Tag Archives: gamification

Gamification: Course 5 update #2

I am nearing completion of my Coetail Course 5 work in the classroom (… the video is another matter entirely), so I wanted to check in here to process some of my thoughts about how gamification has been working with my different classes. The short version is that I am sold on the potential it has to engage and motivate learners, and I plan to keep using it after this course ends. The long version, as usual, is a little more complicated.

I have been using Classcraft with my students. For my official Coetail Course 5, my original plan was to use it with my beginning-level French course. One week after I debuted the program with my two classes at that level, my other classes asked why they didn’t get to do it. Apparently, they had heard about how great it is from their friends who were in the beginning-level course. There was no reason for me to refuse to use it with them, so I started to use it with them as well! So, now I have been using Classcraft for about 6 weeks with 4 different classes. What is currently fascinating me is that the 4 classes are all having very different reactions to it.

I teach 2 sections of middle school beginning-level French, and 2 sections of intermediate-level French. For both of the levels I teach, the number of students in each section is unbalanced because of scheduling conflicts. For both levels, the two sections are also completely different in personality.

For my beginning-level classes, my class of 9 students is made up of eight 6th graders and one 7th grader (who is actually younger than many of the 6th graders). The class of 19 students is made up of thirteen 6th graders, and six 8th graders— most of the 6th graders are boys, and all but one of the 8th graders are girls. If you ever want to watch an interesting social interaction, have a 10-year-old boy work with a 15-year-old girl on a class activity. For my intermediate-level classes, the larger section is all 7th graders, and the smaller section is all 8th graders.

So, what group is the most enthusiastic about Classcraft? The small group of almost all 6th graders. And the least enthusiastic? The small group of almost all 8th graders. When my small group of 6th graders arrives in class, the first thing they do is shout for the “event of the day” to be shown. When my small group of 8th graders arrives, they just don’t care about Classcraft. They were interested in it for a week or so, but it quickly faded into disinterest. If I never mention it at all that day, they certainly don’t seem to miss it.

The reactions of the group of all 6th graders and the group of all 8th graders don’t shock me much, but where things get extremely interesting is in the beginning class that has a good mix of 6th graders and 8th graders. The 6th graders in that class are equally obsessed with Classcraft as their peers in the entirely 6th grader class. In fact, the two students with the highest overall scores in the gamification system so far in the system are both in that mixed-grade group. It has changed a couple of my least-engaged students into a couple of my most-engaged students. Right now we are on spring break, and just finished a unit right before break. Typically this isn’t a time in the academic calendar where many 6th graders are thinking about French class—- but I have gotten emails every day of break from some boys in that class telling me what they are practicing online, and asking if I can still give them points in Classcraft even though it is break! It is amazing! While the 6th graders are enthusiastic, the 8th graders seem to being downplaying any interest they have in the gamification system. Since we just finished a unit, I asked my students if they want to keep using it for the next unit as well. Almost every 8th grade girl in that mixed-grade class said the same thing. “Yes, we should. I think it is really good for the 6th graders.” Ok. So, it is good for the 6th graders and as 8th graders they will just go along with it to be kind? Maybe. But if that is the case, why were those same girls logging in every day to earn points with such enthusiasm even when the 6th graders were away on Week Without Walls?

So what is going on? Is Classcraft really more interesting for younger students, and their enthusiasm rubs off on the older ones (even though the older ones might want to claim otherwise)? Or is it equally interesting for 6th-8th graders, but the 8th graders are a little more self-conscious about it? Perhaps it isn’t that complicated, and maybe my classes just have really different personalities, and what works well in one class doesn’t go over as smoothly in another? Or did I approach my use of Classcraft with more enthusiasm with the beginning classes, because those were the classes that I had originally planned on using it with for Course 5?

Regardless of the reasons, I am going to keep using Classcraft with any class that has students who keep sending me emails on break telling me that they are practicing their French to try to get enough points to level up.

My last student email asking for points in Classcraft just says, “I did one lesson in adjectives. Awesome right?!”

Any student who is doing option French activities during break without me even having suggested such an idea is awesome indeed!

Getting in the Gamification Groove

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.