Gamifying Assessments- The Easy Way

During a recent team meeting we discussed students’ lack of excitement about both existing formative and summative math assessments (which we now call “Celebrations”- because who doesn’t like to have a party?!)

Thinking critically about what we can do to increase student motivation and involvement, the answer came immediately to me- Make it a game! I looked back at an earlier blog post  I wrote while attending Boise State’s Master’s in Educational Technology, which dealt with, and highlighted the benefits of gamifying our classrooms- “games make us feel good, motivated, inspired to collaborate and cooperate, feel like this is the best version of ourselves, and help us find the motivation and courage to get up and confront obstacles.” I decided to share this idea with the team, and show them how the use of technology is not really reinventing the wheel, but rather it can take an existing activity and with a few simple technological innovations and creativity, make it unique and engaging.

So… How did I do this? Here are the eight steps you need to go through in order to gamify an assessment (or pretty much any other activity…):

  1. Figure out what you want to assess
  2. Categorize the different topics/skills, so that later you will be able to create challenges
  3. Under each category, come up with a number of challenges.
  4. Choose an interesting game theme
  5. Come up with a backstory (an interesting one!!!)
  6. Create a reward system and a set of badges
  7. Create the specific challenges
  8. Create a record sheet and print the badges

Here is a more detailed explanation with a concrete example:

1. Figure out what you want to assess

This is a simple one. What is the skill (or preferably set of skills) you have already planned to asses that you would like to improve? We wanted to assess pure computational skills, so we decided to assess students’ understanding of the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of fractions).

2. Categorize the different topics/skills, so that later you will be able to create challenges

The four skills we decided to use are a good starting point because we will later come up with specific sub-skills under each area.

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3. Under each category, come up with a number of challenges.

You can decide to organize the challenges in a descending order according to difficulty, according to theme/sub-topic, or to just create a list of  challenges without any particular order. Keep in mind that some adventures require team work, which could require its own category. You could even create a different set of (both individual and team) challenges for different roles within a chosen topic (such as challenges for the team’s “Engineer”, ” Builder”, “Scholar”, etc.) I decided to keep it simple and organize the skills according to topic and difficulty levels. This is what the challenge hierarchy looks like (ignore the ninja theme. We’ll visit it later):

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4. Choose an interesting game theme

In my class, we play a fun game called “Ninja”, where students try to “tag” each other, and at the same time they learn about becoming more mindful, attentive, resourceful, patient, and creative. So the decision to come up with a Ninja theme for this gamified assessment was not random…

Ideas for game themes would sometimes depend on the subject you wish to gamify. You can consider anything like “Conquer the World”, “Are you smarter than Einstein?”, “Become a skilled pilot” and more. Start with thinking about what your students are interested in.

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5. Come up with a backstory (an interesting one!!!)

Choosing the Ninja theme had forced me to do a bit of research into the history, culture, weapons and moves used, and to find a specific historical event that would lure my students into the world of the Ninja…

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6. Create a reward system and a set of badges

I decided to force students to work through all 4 operations, and to pass challenges in all levels before they attempt the ultimate duel with Lord Rokkaku. So if they don’t win at least one badge per level, they are not allowed to challenge the Lord. If they fail the challenge, they need to go back and collect a second badge by winning all challenges in a particular level.

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Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 1.00.11 PMNeed badge-making resources/ideas?

7. Create the challenges

Initially I was thinking about creating our own task cards, like this one:

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But then I decided to use a resource I have already been using, which is a set of ready-made Fractions task cards. I chose two cards for each of the levels, so that when students are ready for the challenge, I can pull them quickly. Please note that you do not necessarily need to create task cards. Some activities, like this Gamified Field Trip I put together, could be done using technology.

Another resource

8. Create a record sheet and print the badges

How are students going to receive their badges? Where are they going to store them so they (and you) can keep track of the great work they have been doing? I created mine on Google Docs

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Student Track Sheet
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Badges to print and cut











And… You’re done!

Here are the resources I created for this project:

  • Google Slides of the game, rules, badges, etc.
  • Google Doc of the ideas for challenges (and some free to use ninja images)
  • Google Doc of the student track sheet and teacher badges

*** Feel free to use as is or modify any of these resources!

And here are some more professional books you may wish to look into/ purchase:

  • The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education (First Edition) by Karl M. Kapp.
  • The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon.
  • Digital Game-Based Learning (First Edition) by Marc Prensky.



Can Games Change the World?

“Reality is broken and we need to make it work more like a game.” – Jane McGonigal, Game Designer

Jane McGonigal’s brilliant TED talk is mind blowing when one considers the immense challenges our civilization is facing. The possibilities of utilizing everyone, not just scientists and politicians, to buckle up and join the challenge of solving real world problems should not be looked down upon. If millions of people are putting so much time and energy into playing games, then utilized properly, gamers’ curiosity, persistence, perseverance, and creativity could all contribute to solving tangible and authentic problems.

McGonigal discusses the point of an “epic win” where gamers accomplish something they never thought they could, and have an amazing sense of accomplishment. According to her research, games make us feel good, motivated, inspired to collaborate and cooperate, feel like this is the best version of ourselves, and help us find the motivation and courage to get up and confront obstacles. So no wonder so many people spend so many hours playing games all over the world! But unfortunately, this exciting and optimistic feeling is what education for change is lacking…

Although I have no knowledge or experience with the game World of Warcraft (“WoW”), I think that what the game has accomplished is astonishing. In 2010, WoW had over 12,000,000 subscribers around the world, which, if their total game time was added up, have played about 5.93 million years… That’s incredible!

So what can we learn from these types of games that would allow us to direct all the time and effort to win toward a more realistic, and needed goal? In WoW, players establish trust, work at their level (Zone of proximal development), feel there is something important to be done, have many willing collaborators to achieve their target, and receive constant encouragement (“+1ing” others). These are some of the conditions that can push education forward!

According to McGonigal, there are four “things” that gamers are practicing and getting better at:

  • Urgent Optimism (epic win is possible),
  • Social Fabric (befriending and collaborating with anyone; trust; values; persistence; bonds, trust, cooperation),
  • Blissful Productivity (willingness to work hard no matter what)
  • Epic Meaning (awe-inspiring missions- create new knowledge)

McGonigal used the fact that school-aged students spend about the same time at school as they play games to expose viewers to the idea of “parallel track of education” (at 6:50). She cites cognitive scientist research (“10,000 hours of success”) that assumes if anyone spends 10,000 hours at something, they would master it. I believe that if we want to make education more motivating and meaningful to students, we must learn from the gaming world.

There is a lot to say and discuss about the need to transform education, so I will leave this topic for now and get back to it later on. But before I end this post, I would like to include this thought-provoking talk by a current (and fantastic) professor of mine, Dr. Chris Haskell:

Afterthought: I would love to explore the games Jane helped create with the Institute for the Future (“World without Oil“and “Evoke“), and perhaps even start a student group who would be playing the game as a part of their extra curricular activities. It is also interesting to read the data compiled about their game “SuperStruct“.