I’ve been looking into gamification and how it can help motivate students to have fun and learn Science. I would love to make certain lessons, projects, or activities look like a game to motivate students to learn boring things like vocabulary. I’d like to do that without points, badges or too many rewards. I’ve abolished grades in my classroom to remove an extrinsic motivator, which can hinder learning. I’ve gone on record as challenging the awards we give students as a way to honor them especially if the extrinsic awards become the focus instead of the behaviors we value in kids. I even watch for how much praise and the types of praise I give my students.
I try different ways of reaching my students because I want them to learn Science and to love learning and to see themselves as life long learners. I also value effort and hard work so I also want to help foster a growth mindset in my students so they see hard work as the road to success and not some “god given” talent or skill set they may or may not have.
Honestly, I expected much more when I abolished grades. I’ve wondered if my going gradeless didn’t have the impact I expected because my class is the only gradeless class in the whole middle school. Maybe. What I expected was kids being motivated to learn and do Science, to follow their questions and to explore different things. What I got was a lot of the same. I still have kids who are unmotivated to learn and work no matter how much technology I have, no matter how much choice and autonomy I give, and no matter how okay I make it to fail. They will not get an F if they learn and still I have kids who do the bare minimum to barely anything. I remain true to my word because giving them an F or an Unsatisfactory will do me nor them any good. I also have kids doing the bare minimum even though there is no A to attain and that bugs me just as much.
What I also see is a majority if not all of my students getting highly motivated by playing games. That is why I’m looking into gamification. But the more I look into gamification the more I wonder whether I should use points, badges or other extrinsic motivators to get them to “level up.” As a teacher I want my students to develop intrinsic motivation to do things they need to do. I’ve never been one to offer candy, tickets, or other extrinsic motivators for kids doing what they should be doing. But here’s what I’ve been wondering. When are extrinsic motivators okay to use? All my life I’ve had very little if any intrinsic motivation to work out. Because of it I’m overweight, in bad shape, and not as healthy as I could be. I know exercise is good for me. I know many reasons why I should be exercising. Yet the only times in my life when I exercised well and regularly were when I was extrinsically motivated. This is a chicken or egg dilemma. Did lose my intrinsic motivation to exercise because I was extrinsically motivated or did I respond to the extrinsic motivations because I lacked it intrinsically? In the end does it matter? No because I still need extrinsic motivation to work out.
So what about my students who either don’t like Science or don’t like to do certain things I ask of them? I don’t give out candy or lotto tickets (something our school does) and I don’t want to start. I also don’t give points or grades to motivate and I don’t want to go back. But should I employ some kind of extrinsic motivators if I gamify a lesson or a unit or a project? For things that kids just aren’t intrinsically motivated to do and may never be what extrinsic motivators are useful? Besides badges I was considering using levels such as the energy transformation level for kids who show evidence that they understand energy transfers. One level may not be necessarily higher or lower than another. For example, the forces level, for those who show evidence of understanding forces isn’t higher or lower than the energy transformation level.
I don’t know about using points to level up. Like John Spencer I’ve seen the pitfalls of rewards so I don’t want to overdo it but I feel like I have to do more to motivate my students. All my students. Making learning fun would be great too. I’d love to see what others think of this because I’ve read a lot bloggers writing about doing away with extrinsic motivators. Is it all or nothing? Is there a balance?