This year at the CUE 2017 National Conference there were a lot of sessions on the topic of gamification, a strategy for increasing student engagement by applying game design principles to a classroom setting. After my presentation, several people came up to me and said that they were very interested in gamification, but they felt uncomfortable with the whole idea of game thinking because they had simply not grown up playing games. This got me thinking that maybe there aren’t a lot of teachers who game on a regular basis. So with that in mind, I would like to suggest five games that teachers who are interested in gamification should play and, more importantly, what they can learn from each in order to help them gamify their classroom.

Settlers of Catan

“Settlers” has become a breakout success at game nights because it is a strategy game that is very easy to learn, but difficult to master. The basic idea is that you are settling a land and you need different resources to build roads and cities in order to earn points. You must choose your locations and use your resources wisely to build the best empire before your fellow settlers do.

What can we learn from it? In Settlers, there is more than one way to earn victory points. Every player must choose a strategy that best fits their particular situation and playing style. When designing a gamified environment are you allowing for multiple paths for success? Every student comes to us with a particular set of skills which we should let them use in order to experience success in our learning environment.

Ticket to Ride

This game brings us back to the good ol’ days of railroad tycoons as it challenges players to connect cities on a map by building railroad lines between them. All you have to do is collect enough cards of the same color to build a connection. Sounds easy, right? It is until your “friend” claims the only remaining route to St. Louis!

What can we Learn from it? The rules of Ticket to Ride are extremely simple yet the gameplay is intricate and engaging. If you have too many rules, your gamified learning setting will feel contrived and stressful. This charming locomotive themed game reminds us to keep our rules simple while we make our learning tasks complex.

Forbidden Desert

Your airship has crashed in the desert! It is up to you and your team to find all of the parts of the ship while staying hydrated, avoiding the sun, and not getting buried by sandstorms. Forbidden Desert is a type of cooperative game where the players work together to accomplish a goal despite the best efforts of the game to thwart them. No joke. The board is actually trying to kill your characters.

What can we learn from it? We do not always have to make students compete against each other. It is a wise move to make their greatest enemy a shared one. Design learning tasks which are difficult enough that they will want to work together. Together they will rise to the challenge!

Dungeons and Dragons

D&D, as it is commonly known, allows players to create a fictional character with certain abilities, skills, strengths and weaknesses. Then a Narrator, or Dungeon Master, unfolds a story in which the characters must act in accordance to their own strengths to navigate the challenges presented by the narrative. Yes, I know that it is usually associated with 12 year olds hanging out in their parents basements. Yet roleplaying games are possibly the greatest exercise in interactive, creative storytelling that gaming offers and it is for this reason that many people still play them well into adulthood.  

What can we learn from it? Roleplaying games teach us about the importance of the narrative and the growth of character throughout the game arc. In your gamified classroom are you working to create a collaborative fiction which motivates your players to explore and face new challenges regularly? Do not underestimate the power of a good story to keep your students exploring.


You’re it!

What can we learn from it? The most important thing we can learn from Tag is when to end the game. In most tag games there is no defined end point, yet players will get tired. The beginning of Tag is always more fun than the end. Choose a wise place to end your classroom game before your players want to quit.

My advice to teachers who are interested in gamifying their classrooms is to start playing games! Every time you play a game look for the game design elements which make it fun, challenging, frustrating, or rewarding. Then take a minute to consider what you can learn about creating an engaging experience for your players…er… learners. Now, go play some games!

Chris Hesselbein is an Innovation Strategist with the Lake Oswego School District near Portland, Oregon. Check out the Insert Coin blog series and other articles about classroom gamification at Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisHesselbein

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