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We’ve Been Gamifying All Along?!?

by Neil Finney

Let’s deconstruct this idea of gamifying the classroom. What does it actually mean? Can it work? Will it reach a generation of learners in a novel way or deprive our students of the chance to become intrinsically-motivated to succeed and learn? Intimidated by the gamification of the classroom? You are not alone.

But, the concept of gamifying in our schools is not a new one. In fact, there are many examples of it that I can remember from my own childhood…

I spent many days and nights planning for the series of Cub Scout badges that I was going to earn in order to plaster my gray shirt with all of the great deeds and feats that I was granted by my Cub Scout leaders.

From aged five to fifteen, I struggled and worked and persevered through the ranks of the swimming program which was celebrated through a series of attaining colour badges like red, blue, green and white.

During elementary school, the sports and activities that I spent my time playing and participating gained me “win it” stickers, house points and activity awards.

Right now in some of our schools, fundraising campaigns for selling chocolate bars and other products entice students to “buy in” and perform, through a points system or benchmark prizes for a quantity sold. Many teachers use points to reward house colours, class teams or tribes based on class behavior, task completion, cleanliness and cooperation.

We have been gamifying for children for a while now. So why does it seem so foreign and intimidating to individualize it to each student in the classroom? Software programs such as Class Dojo have brought classroom discipline and student behavior into the web 2.0 world for teachers, who can award or take away points using their smart phone as they patrol the classroom – while students see their running tallies change as the day progresses.

I think that within our classrooms and teaching programs we fear the imbalance and disparity that can come from a system that is based on external rewards and points earned. We can smell the odours of unfairness and avoid its precepts with all our might. We worry…..what if a student doesn’t earn any badges? What if they don’t want to gain points? Well, the truth of it is, some students may not be motivated by any such system – but what if it is THIS system that finally gets through to that student?

What if we celebrate successes in the classroom with animated badges and brightly-coloured point boards? They could be adapted and personalized for students using any number of themes; whether it is video games, bands, television shows or cartoon characters. Sharing the learning through an external reward system doesn’t have to eliminate intrinsic motivation – maybe this can simply be a compliment to it. At any case, whether it is badges, report card marks, teacher stamps or constructive feedback – students will always need external things to motivate, celebrate and eventually graduate from our programs.


THE QUESTION: Should we use gamification in the classroom to motivate students? Share your opinions about this “hot” topic whether you support the idea or not. I’d love to hear how this community feels about it.

During Neilʼs 9 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and now junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.





You may also like these stories:
Adding "Game" to Your Classroom: Can Video Games Enhance Motivation? Are You Gamifying Your Class? Gamifying: Can the Buzz of the Business World Wow Educators Too?
Adding “Game” to Your Classroom: Can Video Games Enhance Motivation? Are you Gamifying Your Class? [Infographic] Gamifying: Can the Buzz of the Business World “Wow” Educators Too?



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  • Verena Roberts

    Working on a wiki that offers a selection of ideas on the maker movement, games based leanring and coding for educators. One stop shop…what do you think?

    Lots of inspiring ideas in your post – thank you!
    Verena :)

    • neil

      Hi Verena, thanks for checking out this post and sharing something that you’re doing which also builds on the premise (and promise) of “gamifying.” It’s always inspiring to see how other educators are using the tools of the web experience to shape (and invent) new learning processes for us all.

      I had a look at your wiki and really liked how you have created a space that has no time limits and acts as an opportunity for individuals to explore within your created framework – at their own pace and desired investment.

      I do believe that there is great potential within the gaming structure for new learning to take place. Whether as a motivator, “hook,” or opportunity to form connections between students; gamifying holds some serious potential for 21st educators (and students) alike.

      I came across your “Constructivism Mind Map” and really liked your dissection of the key concepts of what I think 21st century learning should be – especially your ‘uncovering the curriculum’ as opposed to ‘covering the curriculum.’ Well put! I’m currently helping to facilitate a professional learning community on ‘Self-Directed Learning’ and am totally driven to dig deeper into how we can make the whole school experience more constructivist.

      What other “Open Classroom” sites, people or resources inspire you?