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 replied at another discussion here called "Gaming in Education." I have also been trying to merge game theory with education. I have pinpointed the idea of moving up levels, having an alternate identity that travels through the game as the player, bonus opportunities, and status. So far it has been an overwhelming success. It's called "MathLand."

I have divided the year into 8 units (2 per quarter). Each unit is divided into 5 levels. They levels are called D, C, B, A, and A+. All students start at Level D and work their way up at their own pace (although they are allowed to work collaboratively at any point as long as they are productive). When they have finished Level D, they have earned a D for the class. When they are finished with Level C, they have earned a C, and so on. Students never go back, they just move forward. The more they are in class and the more they do, the better their grade. The units are front loaded, so the bulk of the work and biggest ideas are included in the first levels. If students finish the levels before the deadline, there are bonus levels where they can earn extra credit, vouchers for class (late homework, free time, etc), or do math type games and enrichment activities.

Although competition between students isn't a formal part of the game, they do like knowing where they are compared to others. My front chalk board has signposts for each level, and it has all of the assignments on it. Students make their own avatar that travels between signposts according to the students' level. Students can earn colored dots on their avatars for attending class, completing levels, turning in homework, and passing quizzes. The more colored dots they have, the higher their status in class. The status doesn't correspond to anything real, just different colored dots, a different status category (apprentice, professor, genius), and a different colored certificate in the hallway.

Like I said, it has been really motivating. Although it requires more advanced planning on my part because you have to plan for weeks at a time, once you get going, it sort of runs itself. As students finish a level, they turn in their work immediately and I check it. I either pass them or I send them back to make corrections. Most people need 100% to pass, but depending on the class and the assignment, 80-90% may be acceptable. Some levels are a series of questions from several chapters in the book, some are project based learning type tasks, some are hands on manipulative type lessons. I am a math teacher.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I have tried merging game theory with education and it works. This is my 3rd year with MathLand. It is motivating (students really want to move through the levels and to earn colored dots), it is collaborative (students are happy to help each other - not unlike how people swap tips on how to win games), and it is positive (students only move up, they only get rewarded for good behavior, etc.).

I'm going to try attaching my outline in case you want to look at it. This is the outline I hand out to my students to show them how class will go.

I'm very impressed with your ideas. I used to do someting similar, but I only did it after the regular unit work was completed. I called it Choose Your Own Assignment (it's still called that on my website). They could earn an d,c,b,a, or extra credit by completeing assignments of various point values. Each time I did it, students would go above and beyond my initial requirements (and all I offered them was a certificate saying "Master of Roman (Mayan, etc) History". When I saw that was working, I decided to push on into "World History Adventure". It sounds like you have accomplished what I'm trying to do, and it's interesting we both emloyed a mastery model.

I was trying to come up with some power-ups for my class (like your vouchers). I was thinking about using extra men for late work or even to fix a low grade, and points multipliers for my classroom managment system. Other than late homework and free time do you have any other ideas?

Does dot status fluctuate from unit to unit? Could you explain this a bit more? (Another great idea, by the way) I've thought about giving them ranks based on their grade (It's funny I called them novice, expert, and scholar.)

Did you read the World History Adventure 2.0 doc? If so, do you have any thoughts about its potential?

Thanks for your input :)
It is pretty amazing how similar our plans are. In my experience, once I saw the big picture of game theory, putting it together was not that hard. It was amazingly easy to fit content delivery into the game theory model. I think part of the reason our plans are similar is because game theory is so obviously a good fit for class.

We have three vouchers: the late homework and free time are ones I already mentioned. It used to be that free time choices were limited by apprentice/professor/genius status. So, a voucher meant more. We have "free time matrices" which have all of my free time choices on it. When kids pick one, I check it off so that they can't do the same thing too many times (like drawing or computer time - this forces frequent fast finishers to pick tangrams, origami, sudoku, or algebraic brain teasers sometimes). Vouchers means they can pick anything, even if it has already been checked off.

I liked your idea of letting them use a late homework voucher to improve any bad grade, although in MathLand, there are no other low grades. It's a pass/fail type of deal.

They also have a "free question" voucher which means I will supply a single answer to any future question on any assignment.

The students have suggested a free dot voucher. That's an interesting idea. But usually the voucher assignments aren't as significant as an entire level, homework assignment, quiz, etc. which are what normally get dots.

My quizzes, like your formative assessments, aren't for formal grades. They are only for dots if kids do well on them.

Another similarity between our games is that they are so positive. I really enjoy that about MathLand. Kids don't lose points, they don't fail assignments. They can only move up, pass assignments, gain status, etc.

I read World History Adventure. It's great. I teach special ed, so I have small classes so the individual movement through the levels works fine. I've been asked by regular ed colleagues if it would work in a regular ed class. I have no idea. I'm thinking your model probably would work better.

I've completely given up on group instruction and group pacing because in my line of special ed there are lots of attendance issues, which messes with continuity and group pacing; and with attention spans and learned helplessness, which messes with any understanding or attention through group instruction. For those reasons, I couldn't use your format because it's all dependent on whole class movement.

My only question would be what happens if it takes the group a really long time to pass a level? With your continuous loop of review while others do enrichment, it seems possible that some units might last longer than others. Do you have a lot of pressure to cover a certain amount of content? In my state we have to hit a certain amount (a large amount) of objectives.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to give me feedback. I really appreciate it.

I've toyed with the free question idea as well (for the game tie in, I wanted to call it a "cheat code" Let's see what parents say about that!)

I like your model more than mine, actually. But your right... I have no idea how it could be done with over 150 kids across 5 periods. I love the idea that there isn't any failure. and I especially love your avatar system (but again, how do you do it with 150 kids). I thought about laving them carry an adventurer's passport that gets stamped as they ace worlds or something. Or maybe a leader board with the top five kids per class. But I haven't worked that out.

Also, could you please send me a copy of your free time matrix wo0dsid3@gmail.com (I would really appreciate it) :)

As far as the review loop is concerned, I have chunked information into tiny bite-sized peices and will only allow the loop to go for two days. So while it is still possible for kids to fall behind, it is not likely. The typical quest/level lasts only 3-4 days. Each world/unit (and there are twelve of them) lasts between 12 and 15 days.

In california, we have tons of pressure to cover content, but we also realize that not all standards are created equal. We have power standards, and that's what I focus on.

P.S. I made my syllabus look like a video game instruction manual.
Great idea on the video game manual. I myself do not play video games. I tried to learn a Ratchett and Clank game just to experience what makes games so addictive for kids and all I ended up learning was how hard it is to return to something day after day that is difficult and not personally interesting. That was probably a more valuable insight anyway.

I front load all of my units. Michigan doesn't have power standards, but I know what I think they should be, so that's always first.

I'm attaching my free time matrix.

By the way, I checked out your website and it is amazing. It made my head hurt from even trying to imagine how long it took you to put it together.

Did I see your name attached to another discussion on Classroom 2.0 about ARGs? Ultimately, I'd love it if MathLand ran like an ARG and I was wondering if you've done anything with putting those together.

I attached the free time matrix. I do a 2 sided copy onto a colored piece of card stock and it lasts all year.

Thank you for the compliment. The website took a long time, but I've done it here and there over about six months. Plus, my colleague and I both teach the same thing so we frequently copy from each other. Our sites are very similar, but he has more freetime. I use microsoft office live, it's very user friendly and it only costs $15 per year for the URL (other than that it's free). It's been very useful for contact with parents and students getting absent work. Putting my notes in the History Unit Guide Section has been extremely helpful.

As far as the Instruction Manual goes, I'll attach it but the fonts might look crappy. The strange big letters are actually a picture based mario brothers font. You could modify it if you want and add your own pictures. I used PowerPoint because it's so much easier to manipulate objects and text boxes.

Yes I did post in a thread called "Educational ARGs". I tried to explain our approach and what we're doing. When we're done (soon) I'll post the entire sequence and our experiences/impressions.

Lastly... I don't know why but your attachments keep coming up like they're viruses. Could you please email the freetimematrix to wo0dsid3@gmail.com
OK, fixed the virus issue and I am reposting my attachments here in case anyone else is interested.

Thank you very much. I'm not sure what everything on the matrix is, but the idea's pretty cool.

I'm actually surprised more people aren't talking about Game Theory and Education. When I first posted, I thought the thread would be somewhat popular. I am quite satisfied though, as your ideas and feedback have not only helped me refine World History Adventure but have also confirmed that the merge actually works.

I wish I could test it now, but if i get started and it's successful I won't be able to go back to my current ways. I'd be swamped with the task of redoing everything I've done. I guess I could have bigger problems.

To test or not to test. That is a fragment.
Chris, I had got so used to educrats not discussing games, that I'd begun to forget why I got on all these discussions in the first place! Thank you.

Are you familiar with the work of James Gee? His What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy was an outstanding work. His work since should lead you to other resources.

I hope you will keep me in mind as you learn more about using gaming in teaching. I have long looked at it from a tech standpoint - the Brits are so far ahead of us here, as a visit to BBC education or schoolhistory.co.uk shows. Yet even there, the gaming is at the micro-lesson level, not the long haul mastery level as you have approached.

As you proceed, remember that teachers are at heart an extremely conservative bunch. They don't like anyone messing with their basic structure, and that structure limits what innovation is possible with scarce resources.

Keep with it, and let the world know your successes and setbacks!

What exactly do you mean by "tech standpoint"? Do you mean game design?
Chris, I've long been trying to build up a community to use, critique, analyze, and build history interactives, especially those of a game aspect. (OpenHistoryProject.org). As you may know, much of the online history interactives here in the states were built up by PBS. There is some gamelike content, but most of it, though very beautiful, was frankly designed by and for PdD types.

Indeed, of the hundreds of examples I'd collected, I couldn't bring myself to complete a top 10 list. I only found 7 that seemed worth holding up as great examples for use by kids!

I have also been working toward a platform that brings a more cohesive tool for teachers to use throughout the year.

Again, though, the support and funding for these things just seems non-existant.

You can't imagine how refreshing I find this discussion.
That's a fantastic discussion and such interesting idea.
The only thing I am curious about is what happens with the slow students in the process. What can you do to prevent them from feeling inadequate or stupid or being ridiculed...


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