I am about halfway through my COETAIL Course 5 project now, so it is definitely time get my blogging life back on track!
I was pretty sure by the end of Course 4 that I wanted to do a project based on “gamification” for Course 5 but for a long time I wasn’t really sure what that would look like, or even where to start.
When I searched for gamification systems that were already in existence to implement in a world language class, I found myself simultaneously inspired and completely depressed. Check out Operation Lapis, an online Latin course that uses gamification to teach the equivalent of two years of college Latin by having students go on digital quests related to the Latin language and Roman history. What I can see and read about this program impresses me with what seem to be ambitious learning goals and a fun and interactive online gaming experience in a virtual world. Unfortunately, this particular program only exists for learning Latin. I spent roughly 30 seconds thinking that I should create something like that for my middle school French class as my Course 5 project. Then I remembered that half the time I can’t remember my email password, and that creating my own online virtual reality game is far closer to absurd than ambitious.
While I looked for other gamification options, my students used Duolingo throughout the first semester as an online activity for when they finished their other independent classwork, or outside of class time. This was how I started to dabble in the world of gamified learning, and discovered what went well and what did not. I found Duolingo to be pretty great at helping students to build their vocabulary and use of basic grammatical structures. At first my students loved using it. However, the initial student excitement about that program proved short-lived with the majority of my classes. A handful of my most motivated students are still really into it, and I have seen their language skills improving a lot as a result of using the program—- but it does little to help engage a reluctant learner. If I didn’t find something more interesting for my students, I was worried that a whole unit based on a gamification model could prove uninspiring. As one 7th grade boy put it, “Duolingo just gives us XP to trick us. Do you know what you can buy with the XP? An extended French quiz! This whole thing is a TRAP!!!” I have to say… as much as I do like Duolingo, the gamification side of it is a little weak.
Eventually I came upon Classcraft. It is a gamification system that you can implement with any subject.
Initially I was highly skeptical about whether Classcraft would benefit my students’ learning. After all, it is not designed specifically for language learning. Could a non-subject-specific gamification system really push my students to learn more French and to use technology in a way that moved away towards “redefinition” in the SAMR model? I will write another blog post later that goes into more details about how it can indeed be used to these ends, but for now I will just say that the ability to customize it is the key. The teacher has complete control over how to distribute points. If you want to give out points just for your students coming to class on time with their materials, you can set up the program to help you with that goal. If you want your students to earn points by interacting with others around the world, you can set up the program to help you with that goal. I love that it is highly customizable and can be adapted to suit each unique classroom environment and course expectations.
Although I quickly came to see the serious potential within the program, watching the above video also made me so painfully aware of the fact that I am 100% not a gamer!! Goodness!! XP, HP, AP, PP, and Gold Coins?!?! What?!?! What are these and why are they necessary!?!? Seriously, I never have felt as geriatric as I did as I tried to get my head around the hows and whys of Classcraft.
After a lot of video tutorials and reading, I did come to understand the appeal of being able to use AP (Action Points, for my fellow non-gamers) to earn “real life rewards”. The fact that you can also use Gold Coins within the game to buy new clothing for your avatar, or to buy a virtual pet like a flaming crocodile…. well…. I am still completely baffled about the appeal of this, but three weeks into using Classcraft I can assure you that 11-year-olds are really into virtual pets.
Eventually, despite my continued confusion about flaming crocodiles, I decided to just take the leap of faith and start using the program. There have been some small bumps in our road over the past three weeks, but honestly my transition to a gamification class environment has gone pretty smoothly! My students are reenergized, and I see them pushing themselves to do more with the target language and with technology than I have seen in some months.
My 6th graders were away last week on Week Without Walls. When they burst into my room after getting back to school this Monday, the first question was, “We still get to use Classcraft, right?!”
The second question was, “Can I get 30XP for the lessons I did on Duolingo this weekend? I wanted to make sure to still earn points even though we didn’t have class last week!”
My student is now only 3700 points shy of being far enough in the game to consider buying the flaming crocodile of his dreams.