“What’s 4×8?” I casually asked my son after breakfast one morning.
“That’s easy, Mom.”
“So, what is it?” I asked.
“I don’t want to do this right now.”
“It’s not part of my homework.”
My son eventually gave me the answer, but the painful experience was not the way I envisioned a quick little multiplication review after breakfast. In fact, I would call my attempt an epic failure (to use my son’s lingo).
My son could count by 4’s, but he didn’t have his multiplication facts memorized. I tried the old-fashioned flashcard technique and was met with resistance. I even loaded a multiplication app onto the iPad, but he still couldn’t answer my rapid fire questions. I needed a new strategy.
A few weeks later I came across Gabe Zichermann’s Ted Talk How Games Make Kids Smarter. This was my first introduction to Gamification. I got really excited about its potential applications for education. Gamification could make learning more fun and allow me to speak my son’s language at the same time.
What is Gamification?
In his book, Explore Like A Pirate, Michael Matera, defines gamification this way:
Gamification is applying the most motivational techniques of games to non-game settings, like classrooms.
Since my son would happily spend an entire morning playing Minecraft, I decided there must be something to this gamification idea. If I could somehow make memorizing times tables as engaging as ‘Rayman Adventures’ it would be a win-win situation.
Matera, a World History teacher, uses gamification in his 6th grade classroom. When an Amazon reviewer wrote that if he could put his son in any teacher’s class it would be Matera’s, I was convinced to read his book.
The human spirit awakens when we are inspired and challenged to confidently go beyond our limits. The power of play brings back the natural yearning that exists inside all of us to learn. — Michael Matera
When children play games they are using skills that are involved in building fluid intelligence and developing problem-solving abilities.
In her article, You Can Increase Your Intelligence: 5 Ways to Maximise Your Cognitive Potential, Andrea Kuszewski, a behaviour therapist and cognitive scientist, wrote about five elements involved with increasing fluid intelligence (your capacity to learn new information).
These five primary principles are:
- Seek novelty
- Challenge Yourself
- Think Creatively
- Do Things the Hard Way
By playing games, children are able to use all five of these principles at once. Therefore, gaming is a powerful, fun, and efficient way to promote fluid intelligence.
I was convinced. Now it was time to design a game to motivate my son.
First, I did a search for game dynamics. I found the following list to get me started:
- Create a Quest or Mission
- Assign point values to set tasks
- Include a time element
- Decide on Progression
- Allow unlocks for the completion of certain tasks
- Award Badges
- How to achieve an Epic Win!
Next, I had to apply these game dynamics to my own game design with memorizing multiplation facts as the objective.
Michael Matera mentions the importance of “fusing together the ideal amount of content, choice, and challenge” in game creation.
I knew I could spend days or even weeks trying to create the perfect quest for my son, but I have recently learned to let go of perfectionism and just get started. So I did.
I knew I could tweak my game as I went along and maybe even involve my children in its improvement.
I jotted down a few ideas and then presented them to my children one morning. I was definitely winging it.
“Good morning warriors!” That got my sons’ attention.
“You are about to embark on a dangerous quest to defeat monsters, explore new territories, and race against time to find the Lariliean gemstones. Each gem will destroy a monster. If you deliver all 10 gems to Queen Alondra you will save Candyland.”
Yes, I know my quest was totally corny, but my children were intrigued.
My youngest wanted in on the action so I adapted the quest for him. He was supposed to practice reading the ‘tricky’ words his teacher sent home. I decided to give him 5 words to learn each week. He would get a gem when he could read them 3 days in a row.
The Reward (points, badges, in this case gems…)
I told my eldest he would ‘find’ a gem each time he passed a multiplication test. I pulled out some gems from my craft box to entice my son. Each gem was worth 100 points so my son needed to earn 1,000 point to save Candyland.
When he passed a timed multiplication test, I let him choose a gem. Then, we went online and looked at images of monsters. He got to choose which one he wanted to defeat. We printed it out and I let him decide how he wanted to vanquish the monster.
The Time Element
I gave my sons one week to complete each mission (e.g. one multiplication test or one set of 5 ‘tricky’ words). When they earned their gem they would unlock the next level (a harder multiplication test/5 new words).
Each of my sons started with 5 lives (5 chances to pass the test). If he ‘died’ on his first attempt he would practice and try again.
This was easy for the multiplication memorization. Ollie started with his 0’s and 1’s and progressed to his 2’s, 3’s, etc….The final goal was to complete a mixed multiplication task for an epic win!
With my youngest I chose the 50 most common sight words to read. For his epic win, he would need to read me all 50 words.
We are now in the middle of our quest. If given a choice, my sons would still prefer to play Minecraft, but I am pleased with the progress they have made. When my eldest completed his 8 times tables last week he was so proud of himself because he had to work so hard to pass.
Now I am off to do the parent homework Michael Matera set in his book, Explore Like a Pirate. Won’t my son be surprised when I ask him to show me how to play ‘Gods of Olympus’ this afternoon…