I spent a ton of time this Summer thinking about how to improved my gamified classroom and make Fracture Crisis a better experience.. Then, I made no changes.
A new variable entered the equation that I felt I simply could not account for. Any changes I made might be just as quickly undone in this brave, new world. The change is that my school went 1:1. All students now have a Chromebook and each teacher their own page on a LMS. Since my biggest struggle last year was how to track all the various parts of the game in an analogue world I hoped this would solve most of the problems.
In a sense it has. In another sense it has highlight other weaknesses in the game. Overall, it is off to a much better start than last year but the same major problem remains.
How can I keep the game front and center in the players' minds?
Necessity stepped in yesterday and helped me a ton. I did our first digital walkthru and my students in period 3 finished it way faster than I expected. I had two honors classes coming up next and I figured they'd finish even faster. What to do? How about bonus XP?
I loaded up my LMS page added Bonus XP missions to the sidebar (I eventually came up with the very witty and original idea of calling them "side" quests!) that they could do when they had extra time. Originally, I just added a couple. One was a Youtube video with a reflection question and the second a simple, fun question about Rome. I decided to add some tension by limiting the number of students who could earn XP from each quest. I'm not entirely sure that is the way I want to go (maybe just limit some of them) but it was a last minute thing so sure, why not?
They were all over it.
I had answers flying into my inbox like crazy. I kept adding more quests and they kept sending more responses. Unfortunately, the "they" in this case was only like 6 students. I'll take it though. Those 6 really engaged with the game layer of class for the first time. They were able to see their XP totals going up in (nearly) real time as I added their bonus XP. It was the closest I've come to hitting that state of Flow that games seek to create. I was operating as game master and they as players.
I did this again for the next day's activity and had much greater participation. By the end of the day almost all of one of my classes had completed their first level up. Last year I had only a handful of kids who ever bothered to level up. The side quests gave them a reason to visit the game page which leads me to the second advancement I've made: The digital leaderboard.
Last year I tracked my leaders by printing a list to post in class. I only had time to post it about once every 6 weeks or so. I'd put XP lists a bit more often but they were just ugly lists of data on the wall. It didn't drive any participation. This year we have a homepage for each class where I've posted a Google Spreadsheet that I can update very quickly and easily. I've color-coded it in such as a way as students can immediately, at a glance, see what level they are. I'm working on some further steps in hopes of adding an "XP needed to Level Up" column but for now it is just a simple sheet. Still, it is definitely helping. Once kids started seeing COMPLETED! pop up next to their classmates names under the Level 1 column they wanted their level up too.
I just have to keep coming up with reasons for them to visit the homepage. Someone on Twitter suggested adding narrative pieces of the game to that page which I think is brilliant. I'm excited to see where that idea goes.
One more new layer I added is the Naming Day. When students reach level 1 I send them a private email outlining how they will go about choosing their name for the game. So far I've not had any of the students respond with their name choice. I was hoping the email would be enough but I may have to make an announcement in class and perhaps even give them class time to do it. I think this will further help drive engagement with the game.
Problems remain in the game, of course. My on-level class is far less engaged in it. They simply do not have much extra time in class to visit the page. I will almost certainly have to go through the naming process with them. The game isn't overly complicated it is just that they are brand new 7th graders who are used to doing exactly what they are told (in contrast to honors kids who often are encouraged to think and go beyond.) I want to break them from that and I think the game can help but I've got to get them into it.
So, I'm making progress. The game layer is better than it has been at any other point to date. The next major hurdle (after getting more on board of course) is their skill usage. That's where things really went off the rails last year and I'm not sure I've done enough to keep it on course this time around.
But hey, at least I should have way more beta testers!
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