I say! Anyone for a game of cards?

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Photo credit: the game hunter

Gamification, Game-based learning, Using games in the classroom, Gametime, Gamelearn…So many names and ideas connected by the word ‘Game’ when it comes to education. And why is that? Simple – because it is one of the most important learning methods ever created. And another thing – unlike many other aspects of learning – it is FUN!

In my case it has, without doubt, been the most important learning platform in my life. I have constantly used gamification to better develop my knowledge and understanding of so many different subjects, ideas and concepts.

When I was younger, I was never a pupil who showed the slightest bit of interest in Maths, English, French or any other school topic to be quite honest. Even geography and history, my two favourite subjects, mostly bored the life out of me. This is quite a damning statement considering I would often go home after school, get one of the Encyclopaedia Britannica books out from their shelves in our living room, and spend a couple of hours reading about the first World War or British Colonial rule in West Africa.

But let’s be honest – I didn’t do this everyday or even every week. No! It took something really special to get the historical motivation levels up and that was…Sid Meier’s Civilization!

This game transformed my understanding of what history was all about: It taught me about different periods of history; It taught me the importance of science in history; It taught me why geography was so key to the settlement of certain areas of the world. However, most important of all, it gave me a better understanding of just how fun learning could be!

And so I am a huge fan of gamifying education where possible. I say ‘where possible’ because even I (a diehard fan of gamification) understand that it is something that doesn’t always fit the teaching and learning that needs to take place in certain lessons and units.

However, when it is applicable, I would absolutely advocate its use in lessons! Sometimes it means more work and effort on the part of the teacher; but when it does work, it really does work!

Examples of Gamification in my classroom

Beat the Teacher

This is a concept I  recently introduced. The idea is that the children are presented with a short independent writing task. The children should only be given 30-40 minutes to write and the initial introduction should be fun with an element of challenge. I used our recent Egyptian unit to create a lesson where the children had to write a letter to the Goddess Hathor; pleading with her to bring rain so the River Nile could flood. I then explained to the children that I would also be competing and that if they could write a better letter than mine they would receive five Dojo points. As soon as I said I would be competing, the interest levels soared! The writing had now become a game, a competition, and they wanted the prize and the satisfaction of beating the teacher.

One of the letters which beat the teacher!

Class Dojo

I believe that this will be familiar to many of you. If not – I absolutely recommend this to any primary/elementary classroom teacher. I have already read numerous blog posts and blog post comments either vilifying or eulogizing this online program. I am a eulogizer of Class Dojo and I truly believe that, if it is used correctly, it can have a monumental impact on the children in your class. Firstly, I would say to any educator who finds this application to be an overrated waste of time “You aren’t using it the right way!”

Class Dojo has to be used constantly and consistently in all lessons. I write the student’s points on the sides of the board or on a piece of paper rather than have the Class Dojo screen open all the time. I then add the points onto the individual child’s avatar/monster when they have gone home; this takes no more than five minutes at the end of the day. I also send point totals home and we have a class points total that we try to beat each term.

Another aspect that I have added is the physical prize. That is, if any of my students achieve a score of more than twenty five Dojo points in a week, I will give them a prize. This prize is usually a bag of mini KitKats or an indoor playtime session for ten minutes. In the fourteen week of term so far I have had four of my students win this prize. If Prizes, Bonuses, competition and a weekly wage make adults happy why wouldn’t they have exactly the same affect on a child?

Everybody wants to be rewarded!

Morning Card and Board Games

Once upon a time I used to have 15-20 minute morning activities where the children did small Maths or English tasks before we started lessons. I had practised this routine for five years until last year when I finally decided that these morning tasks were a waste of time. For some teachers these morning tasks are incredibly useful and the children in their classes get a lot out of them. For me, they are a total waste of the twenty minutes we have before formal lessons begin! I prefer to let the children talk, socialize and use their maths and English skills to play games like Top Trumps, Snakes and Ladders, Spades, Pyramids and other card/board games. The use of these morning games has an implicit impact that cannot be understated. It teaches them skills like: the importance of socialising, learning to win the right way, playing with other children they don’t normally play with and learning to lose the right way.

Snakes and ladders
FUN with trumps
FUN with trumps

To conclude…

Games are FUN! Games allow us to LEARN in a FUN way. So surely it is a no brainer to say that wherever possible education should be about students being given the opportunity to LEARN in a FUN way. So why not use games and gamification to enhance the student’s learning!