Tim Saunders and Amanda Pratt are on a mission to gamify classrooms. They are the co-founders of the Coalition for Gameful Learning, a growing community that encourages teachers to implement elements of games and play for a more engaging and effective educational experience.
Tim Saunders is a 4th grade elementary teacher in East Grand Rapids Michigan. Amanda Pratt is an instructional coach at North Carolina New Schools. They met as classmates at the University of Michigan-Flint, where both earned their M.A. in Educational Technology. They were research and writing partners who have continued their learning through conferences, collaboration and networking.One of their projects is the Coalition for Gameful Learning. They are in the small stages now, but would like to eventually develop an international community of educators who use games for learning. This community will network, share action research, and provide peer training in a way similar to the National Writing Project.
Expertise in Good Teaching
Amanda – “I think that when you have expertise in technology, what you really have is expertise in good teaching and being able to engage students in a meaningful way. It is important to find how we are using tools to make learning more meaningful. I started wanting my classroom to be a fun and interesting place for my students. Now, I try to inspire others to find what’s meaningful and important to them and how they can convey this to their students.”Tim – “It’s not the technology that drives the engagement, it’s a tool for the engagement and it’s not a replacement for it. Success that I have had and others have had come from creating engaging situations that also have technology as a tool. The number one thing is that the students are face to face talking with one another and technology just happens to facilitate that. We use technology sparingly and as efficiently as possible.”
Amanda – ”Classroom talk, teamwork between students, teaching collaborative skills, design process, smaller strategies for students to develop conversation, giving students a lot of choices within the structure of the game, using feedback from students to create or alter games, creating narratives within the game such as kingdom quest games, and developing empathy.”Tim – ”People, technology, networking, students and being responsive to their input, administrators, using board games like ‘Would You Rather?’ and implement that into children games, relying on others around you to make things better, and being able to customize objects or beings that exist and modifying those to the classroom.”
How do you keep learning?
Amanda – “Surround yourself with people who value continuous learning and make an effort to put yourself in situations that will make that happen. Sometimes we can get in a rut with our daily jobs so it’s important to have experiences that are exciting, and for me those are conferences. Good conferences where you can hear something inspiring that you may have never considered before, such as the iiE Gathering, The Technology Conference, and The Games Learning Society Conference in Madison.”Tim – “Conferences are very inspiring and learning just doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Twitter has a lot of good articles. Amanda and I have a standing appointment on Tuesday nights at 9. We plan on what we are going to do next, trade notes, and decide on conferences we want to attend. Networking is really the key in learning new ideas that can be brought back to the classroom.”
Rolling with the Changes
Amanda – “It is sometimes hard to convince people of the value gameful or playful learning because people want to do things the way that they have always done them. The biggest challenge I have now is getting people to push the envelope, encouraging others to take some risks in a playful way and really proving the benefits of that. I would love to work with teachers in this way through professional development.”Tim – “The changing of curriculum within the school has been very challenging. In order for the child to have grade success they have to be fluent in the language of the curriculum. I have had to rebuild on the fly in order to meet these testing standards. Outside factors that you can’t control can affect gameful learning. I want my students to feel success and if they are mandated to take a district-wide assessment at the end of every unit, I just have to be more creative to find some ways to implement more gameful things in there.”
Gaming for Life Skills
Tim – “Developing life skills through gameful learning is at least half of what we are doing. The kids have to take the information and mediate together. They have to compromise on who is doing what at what time or take the time to share things out. We debrief at the end of every game. When the game is done it is so important to sit and talk about what happened. What did you learn by playing the game? What type of personal skills did you use that helped you succeed in the game more? Sometimes the kids have a hard time managing that, but we work in order to pull things together. Amanda and I have found elements of games from Sebastian Deterding who talked about three design elements of good games. They are mastery of the game, meaning of the game, and autonomy. I think that these three elements have been really good to keep in mind when developing games in the classroom.”Amanda – “One big thing we hear with games is failure and learning how to make failure productive, to fail safely, how to failure forward. We hear so much about how students need to learn how to persevere. I don’t think that traditional school sets the students up for that. Students are given a low grade on a test and then they move on to the next thing when they clearly did not know the material presented. So when you set things up as a game that allows them to go through different cycles of failure it gives them a chance to learn from failure. They are practicing metacognition, self reflection, assessing things they understand or don’t understand, and then be able to change something in order to master that level or game. This can be very empowering for the student and allows them to be successful in a way that is very meaningful to them. It is real success and they can feel it and experience it. Playing the games can develop interpersonal skills causing students to act out characters, collaborate, and communicate with one another.”
Getting Students to Respond
Amanda – “Formative assessment I find to be very powerful and really important. That can look different ways. One way is that at the end of the quest or level the student gets feedback about that before they can progress forward. Another way I often structured it was with some sort of closing activity whether it is a written exit ticket, turn and talk to a neighbor, or draw me a picture and show me this. Those were focused on certain content skills that I felt the students need to know. This would give me an idea of where they were, so if there was something that needed addressed I could structure that into the design of the game moving forward.”Tim – “It depends on what we are doing and there isn’t one catch all aspect that is most effective. Maybe I can use what Amanda said in failing forward. The way that we know it best is failing fast where you make a mistake, learn from it and try again. If the students start at level one and are given a password to move on to the next level they know that they have to master that level in order to progress. I also am getting them to master other skills within that level. I will also ask them questions orally. This gives me the opportunity to see what they know and can catch insufficiencies if I suspect them.”Click here to learn more about Tim and Amanda’s vision for gameful learning.