Gamifying My Classroom

One of the more interesting talks that I attended at NCTM13 this spring was by Alex Sarlin and David Dockterman called The Gamification of Math: Research, Game Theory, and Math Instruction.  They talked a about different ways to use game theory to increase student motivation in your classroom.  A similar talk by Sarlin about game theory can be found here.  Sarlin gave a few guidelines on how to implement game theory in your classroom.  Here is a list of some of them.

  1. Build increased difficulty over time.
  2. Reward skill, time, effort, and progress.
  3. Destigmatize failure by creating activities that demand multiple failure cycles.
  4. Reward behaviors, not results.
  5. Offer rewards for going beyond expectations, not meeting them.
  6. Rewards should be granted at the moment of accomplishment.
  7. Rewards should be given objectively for meeting a predetermined goal.
  8. Rewards should be byproducts of work, not goals in themselves.
  9. Rewards should reflect both short-term and long-term goals.

Another interesting video interesting video on game theory is Seth Priebatsch’s Ted Talk about the The Game Layer on Top of the World.

After listening to these talks I wanted to come up with a way that I could integrate game theory into my classroom.  The challenges that I saw in front of me were:

  • How do I award students points for completing tasks , as well as, keep track of these points without using too much of class time?
  • Creating tasks that meet the criteria that Alex Sarlin laid out.
  • How do I get high school sophomores and juniors to buy into this “game” when they know there is no tangible reward at the end?

To address the first concern I created a word doc that I would give each student.  This document is the place where students keep track of all the points they have accumulated through out the semester.

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The basic idea is that every time a student competes a tasks, I either stamp or initial one of the circles.  Then, every week or so, the students turn in their game logs and my TA will total up their scores and keep track of it.  I will also have a leader board in my classroom where I will list the top 5 students in each of my classes.  I don’t want to put my students actual names on the leaderboard, thus each student will create their own Avatar Name.  Also, I only want to list the top 5 students because I don’t want students who haven’t scored a lot of points to be embarrassed or to give recognition to the students who have no interest in the games or think its silly.

The next struggle was creating tasks that met the criteria that Sarlin and  Priebatsch talked about.  I am going to go through each part of the game log explain the rational for it.

First the Status Bar.

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The point of this is to incorporate both the influence and status dynamic, as well as, the progression dynamic.  Students will gain a new “title” the more points they acquire throughout the semester.  Also, the amount of points it takes to go from once level to the next increases.  For example, to go from Scholar to Mathematician it takes 700 points, but to go from Mathematician to Gaussian it takes 1000 points.  This plays on Sarlin’s idea of increasing the difficulty over time.

Next, are some of the tasks or goals I created for my students.

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Again, I am trying to increase the difficulty over time.  The first task is simply to get one 5 on a concept. (I am using Dan Meyer’s SBG system.  So a  5 is a getting two perfect scores on a concept on two different concept quizzes. I am a little skeptical about this task because it is related to the student’s grade.  I don’t want this to be a game that only the A and B students can be good at.  I want this game to be equal for all levels of students.  The reason I kept it as a task is because students can retake concepts as many times as they like, so I am hoping that it encourages students to retake more concepts which in the end will reward effort; not just ability.)  That is something that every student should be able to do.  I want students to have success early and then have the next tasks to be a little bit more difficult each time.  If you think about the game Temple Run, the first time you play you get an award from running only 500 meters and collecting 100 coins.  Then the next time, the objective is a little harder, run 500m collecting no coins.  That is what I am trying to accomplish here.


The next set of objectives are all about effort.  I want to reward students who continually do their homework.  I don’t care if the homework is right or wrong, just that they continually do it.  And Again, the tasks get incrementally harder to complete.  (In my classroom, since I am doing SBG, homework is not part of the student’s grade.)

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The next set of objectives are things that students can do as many times as they would like.  These are tasks that require students to go beyond what is expected of them.  For example, students don’t have to do quiz corrections, but if they do, they get 40 points!

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The next section is called Bonus Points.  My idea here is that through the year I come up with things for students to do that I usually assign extra credit to.   For example, I might say something like, “I will give 40 points to whoever can find a picture of a set of stairs with the steepest or shallowest slope.”  or if I am doing a review game instead of giving extra credit to the winning team, I will give Bonus Points.  The nice thing about these is that I can stamp the students paper the moment of accomplishment. 

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The next section is for students who attempt a challenging question during class.  This is to encourage students to attempt things they don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing. (This one I am a little skeptical about because what constitutes a “challenging questions”?  The reason I kept this is because I wanted to try different things the first time around see what works and doesn’t work.)  Again, I am rewarding students the moment they complete the task.

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The last part is to encourage students to come in for tutoring.  I will write the date the students came in for tutoring in the box.  Again, students get ten points for coming to just one tutoring session.  However, it takes 3 more tutoring session before they get more points.

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Now, the last concern that I have is whether or not my students are going to buy into this game if there is no tangible reward at the end.  Is simply getting points, moving up the status bar, achieving new “titles”, and having a ranking board posted in the classroom enough?  I don’t know.  But, it is enough for the game Temple Run and many others.  Now I just hope my classroom is as fun as running through a jungle being chased by gorillas!

Here is the Word doc as well as the PDF.  I used the font Pretendo.

5 thoughts on “Gamifying My Classroom

  1. Hello, your site was recommended to me at an AP Calculus workshop. I was wondering if you had any follow-up thoughts to your game-ification plan. I really love this idea but am curious how it went.

  2. I love the idea of gamifying my math class and your documents are extremely helpful. I hope to use them to create a game theme using my curriculum through out the year. I have 3 weeks until school starts to create a program, any suggestions?

  3. Has anyone tried this? I have a Senior math class coming up that’s nearly all boys so I thought this might be a good approach (and I think the girls in the class might enjoy it as well;). I’d love to hear/learn from your experiences:)

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