Jessica Anderson has been a high school science educator for the past eight years, seven of which have been spent teaching earth science, physics, and astronomy. Recently, she made the transition into online teaching, educating students from all across the state of Montana. She is also a BetterLesson Blended Master Teacher, where she has made available her blended and gamified practice through classroom video and narratives. In 2014, she was nominated for Montana Teacher of the Year and started #MTedchat, a participant driven education chat, on Twitter.
On February 24 at 11pm UTC, Jessica will deliver a free webinar on WizIQ entitled Level-up Student Learning: Gaming the Blended Classroom. This webinar is part of the Featured Teachers series, hosted by Fluency MC. To sign up, click here.
In an interview with WizIQ, Jessica discusses how she came to gamify her classroom and the positive effects gamification has had on her students’ learning.
What inspired you to experiment with adding game elements in your classroom?
I’ve been adding game elements into my class and life for many years;
however, I wasn’t calling it gamification. If I were studying for an exam, I’d tell myself that if I studied for 20 minutes straight I could go get a snack or I could check my e-mail. The first year I taught (at a one-room school house), we had a homework game board for my 4th-8th graders. Students could move a space or two each day they completed-and did well on-their assignment. My kindergarten students also had fake hot chocolate cups they would put marshmallows in when they could count to 20, to 40, to 60, etc. When everyone was able to count to 100 we had a hot chocolate party.
Adding game elements into learning was simple and motivating for both me and my students. But it wasn’t until I listened to Paul Andersen, a Bozeman, MT science teacher and 2011 MT Teacher of the Year, that I began to dive into making gamification a formal process in my classroom. It was then that I started adding storylines and experience points to my class. My earth science course is now embedded in a fully immersive storyline, and has two separate but linked games for behavior and academics. I’m finding it to be the driving force behind our self-paced classroom.
How can gamification be used to facilitate learning in a blended classroom?
A self-paced, blended science classroom with freshman students can be
incredibly challenging. Just like in a traditional environment, you have students that don’t want to work or are unmotivated by the content. You have students that waste time, and those who have challenges understanding the material. You also have students that excel and move quickly through all of the content you ask them to master.
Gamification provides a motivating factor for those students who are not motivated by grades. By giving badges to students you can show students’ achievements. Academic leaderboards help show academic success and mastery progression. Challenges to master levels in a certain amount of time help students keep moving with urgency through the curriculum. An immersive storyline that is connected to curriculum can give meaning to content for students. All these examples, can help students learn and master content.
On what basis do you select game elements for your classroom?
For the most part, game elements are chosen based on need. Honestly, most are chosen out of necessity based on students’ needs and ideas that come up while I’m at home. However, there are a few instances when I select items based on the needs of my curriculum and motivational factors in the blended classroom.
When coming up with a storyline, I try to think of something that can universally encompass the content I’m teaching. For instance, an island theme was my choice for the Isle of Nosredna game my earth science curriculum is built around. I chose this storyline because I could easily have students examine soils for growing crops and sustaining life, filter groundwater, or learn about mystery resources.
I knew that having students move self-paced would be challenging, so I needed to come up with elements to motivate them to continue progressing. Therefore, I implemented what I call the treasure map, where students earn pieces of a treasure map for completing levels within a timeframe. I also have a classroom leaderboard where students see their updated rankings at the beginning of every class period. Students also have the ability to gain powers, which allow them to earn extra privileges in class, like being able to transfer and save people on their game teams.
What impact has gamification had on your students’ learning?
I’ve engaged students who would have normally just gone through the motions of learning science. I have students who come into my classroom excited to share what new gear their avatar has gained, how many points they have to level-up, and seek out the leaderboard to learn where they rank in comparison to all of my other classes.
I’ve also seen it as a fabulous opportunity to help students self-manage their learning and become more collaborative learners. For instance, students in my current classes had a very difficult time positively collaborating with one another. However, once I started rewarding positive collaboration heavily at the beginning of the year and then easing off as the year progressed, the skills became more pronounced in the classroom.
Gamification has also helped my students continue progressing through curriculum at their own pace. As a result, my students are learning content more deeply. I can go to almost any student in my room at present and they can share their understanding of earth system science because they have all mastered the skills in level 2.
Some people believe that playing games is ‘not serious’, ‘too easy’, or ‘only for children.’ What are your views on this?
The first thing I’d ask a person with this belief, would be how do you motivate yourself to do things you don’t want to? From my experience, everyone gamifies their lives in one form or another. It doesn’t matter if you make sections while you are mowing your lawn and reward yourself with a drink after that section is done. Or if you get to check off a box when you complete an activity. They are all examples of gamification and are readily used to motivate when the task is challenging or unbearable. We’ve also learned a lot from games throughout our lives. We’ve learned how to positively collaborate with individuals, and how to overcome challenges and situations that we may struggle with. Games also enforce the idea that failure is part of the learning process and that mistakes should be considered learning opportunities.
Could you tell us a bit about your upcoming webinar? How will teachers benefit from it?
My upcoming webinar will focus on how I’ve enhanced my students’ learning experience in science by adding game elements to my blended classroom. It will focus on the powerful strategies I’ve implemented through gamification to help my students be successful in the self-paced environment. I will also discuss the power of blended learning and how I’ve developed my courses to motivate and help students master content.
We hope you will join us for this Featured Teachers webinar with Jessica Anderson. Click here for more information and to sign up for free.