LearnLevel Up Tech Quest defines gamification as “the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users. In order to be classified as gamification an entire unit or classroom must use gaming techniques.” In contrast, Mashable defines gamification as “the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts. The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, filling out tax forms, or reading websites.”While this column will discuss both gaming and gamification, an example from Sean Penney, a producer at Ayogo, defines the difference:

“Fitness is intrinsically rewarding but a lot of people have problems getting motivated to do it, so the goal of gaming is to help motivate those people. So, gaming is the application of game principals to something that is not necessarily a game. This really shouldn’t be compared to, or confused with, serious games whose goal is to train somebody or teach somebody something. Gamification is moving more toward a joining of all these principles.”

According to How Gaming Is Changing the Classroom, by the time a student is 21 he or she will have played nearly 10,000 hours of video games. Why Teachers Are (and Aren’t) Using Educational Video Games includes an infographic showing that 18 percent of teachers use games in class on a daily basis and 95 percent of teachers use digital games that were created specifically for educational use. Seventy percent of teachers polled said using educational video games increased student engagement, and 60 percent acknowledge that games help personalize instruction and conduct better assessments.

Five Benefits of Adding Gamification to Classrooms suggests that gaming:

  • Boosts enthusiasm toward math
  • Lessens disruptive behavior
  • Increases cognitive growth
  • Incorporates mature make-believe which encourages growth and development
  • Improves attention span through game-centric learning.

Some elements of What Makes a Good Game? are that a game offers:

  • Continuous challenge
  • Interesting storylines
  • Flexibility (there should be more than one way to win)
  • Immediate, useful rewards (new roles, new missions, new locations on the board)
  • A combination of fun and realism.

Game design expert Kate Salen, an executive director of the Institute of Play, concurs and describes great games as dynamic, immersive and empowering.

She adds, “Great games require participation and interaction from the players and simultaneously give those players immediate and constant feedback on how they're doing.”

Trends in K-12 Education: Gamification in the Classroom explains that games needn’t be new, enhanced or technical. A fourth-grade classroom is being touted for its Risk-like game called World Peace, which chronicles the life of teacher John Hunter. The game portrays his experiences of non-violent learning through his world travels and the process of collaboration and communication that the students in his class incorporated in their eight-week citizen project. One video on the site illustrates the use of Nintendo DS gaming (Nintendo has an Edutainment games division). Another project, Team-Drill Head describes how a class is using seven laptops, two desktops, 11 Nintendo DS and 18 games for teaching content and 21 digital voice recorders to improve reading skills. For behavioral reinforcement, another program uses a feedback system that can be customized by the teacher. You can participate by signing up for a free account at ClassDojo.

Getting started

In Gamifying Education: Do We Really Know How to Gamify the Classroom? Vicki Davis, (aka Cool Cat Teacher) points out three ways to make the use of gaming better:

  1. Award badges for actual accomplishments (not just for showing up)
  2. Understand game mechanics
  3. Understand Bartle’s Taxonomy of Player and Design (killers [not actual killers, but those who thrive on competition], achievers, explorers, socializers).
At Digital Game Based Learning Types, you can download. A table created by

Mark Paersky that describes types of learners. Paersky coined the term “digital immigrants.”

Education Levels Up! – A Guide to Gamifying Your Classroom is a comprehensive and easy-to-follow site and includes gaming definitions for words like NoOb, mod, hacking, trolling, frag and uber; examples of virtual hubs and quests; gaming tools books and videos; and a description of the basics. These include:
  1. Badges (rewards for completing tasks, doing homework, etc. (for more on badges see Why Badges Work Better Than Grades)
  2. Rewards (can be as simple as homework passes, free time, extra credit)
  3. Leveling Up (basically, a ranking system)
  4. XP Points (no, not the archaic Microsoft operating system; in gaming language XP = Experience Points)
  5. Quests (revolve around storylines)
  6. Storylines
  7. Knowledge Maps (guides or curriculum maps).

Kevin McLaughlin, an educator from England, used a motivational video to introduce gamification to his classroom and says, “Believe me when I say it hooked them; they couldn’t wait to start ‘learning’….I had grabbed the class in one minute and 23 seconds and could focus my teaching on what they had to learn.” This Google-certified teacher also describes using “20 time in the classroom,” based on Google’s policy of allowing employees “20 percent time” to work on projects that they are passionate about.

Game-Based Learning Units for the Everyday Teacher outlines the structure of the games:
  • Individual quests (challenges based on lesson plans)
  • Boss levels (missions requiring higher level thinking skills)
  • Themes
  • Need-to-know (content and skills the student acquires through instruction and materials)
  • Trial and error, feedback, success (immediate teacher feedback)
  • Incentives (badges and other rewards)
  • Avatars (student created personas).

In Get Your Game On: How to Build Curriculum Units Using the Video Game Model, the author uses Understanding by Design principles to create a unit that includes social studies, language arts, digital media and historic events. He takes you through the process of creating a scenario (or boss level, described above) and how to design quests.

Game maker resources

Sploder is a free, user-friendly game creator. You can make arcade games, spaceship shooters or space adventure games or try the more advanced physics game maker. There is also a graphics editor to customize your game art, and the site includes guidance for teachers.

A free resource for game creation is Scratch from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab, where you can create stories, games and animations. Scratch provides an online community of educators and you can watch a step-by-step tutorial or explore other game projects.

JeopardyLabs, another free resource, gives you the opportunity to create customized jeopardy games. This tool also has the capability to create online, graded tests, crossword puzzles, and Bingo.

Inform is designed to create interactive fiction based on natural language, letting the player explore worlds and stories through text. You can create adventure games, historical simulations and digital art. This is coding in lay person’s language and provides a thorough selection of resources to help you get started.

While game creation at PurposeGames is free and easy, the site is complex. Basic games are quiz games using dots or shapes and multiple-choice, but you can also create a playlist, challenges or groups. The site grew out of the author’s desire to learn more about geography while playing a trivia game. World Geography Games takes learning a step further by breaking game play into countries, capitals, flags, continents, Earth, atmosphere, oceans, U.S. states, seas, lakes, rivers, islands, regions, straits, metropolitan areas, mountain ranges, mountains, volcanoes, and deserts.

Find more games at the ever popular Funbrain, Jefferson Lab, Math Chimp (aligned to the Common Core), Duckie Deck (for preschool), RoomRecess (no sign up required) and Smart Kit (school-safe puzzle games) and create badges at Edmodo.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com.