The phrase ‘gamifying a classroom’ can be understood in two ways. On one hand, gamifying a classroom can involve figuring out how to work more games into the curriculum. Games based learning is a powerful tool and many teachers and learners are beginning to realise its potential and capitalise on its positive outcomes. On the other hand, many teachers, pupils and parents are becoming interested in the gamification of the running of classrooms. This involves monitoring progress, behaviour and so on in fun ways. In this blog post, I will introduce some of the best practices in both of these ways of understanding gamified classrooms.

There are three broad mechanisms for achieving games based learning in the classroom: commercial games, ‘drill and test’ games and tailor made curriculum games. Some teachers use commercial games in lessons. They observe that games such as Minecraft, World of Warcraft or SimCity have educational elements even though their primary purpose is not to teach but to entertain. They will then devise lesson plans around the game in order to support the learning process.

One wonderful example of this in practice, which I wrote about in my blog article Unorthodox Uses of Games in Education, is the use of Angry Birds in the classroom. This particular teacher saw the educational value in the popular commercial game. He let his class play the game, build their own catapults, and then use them to play the game in real life. All the while, he asked them about the physics behind what they were doing and taught them all sorts of related things such as the history of the catapult and so on.

You can find lots of other examples of commercial games being used to great effect in the blog article that I mentioned previously. However, I’d also just like to mention Teach with Portals. Portal and Portal 2 are very sophisticated commercial puzzle solving games. The makers of the games have created a free website for teachers and pupils, with lesson plans, access to their own puzzle maker, forums and so on. Teach with Portals would be extremely valuable teaching resources and might just start getting other developers thinking about the education market.

Another type of mechanism to be used in classrooms is games that facilitate testing. These are more akin to e-learning as they often have game elements that are separate to the learning materials and testing process. One example of this is Zondle. This website enables teachers to set up quizzes with a short game between each question. This is a great way of making testing a bit more appealing to children and is an easy way of integrating games into the classroom. These games are not necessarily limited to class work and are also popular as homework.

The most popular form of games to be used in classrooms though, are those that are purpose built to teach curriculum materials. These can teach children complex ideas in a fun and engaging way without a teacher simply lecturing at the front of the class. These are arguably the most effective form of games based learning in classrooms as they are specifically designed to teach the appropriate materials without imposing the materials on an unrelated game. A simple example of this is Word Dynamo. This free website teaches vocabulary through crosswords, matching games, flashcards.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Imagine if kids poured their time and passion into a video game that taught them math concepts while they barely noticed, because it was so enjoyable.” (Bill Gates)[/quote]

However, there are more sophisticated games available. For example, games-ED produce innovative learning simulations that are designed to work across the curriculum. They teach curriculum materials including geography, science and business studies. These sorts of games are also excellent for encouraging wider skills such as collaboration skills and problem solving skills, which are important in the 21st Century.

Utilising games based learning is not limited to children. The article ‘18 Graduate Programs Embracing Games‘  shows that it is not just children that can learn successfully through games. There is a movement currently in colleges and universities to use games to teach extremely complex subject matter to young adults. And of course, games can be used to effectively train adults in the workplace.

As you can see, encouraging games based learning in the classroom is fairly easy and there is a multitude of (often free) resources available online for teachers wishing to do so. However, what about gamifying the classroom itself? Class Dojo is a tool that enables teachers to easily control behaviour in the classroom. The teacher can give points to children for good behaviour and take points away for bad behaviour, which creates a classroom leaderboard. The children can receive instant notifications with messages such as ‘Well done Josh! +1 for teamwork!’

The Games Learning and Assessment (GLASS) Lab has also been launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This project involves the tracking of learning gains brought about by the playing of digital games in the classroom. There are also websites such as What2Learn, which enable the tracking of attainment through the playing of games.

There are many ways that teachers can go about gamifying their classrooms. The Internet is full of forums, lesson plans and success stories from teachers who have gone about integrating gaming principles at school. One particularly useful tool I have discovered for organising everything that I find is Pinterest. Have a look at the game-ED Pinterest Profile for an example of how it can be used;  and good luck with gamifying your classroom!

Image by: cocoinzenl