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This is kind of awesome

One clever 6th grade teacher (from Indiana!) turned his classroom into a role-playing game, complete with leveling up for completing certain tasks, unlocking achievements, having random encounters, and forming alliances with other students.

Many students were thrilled right off the bat. It was mainly my group of athletic boys, who are constantly driven by competition to do well. The fantasy/sci-fi aspects of ClassRealm drew in other students as well. It didn’t matter why they cared. I just wanted them to care.

[...] Participation skyrocketed on the first day. I had students I never heard from volunteering to answer questions they didn’t even know the answer to. Students who normally wouldn’t even care were going out of their way to get XP from class participation. Every one of my students pushed themselves to focus during the day’s assignments and behave. One student, who earned a bronze level achievement, was even applauded by the entire class. It blew my mind. The amount of XP I was going to give out was undetermined, so I just let them come naturally. Share your maths answer with the class? XP for you. Let a classmate borrow your dry erase marker? XP for you!

I am completely and utterly jealous I didn’t have this when I was in middle school. Hell, I’m jealous I don’t have this in grad school. I totally would have leveled up my “Paper Reading” skill today. “Dissertation Defense” would be the final boss. Sidequests all involve finding as much free food as possible.

I’m not going to lie. I think my favorite part is the Friday quiz battles that are done to Pokemon battle music. Maybe I should just have video game battle music playing constantly at my desk…

Comments

  1. nanoboy says

    Not to be a fuddy-duddy, but what he did was not to turn his classroom into a role-playing game. What he did was awesome, but it is not the same thing. Experience points and “achievements” are not the hallmarks RPGs. Getting into the role of a character is.

  2. says

    Though I take your point,  (1) XP and the like can sometimes be useful as faciliators for role playing games, and  (2) the students seem to have, in fact, gotten into playing the role of good students.  Which is totally cool.

  3. says

    Hmm. Boys against girls. Yeah that’s all we need.

    And what about kids who aren’t into gaming and all that stuff? He even says “my group of athletic boys” were the first adopters. Participation voluntary? Right.

    [/grumpy]

  4. says

    I can’t get behind the boys vs. girls part of it, but other than that, I love it! He got twenty students to write unassigned essays. That’s unbelievable. If this kind of system helps to engage students at such a critical age, I’m all for it.

    But I do hope he removes the gender battle component. Either use random teams, or even better, have the whole class try to reach a preassigned target. I also like the Alliance system he describes.

  5. Salmo says

    I already use a D20 to choose a student when a lot of kids all volunteer for something. This seems like a natural step.

  6. Alyeska says

    That is a very cool concept. I’ve seen people talking about Achievements being something that could potentially be used in working environments. Jokes about IT achievements which aren’t always safe for work.

    But using these concepts as a means to motivate kids is truly a genius method.

  7. F says

    Now if only the rest of life were based on standard rewards for achieving well-defined requirements and bonus actions.

  8. says

    I actually love this idea. I’ve always been sort of passively interested in introducing gaming elements into classroom settings ever since I saw that Extra Creditz video on gamification (http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/gamification). There’s this idea that in school you start out with 100% and can only move down, so I really like the idea of XP or achievements to give students the sense of moving up and making tangible progress.

  9. fullyladenswallow says

    Share your maths answer with the class? XP for you.

    Not sure about the exact context of this and call me old-fashioned, but where (and when) I went to grade school, this was referred to as cheating.

  10. mcbender says

    Honestly, I think this is a terrible idea. It will definitely have short term benefits, but I think in the long run it will be detrimental to the students’ ability to learn. (In point of fairness, I think grades do the same thing).

    The main issue is the psychological finding that rewards reduce intrinsic motivation. My suspicion here is that even if students’ participation increases under this paradigm, it won’t have an effect on their participation or performance in classes where this scheme isn’t used (or if there is an effect, it might be detrimental). Students are being taught, essentially, that learning is not done for its own sake (or because it is practically useful) but because one earns accolades for doing so (whether XP or GPA; I see no difference). That is precisely the effect we should NOT want to have on students, as educators.

    It’s true that the alternative is not ideal either (eliminating grading entirely just encourages student apathy, and while I don’t think they’re a reliable metric, we need some way to assess students’ learning), so I’m not 100% sure what I’m advocating, but I think this approach is dangerous.

    Perhaps it warrants further study – or perhaps it’s been done, and I just don’t know; I can’t say I’m very well acquainted with the psychological literature on this subject.

  11. karmakin says

    And in college they call it study group.

    For what it’s worth I flunked out because I could never get past that, but whatever.

  12. karmakin says

    If you’re going to have some sort of ranking system, them combining a macro, punitive system (as grades are often seen as being) with a micro, reward-based system based on individual progress seems like it would be much better than only having the former.

    Or you change the punitive-feeling system to a reward-feeling system, but there’s very few people in the world who want that. (The only grade you get is pass or fail. Everything else is just for personal progression purposes).

    I’m greatly concerned about the same things you are, but I think that the problems are much, much deeper than simply about grades. That we elevate education to the level of THIS IS YOUR LIFE is the root of the problem, even if that happens to be true.

  13. N. Nescio says

    Still waiting to hear your better ideas about getting kids exciting about learning in school.

  14. Sas says

    I think he meant “share your answer” as in “say in front of the class what answer you gave, during the class discussion of the assignment/test”, not “let everyone copy your paper”.

  15. left0ver1under says

    The ESL school I teach at does similar things, though not as “XP”. Repetition and reinforcement ctivities are turned into games, such as everyone on a team having to speak the words on a list quickly *and* correctly, losing points for errors. Points systems earned in the classroom can be turned in for rewards such as notebooks, colouring pencils, toys, et al. The kids can see a purpose in working hard, a goal, so they do.

  16. Aliasalpha says

    “Oooh unlucky roll there bobby, you failed your saving throw vs creationism. I’m afraid you’ve flunked biology”.

  17. apfergus says

    For listening to video game music at my desk, I get fewer odd looks from office mates by swapping The Black Mages for the original chip tunes. If you like Final Fantasy and progressive metal it works out pretty well.

  18. Osian says

    Interesting idea. A similar concept – of turning real life into a game where mundane tasks are turned into a more exciting goal – was mentioned in a New Scientist article from last year:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20927940.300-game-on-when-work-becomes-play.html

    (login needed to read the whole thing unfortunately)

    See also the related video at http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/nstv/2011/01/24-hour-play-time-get-ready-to-for-the-game-of-your-life.html

  19. says

    The education/assessment industry has been trying to develop this big time. Basically, the idea is turn education from teacher-led to student-led.

    You want to level up or get your “balancing equations achievement”, but you’re stuck on some problems. Then go find another kid who has completed that achievement and ask them for help. You get the achievement and they get ‘teaching skill points’.

    It’s actually very cool… and in every case I’ve seen, works extremely well to increase motivation for learning.

  20. daenyx says

    Am I missing something? I read the entirety of the original article and didn’t see any mention of dividing the students by gender.

  21. daenyx says

    I kinda already think about life this way. >_> Practice contact juggling to level Dexterity; running to level Constitution; gain levels for every major grad school milestone; poster presentations are Uncommon loot; oral presentations are Rare, and publications are Epic…

    …now, if only I got a shiny new set of gear to show off my progression, when I downed a new “boss” (milestone).

  22. Annabelle says

    6. Boys are pitted against girls. The gender that can acquire the most achievements by the end of the year will win extra recess and an ice cream party during lunch.

    This was one of the items in the list of rules.

  23. The Lorax says

    I want this, so hard.

    If I become a teacher (I’m workin’ on it!) then I’m totally going to do something like this. Oh sure, I’ll try to encourage learning for the sake of understanding, but that’s a profound worldview that not all people can latch onto.

    Is it dishonest to offer any type of reward system in order to encourage behavior? I know a lot of parents who reward their kids for doing well in school. Most of us experience it every day of our lives, as we get paid to perform operations for someone else. If you were offered more money for different (or better) operations, would you not accept it?

    Reward systems target the fundamental nature of our brains; they’re entirely Pavlovian, and they work. So there’s no reason not to use them. At the same time, one must respect the notion of wonder, and somehow get across the idea that knowledge and understanding is, in itself, the greatest reward.

  24. smhlle says

    If you don’t want to go back to grade school, you can at least play ChoreWars. And it may be possible to use “gamification” to create something called BlogWars. If it exists, it can be turned into a game with enough creativity… (See rule 34 if you don’t believe me.)

  25. Seth_S says

    “Maybe I should just have video game battle music playing constantly at my desk…”

    Here’s my recommendation:

  26. Tony says

    This just got an enthusiastic thumbs up from me on Facebook. I wish I was back in sixth grade learning this way. I’m completely amazed that he got 20 unassigned essays turned in from the students while on their free time!
    This guy needs props for this.

    Now, for the cynic in me…
    When do we hear the outcry from concerned parents about how inappropriate this is for a school setting?
    “We don’t let little Billy watch the Harry Potter movies because they promote magic. We certainly don’t want little Billy to think he’s a level three mountain goblin. Teach the controversy!”

  27. Tony says

    Boys vs girls was the only thing I didn’t like. They are more than enough gender divisions in this country. Perhaps Ben will tweak that next school year if he decides to try it again (though I’m thinking that doing it once a week every six weeks might work better for him; or once a month). I think mixing boys and girls together could help foster cooperation between them, as well as showcase talents each gender has. That could be extremely helpful in showing both boys and girls that they can both perform tasks of equal value and work side by side.
    Still, at the end of the day, this was such an amazing way to get kids working hard at schoolwork!

  28. Tyris says

    Until you realise that as soon as the XPs stop being handed out, they’ll drop right back out of the role…

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