific learning goals, but engage in research-based practices for learning. Consider developing your own lesson and submitting it to an open-source database of GBL lessons. Let’s work together as a GBL community to uses games effectively in the classroom.

Playing Games At School – Understanding the World of Games for Learning


This article originally appeared in “Net Assets,” a journal of the National Business Officers Association, a solution-oriented community focused on the financial and administrative success of K-12 independent schools. NBOA develops, delivers, and promotes best business practices to advance independent schools.View Website >

When new pedagogical models come around, we are often wary of them. This sentiment can be valid! Often, the implementation of practice is costly, from training new teachers on the model of learning, to purchasing critical materials that are needed to ensure effective implementation. Then, of course, there is the ongoing support and continued purchasing of materials.

So when Game-Based Learning (GBL) and Gamification are touted as new and innovative ways to teach, it is not a surprise when they are not instantly embraced—indeed, they have not yet taken hold. This is made even more complicated by the fact that there are many models within the umbrella of Games for Learning.

In the Games for Learning topic, there are sub-topics that are all viable in the classroom. One, Game-Based Learning (GBL) is defined as a branch of serious games that deals with applications that have defined learning outcomes. Generally, they are designed in order to balance the subject matter with the gameplay and the ability of the player to retain and apply said subject matter to the real world. Serious games, by relation, are games designed for a purpose other than pure entertainment. So what does this look like in the classroom? This is where things get a bit complicated, because it is all about contextualization.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Four Key Take-Aways for PBL in the ELA Classroom


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

This past Monday, I had the honor of hosting an #engchat on the topic “Project-Based Learning (PBL) in the English/Language Arts (ELA) classroom.”

[Connect with ELA-minded educators in real-time #engchats on Twitter on Mondays from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. eastern time.]

During the conversation, some crucial advice came up, and teachers both learned and gave their best advice on designing PBL projects that teach and assess ELA standards, particularly the Common Core State Standards.

Here are four key take-aways from the conversation:

1. Know PBL vs. Projects. I’ve seen this confusion around PBL and projects a lot in my work with teachers, and this Twitter chat was no exception. Projects aren’t bad, but they are not PBL. Projects usually occur after much of the teaching has already happened, and often take the shape of a culminating performance assessment. In the ELA class, this might look like reading a text such as Romeo and Juliet, and then creating a video where the students make a modern interpretation of it. A traditional project usually refers to just this summative assessment video piece.

A PBL project, on the other hand, is the entire learning process—from the summative and formative assessments to the lessons and activities that scaffold the learning. Students might be asked to create a dating guide for other teens, given a text (like Romeo and Juliet) to learn examples (and nonexamples) from it, and use what they learn along the way to create their product. The teacher would be teaching lessons and scaffolding material along the way to support that work.

2. Invite Authentic Writing. PBL calls for authentic products that are shared with a public audience. Instead of just an essay, students could write proposals, guides, letters, and other writing pieces where the writing is meeting a real need. These writing pieces are critiqued and refined as they are constructed by experts, self, and peer evaluations.

3. Create the Need to Read. When doing a PBL project in the ELA classroom, a common mistake is reading an entire text before doing a project. This defeats one of the crucial engagement strategies of PBL: creating the need to read.

Instead of reading the whole text upfront, teachers should give the engaging project upfront to students, where reading the text is essential to performing well on the project. Through this, teachers can scaffold the reading process with the great activities and lessons that they already do. In addition, students use what they learn to work on the project along the way. This creates manageable application of knowledge for all students and creates an ongoing, relevant connection to the text.

4. Don’t “Cover” Reading Standards, Target Them. During the #engchat, many teachers were concerned about targeting Common Core State Standards, especially in literature. My advice is to target specific standards that the text or piece of literature really demonstrates well. There is a tendency to cover all the possible pieces in a text, but in reality, we don’t need to. We have a year, and have time to hit the targets in-depth at intentional times. PBL projects create this opportunity. Use the PBL project to go in-depth on targeted standards, rather than trying to cover all the possible standards that a text might be able to demonstrate.

Designing PBL for the ELA classroom isn’t an easy task, but I believe PBL provides invaluable opportunities to engage students in reading and creating authentic products for real-world use. PBL can “tie up in a bow” all the literacy strategies and scaffolding that teachers must do while fostering inquiry processes for students.

Competencies Builds Better Assessment Practices


This post originally appeared on CompetencyWorks, a group designed to support the development of a community of people knowledgeable about competency education. View Original >


Competencies have the potential to truly shift assessment practices in the classroom. If you took a sampling of the current assessment practices, including grade-books, you would see a variety of system in place. From elaborate weights and point systems, to standards-based and rigorous, assessment practices rub the gambit. With a competency-based assessment system, we have the opportunity to create exemplary, equitable assessment practices for our students.

Objective Targets – Competencies are hinged on targets in the content area. When designed well, they are aligned to state, national, or common core standards, and explain clearly the evidence needed to master. The competency promotes evidence of learning, regardless of how the learning is shown. Because of this, students are allowed to show learning in a variety of ways, because the competency isn’t hinged on the product of learning, but rather what needs to be in that product. Teachers who use competency-based grading system must truly understand what evidence of that learning is. In other words, the target must be clear. When teachers are creating assessments, they aligned to objective targets, not subjective products. With this, we can be confident that the assessment is accurate and objective, regardless of product.

Embedded 21st Century Skills – Districts and schools across the nation, and internationally are quickly embracing 21st century skills as a critical learning parter to content standards. From critical thinking and problem solving, to communication and collaboration, these skills are transferable across content areas and learning environments. Competencies must articulated these skills, and, more importantly, thereby leverage them as crucial to the assessment process. When teachers create and plan assessments aligned to competencies they are targeting 21st century skills. They are assessing them, and including evidence of those skills as well as the content knowledge.

Freedom to Fail – Much of our current assessment practices are still anchored in antiquated grading of practice. Much of the work that occurs in the classroom is formative, intended to check progress of students, encourage differentiation, and give targeted feedback to students. Why is it often graded? I know where this comes from. As teachers, we need leverage to encourage student work, but this is the wrong way to go about. What happens if a student does mediocre, but then performs well on the summative assessment? When the formative is counted in the grading, then the summative, which is supposed to show mastery of competencies, is negatively impact. This is bad assessment practice. It does not reward students at their best. When we embrace Competency Based Assessment, we reward students at their best, and allow them the freedom to make mistakes and improve along the way.

As schools and districts continue to adopt competency based assessment systems, they will be forced to wrestle with old, and often inequitable assessment practices. This work has the potential to be a catalyst for assessment reform that serves all students, rewards them for rigorous work, and honors them at their best.