Games are fun; learning is not. Kids could play games for hours on end, without asking for food and holding their bladder for as much as they can. When it comes to doing homework or studying, on the other hand, things cannot be more different: their attention span gets smaller than a goldfish’ and all physiological needs become the most important things ever.

Learning needs to become more like games if we want schools to better equip our kids for the unknown future. The good news is that more and more teachers around the world turn to using gamification — game principles and mechanics — in their classes. When used right, the power of gamification in classrooms can lead to amazing outcomes.

With the help of technology, a bit of analytical skills and a lot of work form teachers (but they are already hard workers, so this shouldn’t be a big problem), all classrooms can have truly engaged pupils and amaze everyone with outstanding learning results.

As a teacher, you can successfully include gamification in your class through a number of techniques. Here are just four of major importance:

A test vs. a quest

Language and wording may seem less than important, but in fact they are a great low hanging fruit when it comes to paving the way for gamification in the classroom.

A test is something to be feared.

A quest is something to be conquered.

I always feared tests when I was in school, even though I was a good student and usually got good to great results. There was something in the air right before taking a test and sometimes I could feel the butterflies in all my classmates’ stomachs. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

A quest is a horse of a totally different color. A quest makes the student the main character of a story and this feeling of importance — do you know any unimportant hero in a story? — contributes to a higher level of engagement with the learning materials. Students will not fear a quest; they will feel challenged to conquer it.

Grades vs. XP (eXperience Points)

Whether your school uses letters or figures to grade students, the maximum they can get is 100%. If their performance is less than perfect, they get a lower percentage. This, along with the red pen highlighting their mistakes in tests, contributes to a never-being-good-enough feeling and frustrations in later life.

Experience points come with a spin. They can be transformed in normal grades, for the satisfaction of the school system, and at the same time they can boost confidence in learning and make students want more and more: the more points they have, the better their chances to conquer the quest.

A trick that many teachers use, besides re-wording class activities, is to assign hundreds or even thousands of XP to each activity that contributes to the final grade: a test could be worth 5,000 points; homework could be 2,500; a quizz, 3,000; group participation, 1,000; other related activities could equal some bonus points.

Kids start from zero and only go up, gathering as many points as they can. Some will do better than others, but neither one of them will fear the failure of having less than 100.

F.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning

Kids today experience great pressure regarding school performance, from their parents, extended families, friends, peers, society as a whole. Mistakes are stigmatized. Failure is rarely regarded as an option. The fear of failure can determine them to skip classes, avoid tests and, in some cases, drop school.

This is certainly not the case with games. Whenever kids get a “Game Over!” screen they feel the urge to play again and improve upon their last performance. When failure is seen as a First Attempt In Learning, motivation grows bigger and students’ progress to the next level only accelerates.

Teachers need to find the perfect balance between making a game too hard or too easy to pass. First levels should be easy, so anyone can pass and gain some confidence, while advanced levels should get gradually harder.

A centralized system

From something as simple as a shared spreadsheet to something as complex as an LMS, teachers need a centralized system to keep track of and analyze the performance of all pupils.

One teacher cannot deal with the high degree of variation of a class of 15, 20 or more students. Technology can assist teachers in gathering data from each student — where do they struggle, how fast they progress — and deliver more personalized learning experiences.

Computers are a means of creating fun and efficient learning through games, but every game, level and amount of points need to be directly tied to performance in order to witness significant results.

Gamification in the classroom: a success story

One already famous example of a gamified classroom is given by Mr. Pai, third grade teacher at the Parkview/Centerpoint Elementary School in White Bear Lake, MN. His class progressed in math from a below average third grade to a medium fourth grade in less than five months. He used gamification to make learning fun at school:

Every teacher can be the Mr. Pai of their school. Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Author: Livia M

Livia is the main online voice of NEO by CYPHER LEARNING. She writes about education technology for K-12 and higher ed, gamification, BYOD, as well as other ed-tech subjects.