Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Beyond the Leaderboard: Self-ranking charts

A couple of days ago, I talked about creating a multiple-class, self-ranking leaderboard. My students love the idea of being able to see where they rank, and compare themselves to one another, creating this competitive gaming environment that often leads them to perform and to keep working, simply to "outrank" one another. As I was updating my class website to include this new board, I started thinking about how to use the leaderboard as more than just a ranking system for the XP. Could I use it to inform students about how they are doing in different categories? Could I show the data in some way that would maintain the integrity of the leaderboard, but focus students' attention on opportunities for improvement as well? And almost as important, is there an easy way to do it; one that would not require much more than inputting values as the students grow? The answer turned out to be YES on all accounts.

Before I show you how, let me share the end products:

"I Need To Do More" chart

This first interactive chart, displays the totals for each XP category. As the year progresses, students can see how much each of the categories has impacted their XP totals. On their own, or with some help, they can decide to go back to assignments they may have missed or where they scored low XP and re-do/re-submit in order to up their total XP for that category. In my case, it could show an Aha moment akin to, "I have not done many of my blogs, if I do them now I can gain all those XP I missed".

"I Need To Do Better" chart

In this other format, the same data is displayed by average XP obtained in each category. When students see the data organized this way, they can quickly see areas where they can focus their efforts, to increase their standings.

The beauty of both of these charts is that they use the same Pivot Table I created for the self-ranking leaderboard, so not only do they update as soon as I input new values, they are also tied to the original ranking. The student order within the chart updates as well as they move up or down on the leaderboard, making it a "one-stop" responsive system that does not create more work for me to maintain or update.

The following video explains how to create the charts, and I am also sharing a template that you can use to draft your own.

Let the games begin!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Appsmash to Gamify - From Leaderboards to Quests

Although many of us agree that gamifying your classroom can provide benefits in terms of engagement and relevance for the students. Many of the teachers I have talked to have this idea that gamification is too hard, or that you can only do it by purchasing an app or some other tool, which may or may not limit what you can do. However, this is simply not true. With the myriad of free tools at our disposal and a little creativity, you can create your own gamified world for little to no money. Gamification is about creating a game-like experience, not about creating an actual game.

Before we go any further, take a peek at my "Island of AdVENTURE", where our ultimate goal is to take over the world. That is the simple storyline for my classroom. The benefit of such a broad and vague topic is that it will never be "done", and gaming elements can easily be added as they are needed. I talked about the decision to adopt a single storyline for all my classes in a previous post. If interested, you can visit Gamification Year 2 - The quest continues.

So, what was needed to create the Islands of AdVENTURE experience?

Game Website:  

If you have been here before, you know that my go to place for this is WIX, because it allows for ultimate flexibility in item placing, allowing you to embed practically anything you may wish to add. WIX is free to use, and gives you one place to create as many web sites and subpages within a site  as you need. On the game website itself, I like to add links to my blog, class calendar, and all of our classroom policies, procedures and even the green sheet. This gives the students a central place to go for everything related to the gamified classroom, and completely eliminates any "but I didn't know..." moments. These different documents are added as tabs, or in the case of the classroom management stuff, an interactive Thinglink image that gives access to all documents with a simple click.


This is the only item in my gamification arsenal that I paid for: Profantasy Campaign Cartographer. I could have used art from other sources and/or even used maps from Google Mapmaker, but creating my own allowed me utmost flexibility to include what I wanted, down to shaping the islands to represent grade levels, and creating distinct homes for each class.

This was also where I began to Appsmash. The islands on the game website are linked to the grade level houses and leaderboard using "invisible" shapes that act as buttons. The quests inside the houses are linked using interactive Thinglink images. The reasoning for this is simple. I wanted the students to be able to quickly and easily identify the quests they have, without cluttering the images with a lot of text or buttons. By hovering over each icon, students can quickly access the quests they are undertaking without any instructions from me regarding the icon that was used to represent a specific assignment.

XP and Leaderboards:

In my class, students gain experience points (XP) by blogging consistently and by completing the different projects they work on. Whatever you choose for XP, I recommend that you do not tie it to behavior, but rather mastery of skills or concepts. Just like in games and real life, XP does not "go down". Once you gain experience, you never get experience taken away. 

To create the leaderboard(s), I use Google sheets. I previously shared how to create one for a single class. This year, I am adding a leaderboard that functions much the same way, but since I am working with a single storyline, I needed to create one that could rank all my students from different classes and give us a way to compare classes. The following video will show you how.


In my project based learning (PBL) environment we have two types of quests. The PBL Quests that culminate in a Boss Battle (i.e. the project product itself) and Mastery Quests. The PBL Quests are created using WIX for the bigger projects or Tackk for smaller assignments. Both allow embedding and manipulation of the color schemes, backgrounds, etc. giving you the opportunity to create a different aesthetic feel for each quest. The PBL Quests are embedded into the class game site and linked through Thinglink.

The Mastery Quests are the worksheets (level 1), quizzes (level 2) and tests (level 3) I use with students.  This simple renaming and leveling of the different types of work, tells the students how they need to prepare, and gets them excited about completing them. Don't you agree that it is much cooler to complete a Mastery Quest Level 3 than to take a test?

To create the first two types of Mastery Quests, I use the capabilities of Wizer.me. Mastery Quests Level 1 usually have links, videos and/or simulations embedded (example) and Level 2 may still have some supports (example). For Level 3, you can still use Wizer.me if you wish to give access to articles or graphs that the students must analyze. For a more "traditional" level 3 Mastery Quest, however, I use Google forms.

I usually do not embed the Mastery Quests in the game website itself, but rather give access to them by posting the individual URLs for the different assignments on our Edmodo stream. Of course, they can be shared in Google classroom or whatever other way you currently have to distribute online work.

Class Currency:

The behavior rewards, if you would like to have them, can be handled in several ways. In the interest of Appsmashing, you could use Class Dojo, and have it embedded into your WIX page. However, that has never really worked for me. I find it cumbersome to walk around with a device and scrolling when I want to assign behavior points. For this I go old-school, and use my school's paper based currency (Patriot Bucks), giving them out as needed. Since they are physical objects, I do not have to create a way to manage them. The "store" is created again using a Thinglink  embedded into the WIX class game page so that students can simply hover over the different items, and check "prices". 

What do you think? Have you tried gamification in your class? Please share your experiences.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Simulations and the Gamified Classroom

The use of simulations in the classroom is a long-standing tradition. How else could we provide students with high end experiential learning, when our students seldom have access to anything other than basic scientific equipment, and in many cases not even that? If we want want our students to learn how to gather data, analyze it and come up with solutions grounded on evidence we need to provide them with the necessary tools, going beyond the simple inquiry that can be accomplished with household tools.

In the gamified science classroom, tech-based simulations are a handy tool to help us engage students in deep learning. Students can use simulations to develop and use models to predict outcomes. They provide them with data that is directly applicable and transferable to the gamified (and often real-life) scenarios that they are working in. Often, they have the advantage of already looking like a game, making it easy to assign them as part of your gamified experience.

The simulations best suited for a gamified classroom are interactive, animated, provide dynamic feedback, and allow for productive exploration. But, where do you find them?


PhET, created and maintained by the University of Colorado, Boulder, has hundreds of NGSS aligned simulations, complete with teaching resources. They have been working hard at converting all their sims to HTML, allowing access on any device. Not only that, they are constantly adding new sims.
PhET by NGSS for Middle School
PhET by NGSS for High School


Already completely gamified for you, Spongelab has  thousands of pieces of content that can be searched, organized and annotated. Take a look,  at their Energy Literacy collection as an example of how to integrate SpongeLab in your gamified classroom.

Glencoe Virtual Labs

VIRTUAL LABS offered by the Glencoe textbook company. These labs give the students the adventure of laboratory experimentation without costly supplies, worrisome environmental and safety issues, or time-consuming clean up. They are from all different areas of science: Biology, Physics, Genetics, Earth Science, Physical Science, and Chemistry.

Go-Lab is a EU-based site that allows science teachers access to online labs and inquiry learning applications. The students receive the opportunity to perform personalized scientific experiments with online labs with access to virtual labs, remote labs and data sets. 
Setting up is a little time consuming, but they have a very well done tutorial.


Gizmos is the only paid service on this list. This service provides hundreds of Science (and Math) simulations, aligned to NGSS and searchable by topic, grade level and/or standard. Gizmos allow for manipulation of variables and include graphing tools that help students compare the results of their experiments, creating opportunities to apply the concepts to a variety of scenarios,

Let's take advantage of our students tech skills and allow them to use simulated tools and experiments. Go ahead and incorporate simulations in your gamified classroom. Your students will thank you for the opportunity to use technology, work in groups using sims as a substitute for real-life experiences and develop the skills needed to excel in the 21-century.