I have been researching what makes video games compelling/addicting for students (not that I would ever spend precious time with those dastardly, mind-altering life leechers). Ultimately, I want to integrate these aspects into the classroom.

The following attributes all, to one degree or another, contribute to making games fun:

Interactivity, choice, variation, engages the senses, power-ups/privleges, rewards (which lead to similar, yet bigger rewards), resource management, compelling story, graphics/production values, leveling-up/gaining ranks. (If you think of any more, could you let me know?)

I've already integrated many of these features into my cirriculum, but "rewards leading to rewards" seemed elusive. How do you get students to want to learn so that they can unlock more learning? Is it even possible? Will students push themselves to learn so they can learn?

As I considered this, I thought about which educational approaches might mesh best with game theory. Then the heavens opened up and a light shone upon Benjamin Bloom's Mastery approach. I know there are reasons why educators do not use his method (namely time constraints and standard proliferation), but it fits rather well.

I've attached my outline, please give me feedback as I want to refine this before I implement it.


Tags: games, gaming, innovation, integration, mastery

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I can't speak for Kate's Mathland, but this is why I wanted to split my current units into tiny bite-sized quests. Each quest is basically one standard. I only expect them the study one day of notes and get 80% on a 5 question formative assessment (in case you don't know, this is self-checked and does not count for a grade). This is very doable even for low students.

Plus under a mastery model failure isn't any worse than when Mario misses a jump in a video game... you get to try again. When we go over the formative assessment, we discuss the correct answers. Then those students who did not succeed will answer questions that target their weak areas. Finally, they will get a second chance at passing the assessment.

In an early test (using a 20 question quiz), 10 out of 35 students did not get an 80%. These 10 were retaught using the method above and then reassessed. This time only 2 students did not get an 80% but those two scores did go up. I have not heard anything negative toward students who had to retake...

That was with a 20 question quiz. What I really want to see is how they do with smaller chunks and how they do when they are really trying to avoid the reteach loop and earn rewards. I've decided to give this a go for my next unit on the Late Middle Ages, so I'll post all my scores and findings.
wow, Chris, as a mother of game loving kids, I can see how this can work. However, my kids are gifted and success driven and even for them failure in game tasks can be very annoying or discouraging.
However, I think this is a method worth trying, because within a class the "failure" might not seem so bad on intimidating as it may seem when it's a kid VS his computer.
I'd start this method in first grade...
I would love to see this started in 1st grade. In fact, I think it would work so much better if subject were integrated, and that's easier to do in elementary school. Each level would be a task that required students to read, write, calculate, experiment, etc. within one context. But, I am a one subject teacher.
I want to add that I think this would work with gifted kids. I was in a gifted and talented class growing up, and was tracked into honors classes in high school. One thing I know about gifted kids is that they don't like the threat of losing their good grades. In a leveled system, the anxiety about going down doesn't exist. In traditional percentage systems, you can have a really great grade, but one bad test or a few missing assignments means that you're back down a notch. That's not good.

Also, I remember that gifted kids like moving at their own pace, choosing their own study groups (or working alone) so that they aren't held back by others. MathLand let's kids do exactly that.
The beauty of it is that there isn't a "slow" student in the process, there are simply students doing different tasks. I tried a simplified version of this last week and it worked fantastically. I simply keyed the questions on our class quiz to sections in the textbook. Students who scored under 80% were assigned a textbook section (based on which questions they missed) to read and review. They then retook the quiz.

Since the book questions are an available option to everyone in the class, nobody knew who was doing it because they had to and those who chose to.

On the retakes I had many kids improve to 100% and almost all improved to 90%. I still had a few who scored poorly but very few. I took each of them aside individually to discuss the questions they missed and that was the end of that.

I've been doing the Choose Your Owns for a year now and that, to me, is the best thing I've ever done regardless of any modeling behind it. Adding this layer of mastery to it can only help. I think the key to this whole thing, putting aside anything that makes a game a game, is transferring the acceptance of failure in games over to the classroom.

Failure IS an option!
I am interested in learning how to do this. I am working with 6-8 th graders who are dominant Spanish speaking and more than two years below their peers. They struggle with both reading and comprehension. Their frustration levels become so high especially the guys I am looking for something they will love to do.

Is this something I can teach myself?
Chris and I taught ourselves but it took quite awhile to put all this together. We didn't really have any guide or book we followed we just took our combined ideas and kept playing with them until something seemed to work. We didn't even start with the idea of choice, we had just hoped to create a list of assignments we could go to to keep things varied.

The process for us was:
1) Create a huge bank of possible assignments for our subject area.
2) Figure out what the heck we were going to do with them. (Which is where the idea of Choose Your Own came in.)
3) Use CYOAs for all students as classwork.
4) Use CYOAs for all students as enrichmentonly AFTER they have shown mastery on a quiz. That was Chris' idea and I dumbed it way down for myself but it has worked fantastically.
5) Integrate this with the classroom points system that was already in place.

I would think a foreign language class would work great with this model. It shouldn't be too difficult to create high-interest assignments that are enrichment. (I'm imagining a kid texting in Spanish and trying to figure out how to abbreviate Spanish words and keep their needed grammatical structure... that'd be a pretty dang high level thought process.)

If you want to see what we've done with history assignments you can go to mrroughton.com or mrwoodside.com and click on assignments.
Your students might like iKnow! Think Rosetta Stone, but online, with a brain, and mashed up with a social network. Using a specialized algorithm tailored to the individual learner,. Not a game but may be helpful.
I've been using a board game, Manifest Destiny, by GMT designed by Bill Crenshaw as a springboard for US History for my 8th grade alternative social studies class. I've also worked with a GATE class where we did Game Design documents. Bernie Dodge at University of San Diego teaches a great gaming in education class.
Thank you to everyone for the constructive feedback. I'l have to check out Bernie Dodge, James Gee, and what our friends across the pond are up to. I have read a bit about actually using retail video games as part of the curriculum, but access to the games would be severly limited in my low-income school.

Another great resource, if you're interested is the book "Everything Bad is Good for You". This helps with the defense aspect of this merger. As you might imagine, and as Kate has eluded to, parents aren't quite sure what to think about all of this. And as Ed pointed out teachers, wanting to stick to traditional methods, are a bit nervous as well.
Definitely read James Gee. I also read "How Computer Games Help Children Learn" by David Williamson Shaffer. I got the idea for leveled instruction after listening to a keynote by Marc Prensky where he said one attractive thing about video games is moving through levels. He was talking more about video games, not applying game theory to curriculum development, but it was a great starting point for me.

I am a special ed teacher and I teach a lot of kids who haven't succeeded in regular ed, in other classrooms, in traditional systems. I'm pleasantly surprised with how much sense MathLand makes to parents. I summarize by telling them that the more kids are in class and the more work they complete the better they do. This makes a lot of sense to them and they like it. Plus, the kids do so well in MathLand that it makes the parents happy.

As for low achievers, I have a lot of students who are low achievers, underachievers, work avoiders, etc. MathLand has been motivating for them, and so I really don't have a problem with people being left out. Short of chronic absentees, kids move through the levels just fine. They do this by seeking help from me and their peers and by making a good, honest effort everyday because they want to move up levels and earn dots. Some students don't make it as far through the levels as other kids, but they pass some levels and they do difficult work. I'm even amazed how willing they are to make corrections when they turn in work for a level and it's not right.

In fact, one reason I switched to MathLand is because kids were behind a lot. Our spotty attendance always caused kids to be at different spots and trying to get them to move through as a group was impossible. To try and keep them somewhat on track I was always holding some kids back and dragging some along. With MathLand, kids aren't ever more than 5 assignments behind (and usually less, obviously). And they are always where they were when they left because the class isn't moving along without them. Everyone moves/plays individually.

The bottom line is, when kids know exactly what they have to do they are anxious to do it. When there is an end in sight, it works better. When they know that they can only stand still or move ahead and never drop down, because they've done a lot work in a unit, they are more likely to stay interested. The levels, the status, the power-ups are all little psychological hooks, but it's the end in sight, I think, that makes them want to try to reach it. They know that when they finish the work that is assigned to a level, they're done. When they finish the work for a unit, they're done. It's a nice thing to know.

I told Chris that right now MathLand is kicking my butt. The kids are so hypermotivated to move through the levels they are constantly on me to help them and check their work. It's odd to be tired from dealing with motivated students instead being tired from trying to motivate them.

I am very impressed with you MathLand. It reminds of what I was integrating into my classroom during my last year as I finished my Teach for America commitment. I was advised by a supervisor to look into "Layered Curriculum" which is structured with levels, just like you described. I only broke it down into C, B, and A, but your model shows how it can be structured even more effectively. I changed the letter grades to titles for my students. Each unit had a Novice level, a Proficient Level, a Expert Level, and a Master Level (after you've achieved the A). I did this in my language arts classroom and it worked particularly well with writing projects, though I finally broke it down for a largescale literature unit. Again, the great thing was the classroom ran itself and the students (7/8 graders) were highly motivated because they could choose how to work to a capstone that fit their strengths. They still learned the material and it was differentiated so everyone could participate.

It had never occurred to me, that this is very much like creating a character in a RPG. Had I been able to tie in the connections to videogaming, I could have invested even more of my students in the units.

Thank you for sharing, Kate, Chris, and everyone else who's contributed. This has really provided some insight into how I could make my own leveled instruction more effective.

-Kristina Cunningham



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