Game On!

Gamification has the potential to be a disruptive innovation in education… – GLOVER, Ian (2013). Play as you learn: gamification as a technique for motivating learners. Document Link.

Geeky History

As a child and as a teen, I had a substantial interest in game playing. My interest began with a classic Amiga 64, where I had a large selection of floppy disks (remember them?) with nostalgia inducing games, such as: Zool 2Sensible Soccer and Lemmings. This then continued into my late teens with console-based gaming, such as on the Playstation and Playstation 2Metal Gear Solid (the original) was my favourite, in case you were wondering.

I always assumed that this was a different world to that of school, and merely reserved for (albeit rather addictive) activities to be spent during ‘downtime’. It did not occur to me that the puzzles solved could enhance logic and reasoning; or when gaming shifted online, that it could be a source of community or fellowship.

Perhaps the opportunities presented by games can not and should not be missed by educators. First though, an important distinction is to be made.

Game-Based Learning vs. Gamification

This Teach Thought article succinctly summarises the difference between these two concepts. Specifically, Gamification is when we apply the mechanics and benefits from gaming to non-game entities. Game-based learning is when we specifically learn through games.

See a great Gamification infographic, here: Created by Knewton and Column Five Media.

Prior Application To My Classroom, Analysed Using SAMR

Image courtesy of:

I would suggest that I apply game-based learning on a minimal basis in my classroom. My students use games for Mathematics, through websites and apps such as: SumDog and games on Interactive Resources. They also play games practically, which again usually happens in Maths (board games, etc). We use GoNoodle a few times a week, which has some game play elements (though it is not strictly a game really) and I used to use Class Dojo (my school does not want us to now, which I won’t discuss here as could be a blog post in itself).

Under the SAMR model, I would suggest that there is functional improvement in the task design, and in the best cases the games allow for this to be significant. However, on the whole my use of game-based learning would probably fit into the second rung of the SAMR ladder (or latte if you wish – delicious).

The concept of Gamification, conversely, is an entirely different matter. I would say that the mechanics and benefits of gaming methodology are inherent to my classroom practice. The children have specific challenges based on their existing knowledge, with incremental progress clear and rewarded. They often work in teams, and have the chance to be the leader in that team. Some challenges require them to work against each other in a competition, whilst others see them work together collaboratively. We tell fictional stories together, which are underpinned by characters and groups of characters. They involve (sometimes intense) emotions and the children experience surprises in this narrative as they work through a Unit of Study. On the whole, perhaps this would be the third step in the SAMR model – caramel macchiato.

Yet, though similar tropes can be seen in my classroom and in gaming, these are only strands that run through my practice. I, like many, do not yet run the practice (or certain subjects) through a thematic and involving gaming-style experience, where all of the above strands flow through an imagined gaming-style Universe (think Game of Thrones or Star Wars). I see this as such an exciting pedagogical approach to bring into the learning environment (for me as well as the students) and one that could have so much educational benefit for those in my care. So, it is this kind of approach that I would like to bring into certain subjects in my classroom (plus, it is also my mission to research more game-based learning to include as well, such as the wondrous Minecraft). I see it as a perfect vehicle to bring to life specific areas of the curriculum, and to reinvigorate learning as a result. In other words, to take the use of Gamification concepts within my learning environment to the final step of the SAMR model – always the aim (not sure about pumpkin spice though)!

But with the former, just where do I start when creating a game based environment within the classroom, or within certain subjects?

The How

My research has led me to consider certain facets of Gamification, which should be embedded in such a gaming-based approach to education. I hope that this will also help you, if you are beginning your Gamification journey as I am…

Game Dynamics

  • Create a fictional world. Many of the best games out there (and TV series/films for that matter), exist within an imagined Universe. This world may have groups of people, played by groups of your students. Will they need to work together/towards a shared aim? For some alternate fictional elements in your classroom, see: kqed.
  • The story. Perhaps there is an aim to the game. Will your children be required to make their own choices? How will those choices play out in the story? There may be an imagined order at play, or specific rules that exist within the world.
  • Surprises. Any good story has plot twists along the way. What surprises will you plant for later lessons?
  • An emotional hook. Critical to plug your students into both the game dynamics and their learning.

To see a specific example of some of these ideas, see a Google Hangout with Michael Matera here.

Game Mechanics

  • The rules of your world. Specific, well understood and geared to enable equal access to the game for all.
  • Leveling up. Tasks should be individualized, be a challenge which is accurately matched to prior knowledge and lead to incremental progress. Both students and adults should be able to track this progress, and be motivated by it.

Games take care of providing students with incremental progress recognition that results in the dopamine-pleasure response that motivates perseverance and sustains engagement – Judy Willis on

  • Rewards and leader-boards. In games, you usually get badges, points, items to collect, additional skills and potentially see themselves on some kind of leader-board. What will your students get? Working as a team/guild/group is crucial for this step, as is the following quote from Ian Glover:

…making competition internal rather than external, such as by having learners completely against their personal best… – Document Link.

  • Gifting and group leadership. As with flipped learning, a culture of collaboration exists in the modern gaming world and is a really important consideration when setting up an effective gaming world in the classroom.

After the initial set up, and subsequent challenges, it is then crucial to keep them engaged!

On To The Why

Throughout this blog post, I have suggested some reasons for why we would put in the effort to set up such a Gamification-style Universe in our classroom. It is clear that I see the benefits for our students here, but here are a few more (in case you needed further persuasion!) suggests that when playing games, children’s “retention is improved.” In the quest for making learning more memorable, this is something that we could do within an exciting game-like environment. Students will also potentially spot patterns easier, have opportunities for recognition among other game players, and certainly experience an increase in motivation if this approach is delivered well.

…it (Gamification) should serve primarily to make something that is already rewarding more rewarding – perhaps by encouraging learners to invest more time than they otherwise would – Ian Glover, link above.

Lastly, please watch the humorous and inspiring talk from Jane McGonigal. I particularly like her breakdown of the benefits of gaming, where she suggests that when playing children are: urgent optimists, have a social fabric, blissfully productive and forge epic meanings in a series of epic wins.

It is time to get some epic wins in our classrooms through Gamified approaches to teaching!


I can’t wait to try this specific approach in my classroom environment, though I will be starting small at first.

Do you have any ideas for how to take the first steps into Gamification of the classroom, or certain subjects?

This entry was posted in Course 4, Games-based learning, Gamification, Online 9, SAMR and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Game On!

  1. Hi Rory. This is a great post about both game based learning and gamification. You outline some really key points about why both are significant learning strategies to embark on in the classroom. I really appreciated where you outlined the dynamics of what would create a successful gamified classroom environment. This really helped me envision the elements needed to get students and engage and to create those positive learning outcomes that teachers would be looking for. I think the most notable elements you listed are the element of surprise, and an emotional hook. For any experience or situation to be engaging people need to feel emotionally attached but also need to be engaged by not knowing what is going to happen next. Something I have seen coming up in a lot of posts recently is the Sustainable Global Development goals from the United Nations, and also Teach SDGS which is a global teaching project developed around these goals. I feel like there could be a lot to work with there to developed a situation around. Like you stated a fictional world is an important element but bringing something like the SDGs could provide that emotional hook and authenticity to the learning. Could students earn badges and level up as they solve problems in a fictional world related to the sustainable development goals?

    • Rory Bell says:

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Thank you for the feedback.

      That idea is a fabulous one, and quite strange as I have just been researching both the SDGs and The World’s Largest Lesson. It would be really intriguing to develop a Gamification experience around goals as important as the SDGs. I wonder if you would even need a fictional style environment for this though, or would the reality of each goal be an ideal driving force in and of itself? I.E. Would this be a good example of how we could utilise elements of game culture, but simply tell real life stories during that process (and have the children realise that it is real)? An interesting one to ponder, this, thank you.

      For now, I have created a fictional Gamification process for the children in my class and applied it to some of the ongoing skills that the children need to master, such as in Maths and English. I decided to start small with this concept, borrow a few elements from games, and see where it might take both my class and myself. We shall see how it pans out!



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