What I Learned from Gamification, Without Knowing What Gamification Was

GamificationAs I looked out at my students’ glazed over eyes and sad faces, I became quite aware that they were DONE. I had been teaching for weeks to prepare them for our big state test, and I was losing the never-ending battle for their attention. While I pondered what I might do next, I saw students near tears, bored, and even some students bordering on pure anger toward me for making them sit through another test-prep packet. Not only was I sick of all of this, but they were going to form a lynch mob if I didn’t do something soon.

That’s when an idea popped into my head. To this day, I cannot say where it came from, but I knew I simply must do SOMETHING, anything to stop this torture we were all enduring. I slammed my fist on the desk nearest me and said, “YOU GUYS! We have to BEAT them! We just HAVE TO!” I paced a little for effect and a lot to give me time to develop my plan further. The kids all perked up. Why had their teacher lost her blooming mind? Maybe she had finally cracked under the pressure? One of the kids asked, “Mrs. Morgan, do you need me to get your emergency chocolate?” All of them were now on high alert. Step one was complete.

For step two of my plan, I quietly explained that we were now going to think of the test as a giant game. The writers were the big boss we needed to “beat” in order to win the game, and we needed to imagine them sitting around a table and stroking their mustaches and beards and laughing whenever they were writing a tricky question because those were the difficult obstacles in the levels. Each question was a level, and each one of our test strategies was like a power-up. We developed a system to score our practice questions, and we created a display to work collaboratively to earn points and beat the game by passing the test.

I was using gamification before I ever knew anything about it. This was four years ago, and I had never heard about gamifying lessons. Now I wish I could tell you that every child passed that test. I cannot. What I can tell you is that I had an entire grade of students that were engaged in their learning and working together to cheer each other on for every single thing they learned. Those children heard from me that they were each and every one MORE than a score on a test. They were an individual who held their head high for every question they answered correctly because it was something they conquered that they might not have known before.

At the end of the day, the game was not just for them. It was for me too. I wanted to teach those students the way I would have wanted to learn. Games are always more fun than lectures. We all learned a valuable lesson. We are more than a score. We are more than a number. The power is in the journey and in the person we are when we come out the other side.

About the Author
Jamie Morgan is a teacher who is passionate about learning. She sees technology as a launch pad for ideas to come and uses that to engage her students in any way she can. Morgan is a mother of two beautiful twice-exceptional daughters and uses her dynamic home life as a tool in teaching any learner, no matter their needs. Her music and theater background makes her classroom even more fun because one never knows if she might break into song in order to teach a lesson or even just grab attention or get a laugh. Follow Jamie Jo on Twitter @JamieJoMorgan or at her website.