According to a recent study, the attention span of the average person has dropped in the last 15 years from 12 seconds to 8 seconds - this is akin to that of a goldfish. Children that are heavy users of technology struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed. For example, a classroom!

So how do we combat this short attention span. How do we make our classroom environment more interesting to pupils that are used to fast and complicated game play? How do we ensure that they become self motivated learners? The short answer is through content, choice and challenge. The long answer is as follows...

Gamification in the classroom

We know that children love playing games, computer based or otherwise, so why not use game based theory in the classroom to increase engagement? This doesn't mean just playing computer games in the classroom, it means using the features inherent in video games, such as points, levels, badges, leaderboards and quests as part of the children's classroom experience, in order to keep them focused and to improve learning outcomes.

Developing a points system

Players are familiar with points. You achieve an objective (slay a monster, catch a jewel), you get points. By introducing points into the classroom instead of grades, you're rewarding children for their actions. Points can be for hitting academic objectives (getting a high score in a test) , or for non-academic ones such as completing a quest, being a good friend or helping around the classroom.

The points system can also be turned into a leader board so that children are battling against each other to climb the leader board. Some may argue that this encourages competition and some children don't like this. I would argue that most children do like competition if its in something that they are good at, and with a points based system you can make sure that all children remain motivated by setting challenges that you know they will achieve. Competition through gamification of the classroom also helps to keep students’ brains alert and focused

Other types of points, such as health points, can also be introduced. Health points are like life energy. Pupils can start with a certain amount and then lose them for negative behaviour such as lateness, problems at playtime, etc. Having low health points could stop students for joining in some activities such as golden time or class rewards.

Points can be managed either on paper, on a Google Spreadsheet or by an automated system such as TAP Assess. I've developed a system based on magic codes where thousands of magic codes are generated by the computer and printed at the beginning of the game. Children are handed the codes (like raffle tickets) and they 'claim' them by typing the code into the computer.

Gamification builds teamwork

The points system encourages individual achievement, but by putting pupils into teams (or guilds) you make them want to help each other out so they all achieve together. This is a very powerful tool to encourage team work in the classroom. It can also be accompanied by a team leader board based on an accumulation of all the individual player's points.

Level up your classroom

Levels are the mainstay of video games. Players start on the first level and then move forward through more complex scenarios as they 'level up.' They can be created automatically by dividing the number of points by a certain number to give the level. For example, if you have 243 points you're on level 2, if you have 542 you're on level 5. Items or privileges can be awarded for each level.

Badges for collectors

Badges in the boy scouts or girl guides are motivational; children collect them to prove their prowess in a particular field. They are a classic method for recognising and rewarding accomplishments. In a game that I've designed, pupils get badges for developing skills in the following areas:

The badges are kept for the duration of the game and also have points associated with them too which are allocated to the players. You can create your own physical badges to give to your students which can be kept in plastic wallets or you can give them virtual badges using Mozilla open badges or Edmodo.

Items for real world usage

Other elements that can be included in your games are items. I use items for rewards in the real world. Here are some of the items that I currently use as rewards:

  • The maths pardon allows children to sit out of maths tests if they're regularly achieving full marks, and to do something more fun instead!
  • The pen license allows the pupil to use a pen as they have neat handwriting.
  • The food rocket allows them to get into the dinner hall first and be first up for seconds. They earn this by eating all their vegetables (or pack up).
  • The magic chair allows them to sit near their mates in certain activities.

Other incentives

Other incentives and mechanisms that can be incorporated when gamifying the classroom include:

  • Side quests. Home work which is optional and will gain points.
  • Virtual currency. This can be exchanged and used to pay for goods.
  • Easter eggs. Little surprises in the game which can be found by players.
  • Power ups. Last for a limited period of time to boost point scores.
  • Player vs Player. Allows players to battle against each other for points.

The benefits of gamification on lower achievers

Although the discovery and preparation of games is a time and energy-consuming task, the effort is definitely worth it. The effect of gamification is especially noticeable with pupils who otherwise perform poorly. They link school with the fun and satisfaction that gaming brings them, and their motivation and involvement with the learning process increases.

Gaming is immersive and bringing that experience into the classroom will help to make your school a fun and engaging environment. Why not try adding some of these game based elements into your classroom and see the engagement levels soar?


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