Gamification Year 2 Part 2

posted Jul 20, 2017, 8:43 AM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Sep 27, 2017, 3:35 PM ]
As I noted in part 1, I don't think gamifying my classroom to the Next Level has increased engagement in my classes. I've had light game layers for years. Unifying them all into one central theme had made it more coherent but I'm not sure it has made a difference for the kids. I think that my failure to properly implement the reward system is part of the issue.

Turns out rewards are hard. 

My reward system operates on both a class and individual level. Classes earn points for behavior and the like to compete against the other classes. Individuals earn XP to unlock Power Ups.  The class layer works great. The individual layer has been the challenge. I've redone the skill chart at least half a dozen times but here's the one I plan to use in the upcoming year:


As shown in part 1, as students earn XP they get Skill Cards which they can turn in to use the power ups in the chart above. I made sure all students earn level 1 and 2. I called each of them up to my desk, showed them the XP chart and gave them their reward. My idea was that once they'd experienced engaging with the reward system they'd do it more consistently. 

They kind of did. I had more engagement with it than in year one but still, overall, only about 30% of my students used any of their rewards last year beyond the level 1 and 2. 

So, why was that?

1) Many of the rewards were pointless. I made the reward chart just before we completely redid our assessments. There was a Power Up that let students redo a test - but then we made all tests infinitely redoable anyway. There was one that let them use their cell phones for 10 minutes during a quiz - but then we went 1 to 1 and Chromebooks were used all the time in every quiz. I've redone the rewards to make them all much more desirable this time around. I'm also considering changing it from 2 rewards per level to 5-6 rewards per level chunk. This would give kids more options and allow them to reuse a Power Up they really enjoyed. That would likely increase their engagement with this layer. 

2) The fear of limitations. Some students horded their tokens, waiting for the perfect moment to spend them. Then the year ended and they were stuck with nothing but laminated strips of paper. I totally sympathize with the kids on this one as it is how I play video games as well. When I unlock that awesome limited use power up I NEVER use it.  I don't know what the solution to this is other than maybe putting a time limit on each Power Up. That would require more tracking on my part and I'm not sure it would do enough to push them to use them anyway.

3) I didn't re-explain it often enough. All year long I'd have random kids asking me "How do I get my Power Up cards?" "How do I level up?"  Of course, I'd gone over all this in depth on Launch Day in August and posted the rules online and on the classroom wall but these are 12 year olds we're talking about. I need to do full class reminders much more often. I'll try to do it every time I post a new leaderboard as that puts the game front and center.

I think these are all problems that I can lesson if not completely solve.

The classroom layer is much more effective. Classes earn (or lose) points all week and then use those points to play The Bonus Round at the end of the week. 


The game is pretty dumb. It's 6 doors that the class can spend points to open and get random rewards or punishments. It takes max 5 minutes but they absolutely LOVE IT.  My entire classroom management system boils down to me picking up a marker and walking toward toward the scoreboard. That's all it takes. Those class points are gold to them. 

Whenever a class hits 1000 points (which takes about 2 months on average) they earn a class reward like donuts or cookies and the points reset. 

I think the game works so well, despite it's simplicity, for two major reasons:
1) It's a shared experience
2) It's always in sight

One student leads each week. They are the only person I listen to in terms of which doors to open. The rest of the class always helps the person decide and they cheer and jeer as a unit. Plus, using their own individual rewards students can influence the game even if they are not the leader by blocking bad moves or doubling up good ones. 

The scoreboard is right on my front whiteboard. Everyone sees it all the time. It's not like an XP sheet online. It's always there. The class layer is always in sight and therefore always in mind. I've tried to do that with the individual layer by adding the Wall of Champions but I'm not sure it has done much. We'll see as it grows.



All that said, I learned something very important at the end of my game this year - they aren't that important. My students loved my game - both on the class and individual layer. When they reached the end and saw the closing video and credits 2 of my 3 classes burst into cheers unprompted (not sure what was wrong with the last one...)  In their year end reflections many commented on how they liked playing as an Agent, including many who never cashed in their rewards.

It makes sense of course. I haven't played hundreds of hours of Tetris in my life hoping for an extrinsic reward. I just really enjoy getting better and the game. I don't spend weeks playing through an RPG to make a powerful character, I do it to see the narrative of the game. Those are the rewards.

So, yes, rewards are hard, but so what? If only half of my kids engage on that level that's half as many rewards I have to dole out. If they are all engaged in the game (and more importantly the class) anyway, so what?  I'll leave the rewards out there for my eager achievers and completionists but I won't stress too much if not ever player cares!

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