The first time I heard the term “gamification” used in an educational context my mind cast back to my Super Mario Bros days. I envisaged my own grade 4 primary school classroom kitted with beanbags, huge television screens (well, they were considered to be big back then), 8bit graphics, dim lights, Super Mario Bros game music (do, do, do, dodo, di…do), buttons clicking and chatter discussing how to save Princess Toadstool. I imagined my friends and I being so addicted to school (A.K.A. video gaming) that we’d be begging our teacher to let us stay in at play time or that when the bell would go to signal that the school day was over and we’d wonder where all the time had gone.
When I found out more about gamification in education, I was disappointed, if only for a second, as I realised that the notion is not actually about playing video games…
BUT before you click the back button please read on as gamification in an education setting can be just as great! The approach aims to replicate that addictive feeling you get when playing a video game. It suggests that by creating a game like environment students will be motivated to learn in the same way that they are motivated to play video games. They will be in a state where they are so focussed on achieving a task they forget that they’re learning.
The way in which gamification can influence educative practice is through drawing on or replicating the structure and/or elements in those video games. Elements include having an overall goal to reach or following a narrative structure, players (students) being reinforced and rewarded as they are learning and having a “fun”. Tasks are also broken down into smaller pieces in order to reach a particular outcome and have the appropriate amount of “challenge” for the participant so that they become engrossed in what they are doing. There may also be a social element.
I’ve experimented with making a gamified project called “Popcorn Maths Project”. I used some of the elements from my all-time favourite video game Super Mario Bros. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Super Mario Bros (I am sorry that you had a limited childhood) it is an adventure game where a character named Mario sets out to save a princess named Toadstool from a castle. He has to defeat many creatures, avoid lots of obstacles and gains different powers along the way.
In my “Popcorn Maths Project”, students prepare and make popcorn for their class to eat. There are several steps which they need to take. First, maths skills are used to work out classmates’ popcorn seasoning choices. This is then displayed on a popcorn menu. Secondly, students calculate relevant quantities of each ingredient and complete a recipe that they will use to make the popcorn. Next, students calculate the weight of each quantity before creating a shopping list for their teacher. Finally, students make the popcorn and compare the uncooked and cooked popcorns’ volume and mass. And at the end they get to eat the popcorn!
The following table highlights gaming elements in Super Mario Bros and how I integrated these into my Popcorn Maths Project:
|Gamified Element||Super Mario Bros||Popcorn Maths Project|
|Narrative/goal||To save Princess Toadstool.||To make and eat popcorn as a class.|
|Fun||Explore Mushroom Kingdom which is filled with interesting creatures and special things to collect.||Create a menu, complete a recipe, write a shopping list and make and eat popcorn.|
|Tasks broken down||Players move through four sublevels in each of the eight worlds to complete the game.||Students move through four sections of the popcorn project before completing the project and eating the popcorn.|
|Reinforcement and rewards received throughout||Players reach checkpoints, go through flags to complete levels and receive points and extra lives as they collect coins.||Students answer maths questions in order to complete each fun part of the project before repeating the cycle.|
|Scaffolding||Players learn about new tricks or powers in the game slowly and continue building on them as the game progresses.||Series of questions scaffold students to find answers that they need to complete each part of the project.|
|Social connection||There is a two player option.
|Students work together to complete the popcorn menu, cook and eat the popcorn.|
|Challenges||There are new obstacles introduced as the game progresses.
|There are two versions of the project and some challenge questions that can be allocated to different levels of maths abilities.|
So there you have it. My first resource that gamifies teaching and learning. I would love to receive any feedback on this!
Also, I would be interested to know what others think about this approach – do you think “gamification” is a valuable pedagogy?
Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.