[Gamification] Game Element #4: Coopetition


So, I feel like I just need to write something today because I haven’t written in a while.  And this is a game element that I am very interested in using in my class-as-a-game, so here goes.

Coopetition = cooperation + competition

On the cooperation side: I already work on finding or developing good group work tasks.  I look for tasks that have a low entry point, a well defined goal, and an “Open Middle”.  This way, I can get lots of buy in on the front end because it’s easy to get started, and I also get lots of different strategies for reaching the goal.  So the group work part comes easily. I have students who used different strategies share with each other and/or the whole class through short presentations.  What I need to improve is the collection of these strategies and presentations.  I want the students to bring everything together in a wiki or something, the same way gamers do when they share walkthroughs and tips.

On the competition side:  I really don’t do this at all yet.  I’ve never been good at creating a fun, competitive atmosphere, but I know it can be useful for motivation so I want it.  My first thought on competition is usually head-to-head games.  Like a “Quiz-up” competition, or a physics card game.  We played “Heads-up” with the iPads a few weeks ago and it went really well.  The kids love playing this game!  So I put some simple physics questions in and they played with just as much enthusiasm as they showed when playing the pop culture or celebrity categories.  This says to me that it’s the game play and the competition element that they are into, not necessarily the content.  If you haven’t seen your kids playing Heads Up, check out the game play here.

I also think this may be where my XP/Leaderboard system will be useful, as I will need to track completion of the “coopetition” activities.  With a good XP system set up, I can have different categories for leveling or prizes, and hopefully encourage the cooperation and competition aspects of the game.  For instance:

“Your team must attain 500XP to reach level 3 on this topic”

For this one, students would be relying on their teammates to acquire at least part of the XP needed to move to the next level.  So, if I can get students to want that next level, they’ll need to work together to get there.  And as long as I give XP for a variety of tasks, I can maintain the “choose your own adventure” feel to the class, while still leading students through a progression of topics.

“To receive this badge, you must complete 5 entries in the class wiki”

This is an example of an individual accomplishment, but one that requires a product that’s all about collaboration. Hopefully, students would want to complete the activity for a variety of reasons.  They might want the XP to move up the leaderboard, they might want their name to appear on the class wiki the most, they might want the badge to display on their binder, or they might want to “save the lost spaceship” before anyone else.  But whatever their reason for wanting to clear the obstacle, they’ll need to collaborate to make it happen.


[Gamification] Game Element #3: Choose your own adventure!


Plans are in the works on a system for making this work, but I wanted to reflect on the basic idea first.


 So far, I see it working like this:

1. All students start at Level 0 on each learning target (LT).  Yes, they have a level for each LT instead of one overall level.  I haven’t thought about how to combine their LT scores to get an overall score, or if I even need to.

2. To reach Level 1 on a LT, a student must gain a certain amount of XP, but it is up to them how to get there.  XP can be gained in a variety of ways, but mainly will come from “Missions” (activities, labs, etc) and “Status Checks” (short quizzes).  The XP will be divided up to push kids toward certain activities (the more I want them to do it, the more XP I offer for it), but the path is still up to them.

3.  To reach Level 2, students must create an entry in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Physics”.  Here again, the students have choice in how to create the entry.  They could complete a paper/pencil task, make a screencast, or create a lab report.  The students will have more choice at this stage, but the tasks will mostly still be teacher made (with instructions and a rubric).

4.  To reach Level 3, students must create another entry in the guide, but this time they will play a much bigger role in designing the task.  They could create their own multi-skill problem and then thoroughly explain it.  They could complete a goal-less problem (Tell me everything you know about energy conservation in a _____ situation.).  Or they cuold come up with some other way to prove their mastery of this skill AND its connections to other skills in the unit.


Level 1 will be clearly defined, but I know it will be tough to determine what exactly counts as a Level 2 or 3 entry, so that will require some careful planning.

I need to start thinking about story line and how I can tie in the various activities and tasks with it.  I think this will be very important for motivation, if I can make it interesting we’ll all be better off I think!

Having choices at each stage is going to require a butt load of activities, quizzes, and tasks!  Getting these prepared ahead of time may prove to be impossible, but I’m going to try. 

[Gamification] Game Element #2: Avatars


I’m really glad I’ve started this process of examining the usefulness of various game elements for my class.  Because I think the first one (health meter) has already been scratched from the list.  The health meter was going to be used as a way to track when a student failed to complete an assignment, etc.  But after thinking more about my new rubric/grading scheme, I don’t think it will be necessary at all.  When a student completes a task of some sort, they get 1 bar filled in for that learning target.  If they do not complete the task, they don’t get the bar.  So taking away “health” seems like it might be a redundancy.  Next up, Avatars:


I feel like I HAVE TO HAVE avatars, right? I mean c’mon, everyone loves ‘em!  But do they really serve a purpose for my particular class game?  Right now I’m thinking yes, they do.  First, I want the students to have as much choice as possible.  So letting them pick an avatar, having that choice right up front (maybe even mission #1 like some other class-gamers I’ve seen) seems like a no brainer.  Then, I also think the avatar is a great way to let them personalize the space.  This should feel like their game, not mine.  If I want them to take control of the learning, they’ve got to feel in control of the game.

As always, please push back if you disagree!  Have you tried this before?  How’d it go?

New Plan, New Rubric Style


I have been trying to participate in several twitter conversations today about grading, but can’t seem to satisfactorily get my ideas out in 140 characters.  Hence blog post.

Have you read this article by Alfie Kohn on grading?  If not, stop here and go read it.  It’s a little long, but I’ll wait.

I recently was directed to it by Mike Skocko (@themaclab) because it’s one of the recent “quests” in his gamified media arts class (I’ve been poking around his game trying to get ideas to bring back to my class).  The connection between the content of the article and the place I found it is important.  I think that my biggest challenge to gamifying will be “what to do about grades?”.  I’ll be posting a lot more about gamification in general, but for now here’s some ideas on grading:

First up, the academic side of things:  I’ve already been doing SBG, and I like my system.  The main component of my system that may be different from others is that I assess skills independently first, then together.  But I think I want to change up my progress tracking.  For each target, I want to keep the 0-4 scale, but change up the meaning of each number to represent the complexity level of the student’s mastery.  Like this:

Level 0 = No evidence

Level 1 = Practiced the skill (self reported progress)

Level 2 = Basic assessment (you aced a multiple choice quiz)

Level 3 = Constructed response (you were able to explain your solution to a problem)

Level 4 = “In the Wild” Constructed response (you were able to apply this skill to a problem in which multiple skills were required)

Important: To get to one level, you have to complete the ones that come before it.  One thing that is awesome about this is that it is one way to integrate a behavioral target with an academic one.  To even get the first level, they are required to:

a) practice the skill (responsibility, independent work) AND

b) show me the practice work  (organization, keeping track of practice work) AND

c) self assess whether they’ve made any progress (self regulation, my students are generally honest here, if they don’t get it they’ll say so).

Then, the second level is a multiple choice quiz.  I keep up with these by doing them on the computer in a system designed by my colleague Stephen Collins (@socraticbrain) called Socratic Brain.  I give a certain amount of quiz time each day and they use it to do whichever ones they are ready for (and by “ready” I mean they’ve already attained a level 1 in that target).

The third level is a constructed response, but just on that one skill.  These can be “real world”, “fake world”, abstract, concrete, whatever.  But the key is that it is one problem and just tests this one skill.  The idea is that they can be graded quickly and the feedback is hyper focused.  “Kid, don’t worry about anything else besides the fact that in your third step here you used some faulty logic”. Here is an example of one:

To handle these, I have 5 copies of each version printed and keep them in a file bin.  When a student is ready (they’ve attained level 2 credit), they request one from me, then work the problem on a separate sheet (that I also provide) and bring both papers back when they’re done.  So far, this system has worked well.  It can get a little hectic, but since they do one problem at a time, I can usually grade them and give feedback right then and there.

The fourth level is essential, but I have yet to master it.  This is where the student gets a multi-skill task (initiated by me) and shows what he or she can really do.  For instance, they may know how to graph a system, but can they do it if they have to write the inequalities first from a word problem?  What about from a raw data set?  Can they explain why a point is a solution in the context of a real world problem or only in the abstract?

The problem I’m having with this type of assessment is the “initiated by me” part.  So far this year, this “level 4″ type of problem has only shown up on the quarter exam.  But once I give feedback and the kid tries again and fixes mistakes, the report cards are already out.  I still go back and change the grades, but it’s a hassle because I have to do an official grade change form in the office.  So, I’d love to make this type of assessment a weekly thing, and I think I have a plan.

I will keep a spreadsheet with a list of these types of tasks and which skills they test.  Each task will have a simple rubric, listing the skills with checkboxes next to each one.  When I grade it, I check off the skills they clearly have mastered and give feedback.  Then, when I go to enter the score in my gradebook, I just need to look at each skill and if they have level 3 and a checkmark for that target on the task, I award them level 4 status.  Any other case gets you no improvement in the gradebook, but your reward is the feedback and the experience points.

I picture the gradebook looking like this:


This is basically how my gradebook looks now, but instead of a score out of 100 points (that gets averaged with all the others to form an overall grade), each learning target has a level shown in a progress bar.  Notice the behavior target “Maintain an orderly binder” in there.  It would of course need a separate rubric.  Perhaps like this:

0 = you do not have a binder

1 = you’ve kept your binder neatly organized (handouts, notes, practice work)

2 = your binder has been consistently orderly (through at least one random check)

3 = your binder has been consistently orderly (through multiple random checks)

4 = your binder was orderly for every single random check this quarter (they’d have to earn this one back each quarter)

I think it should be fine to include this right alongside the academic targets.  The only reason you might want it separate is to compute a final grade.  But I don’t see any reason at this point to try to combine these scores into one letter at all.  Instead, I’d much rather see a distinction made between “Ready to move on” and “Not yet” and that’s it.  (thanks @JustinAion for the tip on the wording of those, sounds much better than pass/fail).

But in the event I have to stick a letter on it, I’ll need to ask what the purpose of the letter is.  If it’s academic only, I’ll only consider academic targets (but really, the students will still get some effort credit as that’s what level one is all about).  If it can include effort/behavioral skills, then I’ll consider all the targets when making my decision.

Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated!

[Gamification] Must-Have Game Element #1


So, I’ve decided to look at the different game elements I want to bring to my class one at a time, in order to assess the strengths and weaknesses and decide which ones will best benefit the learning process. I’ve already put a few into the “must-have” category, so I might as well start with those.

First up is the health meter.


These are used in games to indicate the health or life force of a character. When the character is hit by something, the meter goes down (or loses a heart). What makes the health meter different from points or gold is that it starts out full and goes down when something bad happens. And if your health reaches zero, you die. :(

What need does the health meter fill?

Practice assignments need to get done, whether they’re done at home or at school. If a student is not practicing their skills, they run the risk of being ill prepared for the more important task of completing quests/missions. So I want to track progress of practice assignment completion, but I also want it separate from any sort of proficiency measure (just because you did the practice doesn’t mean you understood it). So, I plan to use the health meter for this.

Miss a practice assignment, lose a heart. Simple. Want to get that heart back? Drink this potion. Do the practice and show it to me. If you lose all your hearts, come in after school so we can talk. Why have you not been practicing? What can I do to help? Do we need to bring your parents into this?

I think this also may help with the “I was absent” excuse. It doesn’t matter one bit why you missed the practice, you missed it so you lose a heart. Do the practice, get it back.

And I can give rewards for keeping full health, like extra XP or gold or something tangible that they want and doesn’t cost a lot.

Please let me know any thoughts you have on this one! I know I haven’t looked at this from all angles yet, so I need some help.

Modeling Quadratics: First Attempt


I’ve had trouble with getting students to model a quadratic function since forever. Apparently I’m not the only one, as it comes up often in the MTBoS. Last year, I made a step in the right direction by starting with the vertex form of the function. Well, actually let me go back one more step. We started our quadratics unit with absolute value functions. Check it out:

Now that we have a good idea of how to shift around a parent function, it’s time to try building a quadratic from scratch. (Side note: try patterns 106 and 108 at visualpatterns.org when you start your quadratics unit, some of your students will amaze you, or your money back guaranteed!) Anyway, so here’s my plan:
Actually, first a quick word about my schemes for next year. I plan to run my class like a game, so there’ll be quests, XP, leveling up, no grades, and other stuff I haven’t figured out yet. And I think I’ve got my theme. Wait for it… “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Algebra” (not sure about the name, but you get the idea). Total credit for this idea goes to Jessica Anderson (@triscicurious). Check out her blog, especially if you’re thinking about gamifying too, since she’s already doing it.

With that in mind, I am trying to write tasks around that theme so that I’ll have some ready to go for next year. The more I get done before the year starts, the more self paced and non-linear my class game can be. So I tried to make this task fit with a Hitchhiker’s Guide theme. Hence the “Intergalactic Lower Appendage Ball League”. Get it?
Anyway, when students come in to class, they’ll get into groups and each kid will receive 16cm of string and this handout:

Inspiration credit for this idea goes to Scott Hills (@Planting_ideas). Thanks Scott!
As they wrap up measuring and recording, I’ll put the Desmos graph (woot images!) shown below up on the smart board and ask everyone to come up and enter their results. Go ahead, click it and put in your results and see what you think, I’ll wait!

If they haven’t already, they should notice (once we’ve got enough up on the board) that the points are forming a parabola. BAM!! Quadratic Modeled!! Well, almost. Each kid will then complete a summary report of their findings where they’ll have to write a function and think about key parts of the graph. Then they’ll share their thoughts with their group, and then each group will make a whiteboard to display for the class. If we have time, I’ll have them blog the results at our class blog.

What do you think? Got any ideas for improvements? Have you done something similar before, any tips?

iPad Formative Assessment


So, I’ve been using my ipad pretty much every day. I mainly use it as a sort of mobile document camera, snapping pictures as I walk around. I usually then project the work on the board and ask students to explain it for the class. This gives me a chance to ask some good questions like: “Why did you multiply by 99 instead of 100?” “Is there really a force pushing on he ball?” “If your rule is +2 every step, how many will there be in the 73rd step?” Sometimes we spot mistakes, sometimes I purposefully get two pics to compare, sometimes we are surprised by different methods, always good learning happens! I’ve got hundreds of these now: