Danielson is a Hard Core Gamer: Part 1 - Gamification & Classroom Environment

Okay, so I don't know Charlotte Danielson, and I cannot seriously make conjecture on her leisure activities, particularly in the realm of video games. With that out of the way, I wanted to explore some of the ways in which the use of simulations, games, gamification and game design relates to and can exemplify the four domains of Danielson's Framework for Teaching and learning.

Today, I'd like to begin with Domain 2, Classroom Environment. In future posts on this topic, I plan to explore the other domains. For those of you who are being evaluated using the Danielson framework and who also happen to be doing gamification (with or without Classcraft), feel free to steal liberally from the language in this post for your professional "evidence folder".

Gamification, Levelling up my Classroom environment with Classcraft

I've been using Classcraft off and on since last year, but I'm just now really starting to get into a groove with this thing.

I have to admit that despite the amount of time I've spent discussing games, gamification, and game based learning on this blog, I was initially very concerned about the cheese factor. Will my seventh and eighth graders find this cheesy? Will they be too cool for it? That has been far from the case. In fact, my students seem to take more pride in the current state of their avatars than they do in the actual usable classroom "powers" that they unlock.

I'm not going to get into the nuts and bolts of Classcraft here. To get more of an idea of what Classcraft is, go check out my post, "My first real foray into Classcraft" and watch the video, "What is Classcraft?". Now, on to how Classcraft and gamification improves my classroom environment.

Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport

This is all about our interactions with students and their interactions with one another. In this area I want to call special attention to the use of behaviors, team events, and cooperative powers.

My Computer Science class is all about collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork, but sometimes, even in a class that students enjoy, it is difficult to maintain an environment where 12-15-year-olds "consistently contribute to high levels of civility among all members of the class" (Danielson, 2013). This is where I have found behaviors that encourage cooperation, Team Events, and cooperative powers really shine.

A big part of the day-to-day management of a gamification system, like Classcraft, is the awarding of XP. I strive to make sure that earning XP is largely accomplished through supporting one-another. Once my rules are set up, awarding XP is simple (There is a phone and iPad app) as I walk around and catch students being awesome. Here are some of my "behaviors" that encourage students to "consistently contribute to high levels of civility among all members of the class". You will notice that nearly all opportunities to gain XP are related to helping the class as a whole or helping individual students.

Cooperative powers are class abilities that students unlock in Classcraft that can be used to help others, such as, "Intimidate: The warrior may force the Gamemaster to repeat something that is in the class notes / a tutorial video to any member of the team" or to force others to be helpful, such as "Mind Control: Compel another player from any team to show you how to do something he or she just did".

Finally, Team Events give students a chance to bond with their classmates through brief random and content connected activities. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • A pirate’s life for ye - A random team has been selected to join a band of pirates. If they successfully speak with pirate accents for the class period, they will earn 150 XP. Also, the rest of the class shall call the Gamemaster "Captain" or they shall suffer -1 HP damage.
  • A Gypsy's Nightmare - A random team must explain how the concept "less is more" can be applied in design, specifically when it comes to type, color, and images. Teams who can explain this concept successfully will gain 40 xp. Failure means a loss of 20 hp. Discussion encouraged.
  • Prophecy - ... a one-legged gnome, in the middle of the 12 statues, on the full moon, will bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy. A random team can dance the PPAP before the classroom. If successful, the team gains 90 XP and triggers a new event!
All of these things contribute to an environment of respect and rapport, without feeling forced or inauthentic, because we're having fun together. "The net result is an environment where all students feel valued and are comfortable taking intellectual risks" (Danielson, 2013). 

Establishing a Culture for Learning

In my room, Gamification emphasizes the importance of the content, increases students pride in their work and encourages students to assist their classmates in understanding the content, through the behaviors, cooperative powers, and team events discussed above and also through Team Boss Events.

Classcraft has a built-in feature called Boss Battles, which can be used to set up Boss Events for you if you have access to the premium features. I simply set up my own bosses and boss fights on a Google Site that only my students can access. The key features of boss fights for me are:
  • that they provide formative assessment of essential content
  • and they are collaborative. Everyone on the team succeeds or no one succeeds.
Here's a brief example from my technical drawing unit:

MiniCat's Prism of Doom!

Minicat by Matthew Inman
Discuss with your team: How do you accurately create measurements in Sketchup?
  • Think about how you start and end your shapes.
  • What do you do with your mouse?
  • What don't you do with your mouse?
This is a Multiplayer Boss fight! Your whole team must defeat Minicat's Prism of Doom for XP to be awarded. Members who don't succeed may die.
  • The Battlefield - Choose any Feet and Inches template in Sketchup.
  • The Boss - You must make a 10' x 12' x 9' rectangular prism in Sketchup with
    dimension lines.

    Hint: think of it as a rectangle that is 10',12' that has been push-pulled 9'.

Setting up events like this, encourages students to "assume responsibility for high quality products by initiating improvements, making revisions, adding detail, and/or assisting peers" in their use of the skills and techniques discussed in class (Danielson, 2013).

Managing Classroom Procedures

I'm a rarity among educators. I'm a Type B teacher. As such, micro-managing group dynamics or even taking attendance tends to be a struggle. I think I was pretty clear on my feelings about the Management of Instructional Groups in my post, "Why you hate group work." I must say, though, since I've fully integrated gamification into my daily routine, these tasks have become much more seamless and simple. Each day, for example, before generating a random event, I ask each team whom they are missing. This takes attendance as well as allowing me to remove missing students from any game effects they may have experienced if they were in class. A typical attendance scenario might sound like this:
  • Me: Big Sushi Farmer, are you missing anyone?
  • Student[s]: Anthony isn't here!
  • Me: Thanks!

Not only does the group or team dynamic make events more fun, but they encourage actual collaboration and cooperation. The benefits students can reap, in terms of XP from having successful group interactions, creates an environment in which "Students take initiative in the management of instructional groups and transitions, and/or the handling of materials and supplies. Routines are well understood and [almost always are] initiated by students" (Danielson, 2013).

Managing Student Behavior

Finally, I want to touch on how Gamification has further simplified managing student behavior. In case you haven't picked it up so far, the use of any Gamification tool such as Classcraft, is really a lot like the premise of "Whose line is it anyway?"

The games are made up and the points don't matter!

What I do with Classcraft has no effect on student grades whatsoever. Yet, I can attach points loss / gain consequences to my behavioral and procedural expectations via XP and HP. While these points don't matter in terms of students' grades, they do matter a great deal to students, who are ultimately more concerned with the game than their grade anyway. Also, the assignment of customizable Sentences from the Book of Laments allows one to attach anything from reinforcement of class concepts to the retraining of key procedures to the consequence of falling in battle. Further, falling in battle has repercussions for one's whole team, so typically, "Students respectfully intervene with classmates
at appropriate moments to ensure compliance with standards of conduct" (Danielson, 2013) .

Closing thoughts and parting shots

J's highly customized character.
For better or worse, games are a part of our collective societal DNA at this point, particularly for the generation we are currently educating. It is quite easy to refer to them as "snowflakes" and any other number of dismissive labels, but the fact is, they are very willing, given the right kind of failure feedback, to work hard to improve their performance, even if it is in the context of a game.

A good example is a seventh grader I had last marking period. We'll call him "J". Students and teachers alike warned me that J tended to be unmotivated, seemed to enjoy frustrating and irritating classmates, and didn't often actually come to class. I found J to be interested, engaged, helpful, and open to help from his teammates. J's character avatar can be seen to the right. It is highly customized, reflecting the amount of Experience Points he received as a result of his positive attitude toward class and his classmates.

I think that a lot of our students are tuned out, for various reasons, but gamification is one excellent way to get them tuned in and excited about what is happening in class. Danielson may not have been thinking about avatars, XP, or Boss fights when she wrote about classroom environment, but I bet she'd agree that if it works this well, it's definitely worth a go.


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