Playing along with gamification

Gamification is a word I don’t like very much. It has been used a lot in an educational context (simply searching gamification in education gave over 1 million hits) around making learning more: fun; engaging; relevant; real life contexts etc. I have yet to decide whether for me it means actually building games, or just utilising games in a teaching and learning setting.  As I explore my ideas around teaching and learning to do with creativity, innovation and play, games seems to be a big part of this. The popularity of games in my classrooms confirms that students value them and often they learn without ‘realising’ it. Which is where I think my current mind block is occurring….

if one of my main focuses for the year is to get my students thinking more about their learning than their test scores, why am I taking steps to make the learning less explicit by including games?

So I have been thinking a lot about the games I use or have used (this post has been written, off and on, over about 3 weeks) and what I see the students having gained from them.


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I learned about swots at T col. In fact, I was chosen to demonstrate it… standing up the front with a fly swot in my hand, I couldn’t help but whack my lecturer with the fly swot while she explained the rules. So I also learned more about ‘death’ stares that day (FYI – there were no hard feelings and I still work with this particular awesome lady often). Essentially, you draw some ‘answers’ on the board, line students up in teams and call out the questions (students get really excited about calling out questions!!) For a quick fire way to set up some competition in a class, it works really well. Downside is there is often a group of students who don’t participate as fully and kind of stand around when waiting for their turn or who don’t take it seriously. That said, for circuit components, functional groups, formulas to use… pretty much anything you need to need to just learn off by heart, swots is a good way to do some formative assessment and get the kids up out of their seats for a bit. Students also get creative with their questions to try and trick the other students. So while I definitely play swots more for some topics than others, I do like it because students are moving, practicing recall, having the opportunity to take a lead with asking questions and they definitely get enthused about it. If students are shaky on their knowledge, it can help to sure it up if they pay attention to the answers others are giving, but ONLY if they are paying attention the whole time.


My students LOVE kahoot and would play it every lesson if they could. Again, it is a really nice way to test recall or for simple problems (I am setting up some mechanics Kahoots for example). Looking online, it seems lots of other people love Kahoot as well, there are multiple public quizzes on all sorts of things. Being able to search NCEA Level 1 Acids and Bases and get multiple hits is a nice last minute filler (yes, I am guilty of needing the occasional filler….) The nice thing for me about Kahoot is the graph to see what percentage of the class got the answer right after each question. If more than 25% get it wrong, I (usually) make a note to go over this in the next lesson. But again, this game is more about formative assessment than learning – although I do feel that with the feedback I am able to learn a little more about where my students needs are. Students might pick up on where they went wrong as well, but I think most of mine are just pushing on to the next question rather than reflecting on how to get it right next time.


This is getting a special mention because my students loved it sooooo much last year. A hammer, a crunchie bar, some-one asking questions, get it right, no smashy, get it wrong, smash the crunchie. So everyone gets a crunchie bar, it just depends how smashed up it is. Fun for revision, but again not really deepening understanding other than being able to clarify answers as we went… although if students are asking the questions it is also a good indicator of their knowledge and understanding.


I’m adding this in here because the idea of a quest or task kind of fits into my idea of gaming and games in the class room. There are multiple apps and sites (because I’ve been doing electricity with yr 10 all those type spring to mind) that you can use. However, I feel again that lots of these apps are again just testing recall rather than deepening understanding. PhET animations are an exception to this I suppose… although I had an animated conversation with a colleague who now barely uses lamps and power packs in teaching this unit in favour of using digital models. For me there is still real value in building a circuit by plugging in wires and seeing the brightness of bulbs change in series and parallel. Or making esters and getting to smell them (and understand why you add in a carbonate to neutralise the remaining acid BEFORE you smell them) rather than just watching a video of it.

By putting animations in an office mix and then having a quiz after it I can see that students do gain some understanding from them as indicated by their results. But I am fairly certain I could have got that understanding in other ways.


Having used the three different softwares above, I can definitely say it is a horse for courses situation. Some students love them, others are ambivalent, while others just straight out don’t do them. The are really useful for revision and do allow students to work through at their own pace. Yet the best success I have had with education perfect (which I do like, although it is not perfect despite what the name suggests) is setting up class competitions. Students really do like that competitive element, and will work hard to get more points than others. Which is great, but again goes against the ‘students should value learning and be intrinsically motivated’ thoughts running through my head.


I blogged on this last year with hour of code. When the students made their own games using the code they had learned it was really interesting watching them design their game, then play it and not like it so go back and change it. They got very competitive amongst themselves about whose game was the most popular. Games that were overly complicated fell out of favour for simpler games. We had some excellent conversations about the games that were too easy or too hard – and how to be satisfying the games had to be ‘just right’. So in this exercise the students learned some coding, and thought about the psychology behind building games. And I had a good opportunity to introduce them to iteration and talk about being persistant

With my more recent forays into using minecraft in my lessons, this iteration idea has really stepped up. The ability to be creative and make new things is a big positive. It is also impressive to watch a group of students working really well together on a group task – because the scope and scale of the task provides plenty of independent tasks to do to contribute towards the whole project. When students designed the heart and lungs, it also contributed to their knowledge of which chambers are which, which arteries go where etc. But (and I hate this but) I’m not super sure it helped students increase their understanding of how the heart and lungs work together to supply the body with oxygen for respiration.


I am sure there are others games I play or use in my class room that just aren’t popping into my head right now, or things I do that others might consider a game that I don’t. But so far I feel like I am using them in a shallow way to really promote the deeper learning I am trying to acheive. Yes they are engaging students, yes I need students to have the ability to do basic recall, yes skills being learned/displayed (collaboration, iteration, problem solving, leadership, empathy) are more important than some of the things I am supposed to assess but they are hard to measure other than my gut feeling about it. (My gut feeling about it is good by the way). I lurked on #edchatNZ last night (way to many things to do for today…. ) and really liked this tweet from Matt Nicoll

So how can we find a way to value the ‘other skills’ that games in the classroom promote? I really hope we don’t fall into linking value to assessing them 🙂 And also, how can I ensure my students are getting a deeper understanding rather than just spouting back what is required for an assessment?

Am I sure I am playing the right games?






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