Doing What We Do

It is believed that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions every day. There is even research that suggests that decision fatigue plagues many professionals. Not all of our choices are cognitively difficult (Do I feed the dog first, or eat my breakfast first?) but those decisions add up over time. We also have motivations playing into our decisions, and each of ours are different. We have different experiences, plans, or desired outcomes.

I do not think decisions we make regarding teaching should ever be taken lightly. I have made some off-the-cuff choices about teaching or planning in the past. They usually blew up in my face. Because of that, I think I am hyper-aware of each decision I make when it comes to my class.

I’m thinking about decisions this morning because of a comment I heard from another teacher during a group discussion:

I think we should gamify this so kids are hooked in. They’ll do the work if there is a gaming aspect.

I started shifting in my seat because that statement made me so uncomfortable. It is not because I am against gamification…there is research that shows students can benefit from a gaming component in a class. Unfortunately, many people forget that there has to be “implemented according to a solid educational model, grounded in research,” and not just used as a gimmick.


photo credit: artnoose via photo pin cc

Khan Academy uses a point-and-badge system (game) for tracking students through the videos. Unfortunately, teachers are using this as their grading system. There is no connection to the context of the course. The points and badges do not inform the teacher of what the student can or cannot do. In fact, there were articles posted on how to gain points in the system without doing the work. These loopholes have since been closed, but the treatment of the symptom does nothing to fight the root issue: gaming as a gimmick will not help students.

Gaming is done well across the country. Paul Andersen is a biology teacher in Bozeman, Montana. He has developed a fantastic gaming system in his AP Biology course that is rooted in sound education practice and provides context for the content. In other words, the gamification in his class is not a gimmick to get kids to “do the work.” You can learn more about Paul from his TEDxBozeman talk.

So, what’s the point? We need to so what’s best for our students. Don’t make decisions about teaching lightly…gimmicks will not help you improve. Kids are resourceful and insightful. They can see when we try something simply to gimmick them into doing the work. I wish I had spoken up during the discussion so we could talk about why we might or might not want a gaming component. If you’re interested in learning more about gaming your class, this list of articles from Heather Scott might help.

If you’re working on gaming your class to enhance the learning, I’d love to hear how you’re doing that in the comments.


If you enjoy reading my blog, please take a moment to subscribe to new posts via email in the box on the right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.