What Gamification Can Reveal About Learning

If you read my other blog posts, you may notice that I write about the importance of play a lot. I have to be honest, I didn’t always recognize or value how important play was for learning. Then I had kids.

I am the mother of two young boys, both under four.  When they hit about two, they started to engage in unstructured play. I watched them negotiate the rules of play, solve puzzles or create – as they did today- a boat with blankets, pillows, one of my shirts, a chair, some canned goods and a rope.

As an educator, I was struck by all the learning I was witnessing and knew that I didn’t always see this in my classroom. Or if I am being honest, I rarely saw this same type of engagement in my classrooms. As such, I became very interested in the power of play and its impact on learning.

Gamification employs characteristics typically affiliated with video games and uses them to engage people in different learning activities. 

Five things happen in play that educators often seek, but struggle to achieve, in their own classrooms: motivation, collaboration, higher order thinking skills, improved problem solving skills and perspective taking.

Motivation

Games tap into both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.  Most games involve a community of players that work together to achieve a particular goal. This type of collaboration facilitates a student’s sense of belonging and safety. In game play, students are faced with complex tasks that are divided into smaller, more manageable challenges and as they achieve success at different complex levels they develop feelings of esteem that motivates them to take on more challenging learning tasks.  Finally, gaming is fun. The 61 billion dollars recorded in digital gaming sales illustrates that people enjoy playing games.  This is because games make otherwise tedious exercises engaging and enjoyable.

Collaboration

Collaborative learning occurs when students work together interdependently to achieve a common goal.  Digital game players are heavily reliant on one another as they need each other’s strengths and expertise to achieve a certain level or meet a particular goal. Minecraft is extremely popular with more than 100 million users. It has often been referred to as virtual lego – you work with others to build amazing things.  The creators of Minecraft have also released Minecraftedu. A version of Minecraft specifically designed to be used by classroom teachers. Minecraftedu allows teachers to create and manage classes inside Minecraft for a variety of different subject areas. Teachers are given access to templates created by teachers for teachers  specifically designed to facilitate collaboration, design and decision-making skills.

Higher Order Thinking Skills

Gamification is linked to improved critical thinking skills. A study conducted by Steinkuehler (2011) looked at the reading abilities of teenage boys and found that they were able to read above reading level during game play while scoring two years below grade level on traditional standardized tests. These findings point not to an issue with literacy, but to an issue with student engagement and the impact that disengagement can have on a student’s academic achievement. Similarly, the Computer Science Department at North Carolina State University created a digital game called Crystal Island to look at gaming and learning. This game requires students to work together to stop a disease from spreading by using investigation skills, making reasoned hypotheses and applying deductive reasoning skills.  The study revealed that students who played Crystal Island increased their scientific content knowledge far more than those who learned the same material traditionally. The study also found that low achievers were more comfortable and persistent in using trial and error to achieve their aims then they were in traditional assessments.

Improved Problem Solving Skills

Regular digital game play has been linked to increased brain matter, excellent multitasking skills, fluid intelligence required for problem solving and the ability to work together collaboratively.  Video games have also been shown to improve spatial awareness and/or map reading. In some games, students achieve flow. This is a psychological state where the individual is completely immersed in the task at hand and this focus contributes to improved performance.

Perspective Taking

In the Peacemaker game students make real life decisions as either Israel or Palestine to respond to real world events. Cuhadar and Kampf (2014) conducted a cross-national experiment looking at the use of Peacemaker among Turkish, American, Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian University students. All groups were required to play the game from both Israel’s and Palestine’s perspective. 147 students participated in the study. The study was used to assess how games like Peacemaker can influence perspective taking. Both American and Turkish students entered the game with a particular bias. In general American students were pro-Israel and Turkish students were pro-Palestine. This noticeably shifted after their participation in Peacemaker, as both American and Turkish students recognized the legitimacy of arguments raised by both Israel and Palestine after playing Peacemaker. Conversely, Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian participants did not change their perspective after game-play. The study also revealed that all participants gained deeper knowledge of the conflict. Although, this simulation was not transformative for all participants it does provide positive insights into how these types of simulations can be used to educate and help students engage in peaceful conflict resolution. Similarly, having third parties gain a more impartial attitude, by breaking down misinformation is important. Overall, these types of simulations engage students in investigation, problem solving and decision making skills.

Final Thoughts

Gamification motivates students, encourages critical thinking, resilience and collaboration.  As Chatfield (2010) argues, gamers build worlds that tick the evolutionary boxes that our brains need to engage in learning.  The principles that guide gaming and have led to the popularity of games, like Minecraft, can help to improve our teaching practices. We can look at these principles to create simulations and play-based activities in our classrooms that engage and support student learning.

Interested in starting Gamification in your classroom check out these great tools/blogs below:

9 Awesome Gamification Examples in the Classroom

12 Examples of Gamification in the Classroom

Class Craft

Beyond Badges: Why Gamify?

Gamification Co blog

Also check out this video that looks at the brain science behind gaming:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyamsZXXF2w

References

Callaghan, N. (2016). Investigating the role of minecraft in educational learning environments. Educational Media International, 53(4), 244-260. doi:10.1080/09523987.2016.1254877

Chatfield, T. (2010, November 01) Retrieved March, 2017, from

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyamsZXXF2w

Cuhadar, E., & Kampf, R. (2014). Learning about conflict and negotiations through computer simulations: The case of PeaceMaker1. International Studies Perspectives, 15(4), 509-524. doi:10.1111/insp.12076

Creativeme.co. (2015). Minecraft edu: About Minecraft Edu. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.creativeme.co/index.php/minecraft-edu?id=231

Dakers, J. (2005). Technology Education as Solo Activity or Socially Constructed Learning. International Journal of Technology and Design Education Int J Technol Des Educ, 15(1), 73-89.

DiChristopher, T. (2016, January 27). Digital gaming sales hit record $61B: Report. Retrieved April 03, 2017, from http://www.cnbc.com/2016/01/26/digital-gaming-sales-hit-record-61-billion-in-2015-report.html

Ferriman, J. (2014). Why you should not use gamification? Retrieved March 2017, from https://www.learndash.com/why-you-should-not-use-gamification/

Gilakjani, A. P., Leong, L. M., & Ismail, H. N. (2013). Teachers’ Use of Technology and Constructivism. IJMECS International Journal of Modern Education and Computer Science, 5(4), 49-63.

Junco, R. (2014, April 28). Beyond ‘Screen Time:’ What Minecraft Teaches Kids. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/04/beyond-screen-time-what-a-good-game-like-minecraft-teaches-kids/361261/

Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S., Salen, K. (2009). Moving Learning Games Forward: Obstacles, Opportunities and Openness. The Education Arcade. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

http://education.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/MovingLearningGamesForward_EdArcade.pdf

Lastowka, G. (2011). Minecraft as Web 2.0: Amateur creativity & digital games. Retrieved March 2017, from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1939241

Lynch, M. (2016) Can Gamification Help Struggling Students? Retrieved April 03, 2017, from http://www.thetechedvocate.org/can-gamification-help-struggling-students/?utm_source=ReviveOldPost&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=ReviveOldPost

Richter, G., Raban, D. R., & Rafaeli, S. (2014). Studying Gamification: The Effect of Rewards and Incentives on Motivation. Gamification in Education and Business,21-46. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-10208-5_2

Romero, Margarida., Usart, Mireia., Ott, Michela., and Earp, Jeffrey, “Learning Through Playing For or Against Each Other? Promoting Collaborative Learning in Digital Game Based Learning” (2012). ECIS 2012 Proceedings. Paper 93. http://aisel.aisnet.org/ecis2012/93

 

Zaino, J. (2013, July 22). The Pros and Cons of Gamification in the Classroom. Retrieved April 05, 2017, from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2013/07/pros-and-cons-gamification-classroom

 

Zichermann, G. (2011). How games make kids smarter. Retrieved March, 2017, from https://www.ted.com/talks/gabe_zichermann_how_games_make_kids_smarter

 

Three Simple (But Important) Ways to Use Technology in the Classroom

Three Simple (But Important) Ways to use Technology in the Classroom

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Screencastify

Screencastify is a FREE Google Add-On that you can use to make videos for your students or you can have them sign up and put the power in their hands.  I’ve included a Vlog below showing myself using Screencastify and sharing some of my ideas on how to use it. I also highly suggest that you check out Matt Miller’s Ditch that Textbook blog 14 Ways to Create Great Video with Screencastify in the Classroom

 

Scratch

It is my personal belief we should all get our students coding. Not because I think that all students are going to be programmers, but because computational thinking teaches complex problem solving skills and promotes creative thinking. This is coming from a History and Social Sciences teacher, so I if I can embrace coding anyone can. Scratch is a free programming software where students and teachers can code their own videos, games and stories. It introduces students to coding language, problem solving and it is fun. Remember, play is interconnected with improved learning. There are also many extremely helpful videos on YouTube to guide student learning. Similarly, Scratch has a gallery of projects so that your students can see what this program is capable of achieving. My students can do far more than I ever can. Here is a Scratch project that I did – a very quick one – on some basic World War One Review. If I can create this anyone can! Trust me! My scratch project: Historical Trivia


Kahoot

Okay, I am sure that many of you are familiar with Kahoot. However, Kahoot can be used in a lot of different ways that you may not have initially thought of.

For example, Kahoot can be used to check for understanding, to start a class discussion, as an exit ticket for your classroom or as a student presentation tool. Here is a Kahoot that we used called Who do you know?  to check students prior knowledge as well as to discuss the concept of Historical Significance.  We used to it to ask the question: Why do we know some people, but not others? Are the people that we are more readily familiar with more historically significant than others? Why or why not?

Thanks for checking out my blog!

 

 

 

5 Innovative Approaches To Ignite Student Voice

 

5 Innovative Approaches to Ignite Student Voice

Create a class YouTube Playlist.

YouTube

I LOVE YouTube. As a teacher this love has turned into my obsession with creating and curating YouTube playlists for my classes. YouTube lets you organize videos into themes and categories and compiles them all into one link that you can share with your students via Google Classroom or your class website. YouTube Playlists are powerful tools for igniting and supporting student voice.

I challenge my students to find videos that we can add to our class playlist and/or to share  videos that inspire or interest them. You can also feature student videos on your YouTube channel. Over the years, my YouTube Playlists continually develop and change to reflect/support not only my course content, but also the interests and learning needs of my students. As an added bonus, the students are researching and making critical choices about their selections and synthesizing their findings. If you are interested in learning how to create a YouTube playlist check out: Create & manage playlists.  

Genius Hour, 20% Time, Passion Projects – call it whatever you want – just do it .

This year I engaged in Genius Hour with my Grade 12s and Heritage Fair projects with my Grade 10s. For both projects, students create an essential question on a topic that interests them, engage in research, create a 90 second elevator pitch and create a final product and presentation they share with the class.

These projects truly ignited student voice in my classes. The students came up with topics that I never would have thought of. Also, the medium and style that they used to present their project highlighted each student’s talents and passions. One student created a website to inspire women in the arts, another tackled Islamophobia and the impact this has on her life, still another researched the history of LGBTQ rights and presented it as a spoken word winning the York Region Human Rights Award. Ultimately, these projects allowed me to learn from my students and share their passion. If you want to ignite student voice, try out Genius Hour. Be sure to check out amazing resources by: Joy Kirr, AJ Juliani and Gallit Zvi to help you get started.

Have Difficult Conversations

Too often in our classes, we avoid ‘controversial’ topics.  Rather than avoidance, it is our job to equip and support students with the tools to discuss these topics. Two tools that I use are this Google slides presentation I created: Difficult Conversations and this comic by the Oatmeal You’re not going to believe what I have to tell you that looks at the brain research behind why we have visceral reactions to controversial issues. In today’s world, it is so important that we equip our students with the tools they need to critically think and openly discuss their viewpoints and beliefs.

Value & Incorporate Student Interests  

Many of my students are interested in video games. One student told me that I could teach most of our unit on Ancient Greece through the video game Civilizations. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the game. I asked the student if he could bring in the game, show it to us and explain how I could incorporate it into my teaching. He came back with one of the most engaging and thoroughly prepared history lessons I have ever experienced, and I left hooked on the game as well as his ideas. (P.S. There is a Civilizations Edu version coming out in the fall, so he was clearly a visionary ahead of his time).

Basically, as educators we need to step back and let our students share their interests, value them and look for ways that we can incorporate them into our teaching. If we want our students to have a voice in our classroom their passions need to be reflected in the learning environment and the pedagogical choices that we make.

Build Student-Teacher Relationships

One of my previous blogs discussed strategies for improving student-teacher relationships. I can’t stress how important this is. Ultimately, if we want our students to be vocal in our classrooms they need to know that their traditions, beliefs and opinions are valued – full stop. More than anything they need to feel safe and supported in our classroom. If you want to ignite student voice in your classroom, you better be prepared to value and protect it.

Think fast, draw-a-scientist!

Think fast, draw-a-scientist!  

What image just popped into your head?

Here’s my guess – an old, white male working alone. Am I close?

The research says that I am. This experiment asks children and adults to draw – you guessed it – a scientist. When it was first used in 1983, over 5000 students from three different countries all drew males. In 2017, not much has changed. When this test is used, children and adults almost always draw a male, with glasses, working alone.  Worse still, studies have found that these stereotypes start as early as elementary school.

This is indicative of the problems women face in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Globally women account for less than 28.4% of those employed in STEM.

Attempts to address this have focused on the pipeline issue – the belief that if we get more women into STEM fields of education we’ll get more women out. However, globally women with a degree in STEM are still far less likely to work in a STEM related field than men.

How can we, as teachers, help address this issue?

  1.  We need to acknowledge & challenge STEM stereotypes.

A group of researchers in the U.S. studied nearly 1.4 million users of an open source computer programming site Github.  They found that 78.6% of programs created by women were approved compared to 74.6% of programs created my males.  However, this higher rate of approval only existed when gender was not identified.  When the programmers identified themselves as female their approval rating dropped to 62.5%. Thus, women were recognized as better programmers only if their gender remained a secret.

Women also encounter stereotypes in STEM related degrees and professions.  Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao argues that there are a number of sexist micro aggressions that continually take place in the workplace.  Pao refers to this as “death by a thousand cuts.”   

Women who do pursue careers in STEM are expected to take on different roles in the workplace – they are supposed to be the office mother or daughter and are expected to do a greater share of the clerical work than men.  This may be why in 2011 in Canada only 27% of women who graduated with a STEM degree chose to work in a related field.

It is important for us to discuss and dispel these stereotypes in our classrooms. If we simply pretend they don’t exist we contribute to a culture that values women who are seen and not heard.  We need to have these difficult conversations in our classroom. We need to give a voice to the sexism and micro aggressions that women experience.

  1.  We need to showcase and celebrate female role models in STEM.

The University of Massachusetts conducted a study where first year female engineering students were either not given a mentor, assigned a male mentor or assigned a female mentor. The students met with their mentor once a month.  At the end of their first year, 11% of those without a mentor had switched majors or dropped out, whereas 18% of those with male mentors dropped out. Yet, 0% of those with female mentors dropped out. This example highlights the powerful impact that seeing themselves in STEM has on female students. 

Jocelyn Goldfein, a director of engineering at Facebook, states that there is a lack of female role models in STEM, and that this makes these fields less attractive to women.   Interestingly, in India 30% of women are programmers versus 21% in America. Journalist Vikram Chandra argues that this is because Indian women have more female role models in STEM fields than American women.

Books, tv shows, movies, the media and our classrooms need to showcase women in STEM. If you are looking  a couple fun places to get started check out this great kids book: Ada Twist, Scientist or watch my incredibly talented recently graduated student play Yael – a strong, smart, determined female computer programmer on Degrassi The Next Class. Up to you what you use, but let’s all start talking about and normalizing the idea of women in STEM.

  1. We need to rethink how Science is taught in schools.

Science is taught as a subject that has a right or wrong answer. Most classroom science experiments are “cookbook based” follow the instructions properly and you will get the desired result. This type of teaching creates a false image of a scientist as a person whose job is to find the right answer.  Scientists are not robots that simply record what they see completely objectively. Similarly, they are not capable of seeing everything (information can easily be missed and/or misunderstood).  In fact, it is important for students to learn that when we look back at scientific discoveries, much has been challenged and changed because of the fact that humans observe the same thing differently.   For example despite people seeing swinging pendulums for 1000s of years, no one, not even Leonardo da Vinci saw what Galileo ‘saw’.  Our observations are connected to our previous experiences, prior knowledge and preconceived notions.   Finally, it is important for students to recognize that science is not separate from society but part of a complex web of issues that they have the power to act on. We need a science curriculum that empowers students to become active citizens who view science as a tool for positive social change.

Rather than imagining scientists as brilliant robotic figures, students can connect with stories of people who worked hard, failed, tried again, succeeded only to find out they made a mistake and then try again. These stories bring humanity into science and may help to connect with students, like myself, who learn better when they can see the human connection beyond the textbook formula. Also, research shows that women are more attracted to jobs that they believe create real, lasting social change and involve people. Humanizing science and valuing different approaches to research and different types of knowledge may attract not only more females, but also more compassionate scientists and engineers.

 

References

Featherstone, E. (2015, June 24). Why women in Stem may be better off working in India and Latin America. Retrieved June 18, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/guardian-professional/2015/jun/24/why-women-in-stem-may-be-better-off-working-in-india-and-latin-america

Github coding study suggests gender bias. (2016, February 12). Retrieved June 23, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-35559439

Hodson, D., & Bencze, L. (1998). Becoming critical about practical work: Changing views and changing practice through action research. International Journal of Science Education, 20(6), 683-694.

Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: Science education for an alternative future. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 645–670.

Huhman, H.  “STEM Fields and the Gender Gap: Where are the Women?,” Forbes, June 20, 2012, https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/06/20/stem-fields-and-the-gender-ap-where-are-the-women/#4209f47741ba

Mercado, M. (2017, June 14). Female Mentorship Helps Keep Women in STEM Subjects, According To New Study. Retrieved June 23, 2017, from https://www.bustle.com/p/female-mentorship-helps-keep-women-in-stem-subjects-according-to-new-study-64437

Schwartz, Z. (2016, April 15). Why there are still far too few women in STEM. Retrieved June 15, 2017, from http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/why-there-are-still-far-too-few-women-in-stem/

The STEM Gender Gap: Where are the Women Equivalent of Steve Jobs? (2016, November 29).Retrieved June 02, 2017, from https://jobs.newscientist.com/article/the-stem-gender-gap-where-are-the-women-equivalent of-steve-jobs/

Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). (2017, March 29). Retrieved June 15, 2017, fromhttp://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematic–stem