Choice in the Classroom

I am giving this presentation, thought I would share.

Games typically rely on choice (despite what some of my students say, no choice cannot be to gain one good thing vs three good things). Students are begging for choice. Mostly it is about control… or the illusion of control. Agency. They want to feel like they have meaning.

And that’s just the thing! When I’d designed lessons / activities I often would have polls or informal assessments gauging their interest. A student asked for a board game to review materials, gave it to the class… he was the only one that interacted meaningfully with it (guess I shouldn’t create a lesson on one data point…).

Later in the year I had a bulletin board taken over by folders with activities written on them. On the bottom row were older assignments or present review materials. Above, that weeks homework(s). And at the very top, the week’s extra credit. The system seemed to be working fair for a while, but they wanted more control, more choice, more variety of activities. Get them moving around the class, get them making posters of their learning, have them use Edpuzzle videos I had made for review. I wished I had started this earlier in the year!

Most good games have new options that show up as the game progresses, new choices. One must be cautious to avoid AP (analysis paralysis): what do I do? I suppose this is where players can chose one game vs the other, where a higher maturity or focus level wants more deep thoughts and considerations.

In trying to gamify a classroom one just needs to be aware of choice. Choice comes in many forms…

(1) choice of tasks, (2) choice of reporting formats, (3) choice of learning goals, and (4) choice of behaviorsĀ  (taken from here )

But even beyond these: many tasks embedded in themselves have choice. When you solve a linear equation you COULD decide to undo the multiplication/division first. When you write an essay you have a lot of words to choose from!

However many games have more of a feedback system. The consequences of the choices are more readily available (points, new abilities, fun graphics and noises, denying other players access) and reinforce the good ones. I suppose this ties back into education’s need for timely feedback which leads us back to computerizing the whole thing!

Wrapping this up, in allowing for choices, do we consider enough the path those choices will take the user? In game design that is what playtesting is for… how do we playtest in education?

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Is games based enough / best practice

as I enter another year (education years run August to July) I reflect: for starters I ‘should’ post more.

In hearing about someone’s spouse writing for Pearson and her husband’s presumed link if their interest in gamificatiin this article suggests otherwise.

Where in which they categorize games based learning and gamificatiin as separate categories. Some claim it’s more like a square being a rectangle… gamification wishes to make the entire structure of a class a game (in many respects we as humans have already done so: rules, levels, points, stages, theme, leader boards). Games based learning puts games into a classroom (that are hopefully aligned to standards that would benefit from this) so if there are already game elements in a classroom to begin with… instantly gamified?

Above, Pearson put together a business course into an electronic interface, success went to leaderboards/leveling, failure meant you had to replay it (content was added to a study guide), etc… this most certainly contains game based elements! So have we turned this entire class into a game?

Here a very successful / smart man muses on the definition of a game. It requires agency, goals, restrictions and a lack of real world relevance … in that last aspect it will be difficult for any educator program to be a game. In the first (agency) if you know all of the content then it is no longer a game… there is only one correct move, one right answer (read the article linked above: it’s quicker once you get last his intro).

I leave this post with no further comment but a question: can anyone really claim the goal of making a classroom a game is successful?


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Starting 7th Grade Math

Good year to all (few?)

I’ll be teaching 7th grade math next year and I’m desperate for approval / ideas.

I’m half tempted to do just exactly what another teacher has done and modify from year to year, but curiously enough half of these lessons are presuming prior content learning from that year that wasn’t addressed and/or making use of manipulatives or tools that I’ve yet to create!


Does my 7th grade math classroom have to be full of so much clutter?

I AM excited that I might have an audience interested in exploring the benefits of game based learning. I am heavily considering making use of my “mathemagical houses” class organization and “6 aspects of society” classroom management plan.

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Pop up quiz

What do you think? Good use of games in the education sphere?

Lately I’ve been working with Edmentum’s suite of content
The classes are almost all organized similarly: this one, after having read through a tutoring, which often includes links to other resources for further enrichment and sometimes a video, neither of which tend to really help ‘pass the test’ (not the same thing as learning), you’ll have a section quiz (five to ten questions about what you’d just read) and then rinse and repeat.

After two – ten of these (depends on the learning platform: Edmentum’s seems to be three for non math content) there will be a FLASH QUIZ: you’ll have to remember some keywords / fill in the blank style within in a certain time frame or OOPS the aliens destroyed the planet or some such.

Many problems here, but most of all THESE ALMOST ALWAYS HAVE BUGS… like programming or compatibility issues. So students get frustrated: not the good kind of frustrated that drives a lot of game design…

A new role at my salaried job involves Peak … or FeulEd whom I’d worked for for two years a year back or so. This, too, seems to have some embedded games in its tutorials: it did it… not “right” exactly, but… better?… these are not a requirement to complete.

….. So what is the RIGHT way to do it?


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Why so Nostalgia?


The above linked webpage is for ‘meaningful gamification’. To be meaningful I suppose we need to be relevant. To be relevant we need to have attendees… and so this companies thoughts on how to have attendee retention or appreciation or acquisition is to have 16 bit style font for their logo.


Over and over again we resort to this nostalgia.


Mind you, this second link isn’t for gamification, it is for actually game design. But to always have to feel inclined to include this iconic aspect of video games…


When you go to a Hamburger convention, do we evoke the elephant in the room of McDonalds? … šŸ˜¦


Gamification is not just about video games: It need not be about video games at all! And yet, here we go, every chance we get, we display this idea of electronic games and 16 bit art. Present youths wouldn’t even have a modern example of 16 bit style games if it weren’t for Minecraft! So when they see this the images it invokes isn’t the same as the images it evokes if a 30 something were to look at that logo.


I suppose that’s the power of art there. However we need to be careful when utilizing this in gamification: if our goal is to impart a lesson while we are utilizing this game based process what role does the 16 bit art take?

I guess what I’m saying is that we need to be aware of who our audience is; what standing we want in the future.


Perhaps continuing to use 16 bit art diminishes, trivializes?, infantilizes the profession / craft.

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A lesson, and a game, are often themed. How do they match up?

In math education, themes are chosen for a variety of reasons: To interest student population, to demonstrate a topic’s use, to challenge a student, analogy for a process.

InterestĀ happens when a student cares enough about something to want to look at it long enough, regardless of what the theme is portraying. Yes, some people DO love horses enough to be interested in a lesson on linear equations if there is sufficient horsey-ness in the lesson. This is often known as a ‘hook’. There IS a limit to how long you can be hooked, although many gamification objectives attemptĀ ‘trick’ the user into continuing the engagement/hook as the objective (teach linear equations) is seemlessly integrated into the interesting theme (along with other gamification techniques).

DemonstrateĀ use of a technique being taught. Exponential models are great for modeling things that grow, or decay (a doubling, or more, process or halving process). Bunny rabbits, investments. It is often humorous to pick a theme and apply that theme to content that provide comical results “presuming my socks decay exponentially, after how many loads of laundry will I be effectively pairless?”

Challange often comes in after a student has learned a subject and now needs to apply it. You’ll have a sales increase theme while customers decrease, try to find the maximum price increase to maximize making monies. You can present a real world project and have students use previous techniques of non-indicated topic, forcing students to know and practice at whim.

Analogy pops up when you have a quick story to situate or help remember a process. Distribution can be shopping bags. You can think of solving simple two step equations as an attack on the variable, who has a scout and a personal bodyguard.

Sometimes a theme can be a distraction: Students will try toĀ doĀ a rule because the theme seems to suggest that it is possible.

More often than not, you are not doing ‘the theme’. You’re not actually engaging in piracy, you are doing the math, naturally. The themes feel more and more like you’re doing them when the themes fit nicely, and sometimes you can LEARN content while you are doing the activity of the theme (a big gamification goal).


Games also have themes. Abstract games CAN do well in the market though some classics are obvious: tic tac toe, checkers, connect four. Heck, sports are an abstract game: we’re not watching basketball players simulate some space opera, or football players simulate trench warfare.

But themes can inspire and hook us into playing the game longer, but they can also mismatch. Monopoly is a decent example and house rules are often designed around player perception of ‘how things should work’. My own game (presently) titled The City: Mafioso has an anti-snowball calming mechanic that represents getting ‘dirt’ or applying ‘risk’ that is later usable against a player but the reasons why that ‘mark’ is being handed out, what it represents, who should get it or how it should work always seems in question.


How do you pick a theme for your lessons? How do you pick you theme for games?

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How many designers are there in central ohio?

I’ve often wondered this. It is possible just a few actually try to publish, but how many are a bit like me, and just design for fun? And how many of them are middle school or elementary kids! šŸ™‚ … and how do we find them and reach out and include them?

I just found this one, thanks to Jim Galvin of The Tutoring Club: Powell.Ā

If you know of more, always feel free to comment or pop me a communique.

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June 29th: Wild Goose Creative Noon to Five

Players and designers welcome!

June 29th, at the Wild Goose Creative, from noon to five come along and talk design or just play games with local game designers!

If you have interest in being a featured artist, please send me a message

This will be updated as things progress so check back for details.

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Team Work Optional

A student, during a certain standardized testing situation in school, was having a hard time.

“Can I ask you a question?”
“You just did, but go on ask another. I’ll be able to answer it in only incredibly vague ways that will not be what you expected”
“Um… ok. So, like… what do they mean ‘flat rate’?”
“I can’t answer that question. You’ll just have to use what you know of the words ‘flat’ and ‘rate’ if you think it is relevant to the problem”
… “Man I can’t do this problem without knowing what it means!… can I phone a friend?” he starts to get his cell phone out
“NO you cannot phone a friend”
“Man why not?” as he continues to start to turn it on
“DROP THAT PHONE OR YOU’RE DISQUALIFIED!!! What do you think this is? Millionaire?”

It is interesting to see how some people apply rules to one game to another. Many times students and individuals are often told rules and then misapply them… deliberately or genuinely.

I was told something interesting the other day about game designs on Tom Vassels top ten list of tips for game designers… I think I heard it there… I watch a lot of videos and blogs on these things… ANYhow: If a player is playing a game they should have an idea of why something is allowed to exist or not exist. That is, the rules of the game should make sense given the construct of the theme or situation.

The kid seriously didn’t understand that he wasn’t allowed to ask for help! … maybe he was just playing the part of the fool. Maybe he was playing a different game or combining elements of another game to this pine. His own mash up?

How many times have people not known what was going on in a lesson? The instructions? The rules of a game? Why? Was it the culture they were brought up in? The culture of the school? Applying past practices and themes incorrectly? Not understanding the nature of this present theme?


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Sand Boxed looking for Quest Givers

In my search to group up the local non electronic game designers, I have come to an impasse…

Let me start with an analogy I give many of my male students these days.


“GTA is a sand box game. It is fun. You can do what you want! Good, bad, exciting, boring. However, there are people that know the game better than you. They have designed quest givers in the game, missions. Work a job as a police officer, or do one of the quest lines. In doing so you ‘achieve’ and unlock other parts of the game that you wouldn’t have had access to without having done these.”

“Guess what? Life is a sand box game. You can putz around and do jack all for a long while and have fun. Unfortunately there comes a point where it is boring. Unlike a game, you can’t go out and buy another life. You eventually need to take a look at some quest givers and try to unlock something new. They give you much needed direction and know the game of life better than you. So what is it? Much about doing odd jobs here and there, or take a quest and unlock the epic mode?”

At the moment I could use a quest giver… a Quest Giver to tell me which quest to take! Or maybe I just need more time so I can do ALL the quests, right?

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