The Ultimate Guide to Gamifying Your Classroom

No one wants to been seen as the stuffy teacher stuck in the past who lectures from the front of the classroom and doesn’t seem to care about student engagement. Students today are tech savvy and have wandering minds. They are able to process information coming at them from several channels at a time—walking, talking, and texting. Changing up how you deliver classroom content can keep kids’ attention, draw on their strengths, engage them as lifelong learners, and be amazingly fun. What is this magical method? It’s gamification, a word that, according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, wasn’t even in use until 2010.

Gamifying classroom image

What is Gamification in the Classroom?

Gamification is the process by which teachers use video game design principals in learning environments. The effects are increased student engagement, class wide enjoyment of academic lessons, and high levels of buy-in, even from your most reluctant learners.

When gamifying a classroom there are several things you’ll need to consider. The first is content, as in what are you trying to teach? Like any lesson or unit plan, you’ll need to figure out how to organize and assess new material. You’ll also need to consider your students. What kind of learners are they? What information do they already know? You’ll need to have a basic understanding of your students’ technology skills and how much support each student may need. You’ll want to consider putting together a training manual or some other support system for students who may need extra help. You’ll also need to consider your own comfort level with technology and the actual technology available to you. These considerations may lead you to designing your own game, or relying one a template or already built quest.

History of Gaming in the Classroom

Ready for a little throwback? It’s possible that you yourself grew up on some early versions of gamification. Did you place the Oregon Trail game in school? It was an early computer game simulation of the experience of pioneers travelling in covered wagons from Mississippi to Oregon. Users had to make decisions at certain points along the journey, as well as face sudden calamites like Cholera and broken wagon wheels.

Other educational games that lead the way toward brining video game design into the classroom include, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, Reader Rabbit, Math Blaster, Sim City, and Rollercoaster Tycoon.

Components of Gamifying the Classroom

There are several aspects of video-game design that can be incorporated into the gamified classroom. Here are several:

  1. Points: In video games, users gain points as the travel through their quests. The more time they invest in the game the more points they earn. They also earn points for completing certain tasks, playing for a certain time, and gathering certain items. In a gamified classroom, points can take the place of grades. As a student gathers experience and time with a certain concept, they earn points.
  2. Badges: Badges are public recognition of achievement, with each one designed with a specific achievement in mind. Other players can see which badges another person has been awarded. In the classroom, badges mark a student’s completion of a lesson or mastery of material. Badges can be explained beforehand, though some badges can be randomly awarded to keep interest levels high.
  3. Levels: As a game goes on, players progress through levels that get progressively more difficult. In the classroom, levels could be lessons, or even units of study.
  4. Appointments: Thanks to the Internet, people playing a video game in the US can sign in and team up with players all over the world. Video game players can set up certain times to meet up with their friends, or even strangers, to work together to defeat a villain or clear a level. In the classroom, appointments can be made with the teacher or other students and act as check-ins. Students can receive additional assignments or feedback to help them complete their work during their appointments.
  5. Bonuses: Most games have hidden, unexpected rewards. Bonuses help drive player loyalty and keep them playing day in and day out. People get obsessed with earning extra points, finding useful items, or skipping levels. In the classroom, bonuses can also be unexpected rewards. Students can earn bonuses such as a homework free night or a two-day extension on a project.
  6. Infinite play: In many video games, players keep playing until they finish a level. They might lose points, or access to valuable items if they are attacked, but they are still able to keep playing. In classrooms, infinite play is allowing students to keep working on a lesson or skill until they achieve mastery, even if the rest of the class has moved on.

Triumphs and Pitfalls of Gamification

Now that you’ve seen some of the ways video game design can be incorporated into the gamified class, let’s talk pros and cons.

Gamification can increase student engagement. It is one way to bring multimodal learning into the classroom. Many students are not motivated by grades, but are avid gamers, and so are more willing to buy-into gamified lessons. Games require problem-solving and critical thinking based on a meaningful purpose. Players must synthesize many skills and ideas to make informed decisions. And possibly, the single best argument for gamification was made by teacher Alfonso Gonzalez on his blog where he offers insight into his gamification experience—every player starts at zero and builds their score, rising up as they progress, as opposed to traditional grading, where every student starts at an A that gets chipped away at throughout the year.

Gamified classrooms aren’t all sunshine and roses, though. Gamification can be expensive. It requires extensive planning and design. The schools that do it best employ game designers—something that isn’t in the budget for most institutions. In addition, there is additional work for the teacher to keep track of all the different assignments, tasks, progress, points, etc. happening for each student. This article from Edsurge makes some suggestions to help with tracking, but it’s still a lot of extra work. In addition, gamification isn’t useful in every learning situation. It’s not a magic pill that fixes everything; it’s a tool that can be useful, with the right amount of effort and buy-in. Which leads to another possible pitfall—gamification can lead to students only doing things for points or can lead to unnecessary competition, which is extremely stressful for many students.

How to Gamify Your Classroom

The process of actual video game development includes design, programming, graphic design, sound engineering, copy editing, project management, and testing. The process is so involved, it’s unlikely that a teacher would have the time or budget to create their very own digital learning quest. So instead, we’ve come up with some tips to easily add aspects of gamification to your classroom (or, as this NEA Today article calls it, making your classroom “game-inspired.”)

  1. Backwards planning: Any teacher familiar with Understanding By Design has already got a leg up in gamification. To start gamifying your classroom consider the end first. What is the goal? How will you get kids there? What evidence will you collect along the way? Classroom game design includes designing learning activities that lead to the desired outcome, measuring progress, and collecting evidence of learning.
  2. Use what’s available: Classcraft is a free, online educational role-playing game that teachers can personalize for their lessons. It includes progress monitoring and reporting for teachers, making the gamification process much more simple than going out on your own. Other online applications for education are applicable to gamified classrooms, like Duolingo, the language learning game, Goalbook, which helps students with IEPs track their progress toward goals, and Kahoot, a game-based questions and answer platform.
  3. Gamify one aspect: Rather than attempting to create an entire game with quests and hidden bonuses, start small. Gamify grading by turning assignments into experience points. Gamify homework by creating individual quests. Gamify personalized learning by allowing students to work on a skill until they’ve achieved mastery. Use badges to signify achievement. Allow students to create their own badges. Classbadges lets you download premade badges or design class-specific ones.
  4. Establish a marketplace: Allow students to buy, sell, swap, trade with each other and with you. Maybe students can swap a badge for an open-book test, or use points to purchase a homework-free night.
  5. Allow leveling up: If a student has mastered the material in a lesson, offer fun and engaging extension work.
  6. Just dive in: It can be difficult to know when your gamified classroom plan is ready for students, but the best advice is to just try it out. That’s how your students play video games – they power up the machine and just start playing, figuring out many important rules and lessons along the way.

In Short

A gamified classroom has many benefits. Students are required to think critically, problem-solve, consider alternative solutions, and analyze information from multiple sources. Gamification, though, is no easy chore and you may need a lot of support along the way. Our best advice is to smart small, dive in, see what works, and tweak your plans along the way. We’d love to hear about your experiences with gamification in the classroom. What advice would you give to other teachers about how to get started? Comment below or hit us up on Facebook or twitter.

The 10 Skills Modern Teachers Must Have

modern teachers skills

The above image is 8.5×11″ so you can print it out. PDF is available here.

There’s been a lot of talk about 21st century learners, 21st century teachers, and connected classrooms. There’s a daily influx of new technology into your inbox and your classroom feels woefully behind the times even if you’re flipping your 1:1 iPad classroom that’s already online and part of a MOOC. What are modern teachers to do with all this jargon and techno-babble being thrown at them all day long?

Simple. Take a step back. Breathe. And pick out just a small number of things you want to try in your classroom. Whether you’re itching to try a BYOD classroom or simply integrating a HyFlex model, it’s easy to take one digital step at a time, right? No need to try and revolutionize your classroom in one afternoon. That’s a recipe for failure.

In my experience, I’ve seen teachers attempt to integrate 30 iPads into their classroom by handing them out and then trying to figure out which apps are worth using. Integrating something as powerful as the iPad takes months of preparation, professional development, and buy-in by the students. If they just think ‘hey a way for me to play Angry Birds during class!’ then you have a steep hill to climb. So that’s why I’d encourage you, the modern teacher, to tackle each modern method one at a time.

In order to do this, you’ll need skills modern teachers must have. Hence the title of this post. So if you’re ready to take your classroom or digital skills to the next level, read on. In fact, these skills are worth knowing for just about every teacher at any age. So feel free to use it as a sort of checklist for colleagues.

1) Build Your PLN

NetworkingWhether you call it a ‘personal learning network’ or a ‘professional learning network’ is not important. What is important is that you know exactly how to connect with teachers, admins, and students from around the world. This network can answer questions you have about absolutely anything. Before setting off on any digital adventure, make sure your fellow teachers in your district know what you’re up to and then be sure to connect with similar teachers around the world. So update your Twitter stream, start using Google+, and get to know Learnist.

2) Establish Real Relationships

Whether it’s online or offline, the ability to establish real relationships is critical to any modern teacher. So what do I mean by ‘real’ relationship? Simply put: know more about someone than their screen name (if online) or first name (if offline). Spend some time (digital or in-person) with the people you want to get to know a lot better. Go out for a coffee, have a Skype chat, shoot them an email with some questions. If this person is someone that you think you can learn from, spend some extra time actually becoming a trusted friend of theirs. You’ll be glad you did.

3) Understand Where Technology Fits In Education

online 390 x 250As mentioned above, we are simply deluged with new tech toys for education on a daily basis. No exaggeration: the Edudemic email account sees on average 750 emails a week from people wanting coverage or to alert us to some new tech. That’s more than 100 emails a day! Teachers get similar emails from companies, colleagues, and administrators on a daily basis as well. So figure out where technology actually fits in education. That means you need to establish a mental filter that lets you look past the bells and whistles of a new piece of tech and figure out exactly what it does to help you.

If you can’t figure out how a digital tool helps you in under 15 seconds, you don’t need it. Simple as that.

4) Know How To Find Useful Resources

There are plenty of education technology resources out there. Edudemic is just one of them. We don’t bring you every single bit of edtech news to know about. So I’d recommend becoming familiar with RSS readers and social news aggregation tools. For example, you should have a Google Reader account that you carefully curate over time. You should also be trying out Zite, Rockmelt, and perhaps even Digg. While not always education-based, these mobile news readers are indispensable for any modern teacher on the go.

5) Manage Your Online Reputation

online-gossipSometimes called ‘digital literacy’ and sometimes an ‘online reputation,’ modern teachers need to know how to manage how they appear online. I’m not talking about not posting scandalous photos on Facebook. I’m talking about making sure your LinkedIn profile is accurate. Making sure you’re on the right social networks (probably don’t need to use Snapchat or Vine to connect with fellow teachers) and not leaving too many digital footprints in different places. For example, if you’re an early adopter of web tools and apps, be sure to close down your accounts if you stop using the service. Remember Google Buzz? Color? MySpace? It’s probably worth the effort to either close down your accounts or at the very least remove your connections to these networks. For example, you can click on your ‘connections’ tab in Facebook to see where you’ve used Facebook to log into other networks. It’s worth trimming back these connections on a regular basis.

6) Know How To Correctly Blog

There’s no completely correct way to blog. You can blog by uploading snapshots of your classroom onto Tumblr or you can blog by sharing your lesson plans and thoughts on aWordPress site. Heck, you can just upload memorable quotes from your day to a Blogger account.

But there is a wrong way to blog (and modern teachers should know what that is). It’s basically sharing too much information online. I’m not talking about over-sharing thoughts on the lessons you’re working on, flipping your classroom, etc. I’m talking about sharing too much information about people who don’t know what you’re doing. In other words, you should upload information about people only when you have their permission and that they know their info is going up. You should simply never share the personal information of students or just about anyone else. Stuff like that. Modern teachers usually know this but it’s worth a quick reminder. Be careful what you blog as it’s nearly impossible to completely delete. Once you hit publish, it might as well be etched in stone. (fun sidebar: ‘etched’ has the same letters as ‘edtech’)

7) Slow Down

slow signDon’t read just the headlines. Don’t speed through a lesson just because it’s nearly the end of the day. Slow down and catch your breath. If you find yourself finishing one lesson but not having enough time to adequately explain the next, slow down. Spend some time figuring out the best ways to augment your current lesson to make it even better. Ask questions, see if technology could play a role, just have fun and don’t feel rushed. This skill is not to be able to ‘drag out’ a lesson but instead to let it breathe enough to the point where students have spent enough time on it to make a lasting impression. Big difference and knowing what that difference looks like is key.

8) Make Social Media Work For You

Figuring out the best social network to use is tough. There is a lot of trial and error. But here’s the thing: you need to simply figure out the best way to make social media work for you. By that I mean you need to curate the list of people you follow on Twitter, manage your friends on Facebook, and follow the most appropriate boards on Learnist and Pinterest. If you don’t periodically trim down and monitor who you’re connecting with on social networks, you’ll face a tough decision of choosing to give it all up or simply use it less. Easier to just regularly manage your contacts and make sure they’re providing useful information and resources.

9) Don’t Be Afraid Of Failing

Twitter Fail WhaleLike I said in #3, you need to know when technology is right for you. 99% of the time, you don’t need the newest gadget or web tool. But let’s say there’s a great resource that you want to try. This is the time when you need to not be afraid to fail. You need to not be afraid that your students, colleagues, or administrators are going to find fault with what you’re doing. Just believe in yourself and know that you simply can’t go wrong with just trying it out. So don’t be afraid. Jump into trying out new technology with both feet and don’t look back. But if that new technology doesn’t work as you want or at all … don’t be afraid of cutting your losses and moving on.

So to sum it up: half of trial and error is error. You might as well try!

10) Know When To Disconnect

Finally, this may be the most important part of being a modern or connected teacher. You have to know when to disconnect. You need to know when to say that your Twitter stream is feeling a bit too overwhelming and that you need to spend more time managing other aspects of your life. Whether you move onto lesson planning or just kicking back and watching a movie, variety is the spice of life. It’s also critical to not becoming a modern teacher that is completely burned out by this time next year.

7 Online Quiz Tools Perfect For Classrooms

Whether you want to have students turn in homework via an online form or simply take a quiz or test, online quiz tools are critical to having a connected classroom. Most tools are free, all are robust, and they’re quite easy to use. What could be better than that? You can use any of these below tools to get feedback from parents, students, colleagues, and more.

Below is simply an introduction to each tool in case you aren’t familiar with it so be sure to dive into any that interest you and give them a try in the classroom!



A free and popular online quiz tool, Quizlet lets you easily build – you guessed it – quizzes. By far one of the most robust tools on this list, Quizlet is the simplest to use and has great features like flashcards and the ability to view quizzes made by other users. My personal favorite is the interactive word games available for free (no registration required either!) like this one where you have to match terms with their definitions.



You’re going to love the mascot of Yacapaca. But there’s more to it than that. It is a curriculum and standards-based set of quizzes you can build that let you enhance understanding with ease. You can create entire courses and assign homework, too. Teachers create a free account and then sign up their students. Students then click the ‘I’m A Student’ button and have to log in to view the quizzes built just for them. Great for monitoring progress!



Similar to Yacapaca, Quia has a dedicated student sign-on that’s managed by teachers. I love this feature and think more sites should have the ability to assign homework or tasks to students in this manner. But I digress. Quia is a powerful set of tools that are created by you and others around the world. You can then search the entire repository for the best lesson plan, quiz, or activities. There’s a boatload of useful information housed in Quia so give it a look!

Google Forms


You can’t do a post on the best online quiz tools without mentioning Google Docs / Drive / Forms(or whatever it’s called these days). Google Forms lets you easily build surveys and questionnaires without having to know any coding or spend much time worrying about the minutiae that comes with many other tools. It just works. It may not be the most elegant setup (it exports to Google Docs Spreadsheet format) but it works. Always worth trying if you don’t feel like testing out a new tool just yet.



Here’s one to watch. ProProfs lets you create quizzes (obviously, hence the topic of this post) but it automatically grades the quizzes! Neat, eh? You can get a branded version for a bit extra but I’ve found the free version to be just fine. Great for brick-and-mortar classrooms as well as online schools and online learning.

Quiz ME Online


A powerful tool that has a bit of a learning curve, Quiz Me Online lets you easily create quizzes using the simple forms you’re used to. Some key features are the ability to make quizzes private, public, available to just a particular group, or just a class. You can make flashcards like on Quizlet, set up a timer for each quiz, find study buddies or groups, and make study guides. All great tools for students to use out of the classroom!



QuizStar is a popular and powerful tool worth knowing about. With QuizStar you can manage classes and quizzes, attach multimedia files to questions, make quizzes in multiple languages, access from any Internet-connected computer, allow students to complete and review, and more.

10 Creative Ways to Use Your iPad in the Classroom

If you’ve had an iPad (or several) in your classroom for any extended period of time, you’re probably familiar with the many practical ways this technology can be used as a central hub for learning. You know all about storing materials in iCloud, and collaborating via Google Drive. You know about the main apps you’ll need to run a classroom, as well as the best apps for World History, English and Math.

But these applications are just the very beginning. You can hack your iPad into any number of instruments, or use its current apps and capabilities in unexpected ways to encourage learning. Here are our top 10 favorite creative uses for iPads in the classroom.

 1. Turn Your iPad Microscope

Sure, you could buy a simple magnifying attachment for your iPad at any toy store, but why not go a step further and build your own microscope? This hack from Instructables is meant for an iPhone but is easily adapted for an iPad, and it only requires about $10 worth of materials.

The hack itself would make for an excellent group project, but that’s just the beginning of what you can do. Of course, any kind of scientific exploration or experiments you would normally do with a microscope can be done here, except now you can take photos and video of the action. As described in the Instructables video, students will be amazed to witness plasmolysis in red onion epithelial cells with time lapse photography. Or, take your iPad microscope out into the field for real-time magnification in the elements.

The fun doesn’t stop here. Students can then take magnified photos and turn them into photo projects, drop them into presentations or books, or even animate them for a creative story. The possibilities are really endless.

 2. Create Your Own Google Map Treasure Hunt

Field trips are even more fun when every step that brings you there is part of a treasure hunt. Orient students to the area by creating pins on a Google Map, whether they pertain to the local history or interesting aspects of the local geology. Then designate clues or objects for each point you’ll be visiting, send students the map so they can pull it up on their own iPads, and then give them time to hunt when you come to a marker. If your treasure hunt will stay near to your school (and its Wi-Fi), have students communicate with each other over Skype like they’re on walkie talkies.

3. Video Conference With a Sister School

Take pen pal projects up to the next level by having your pals or the whole class video conference with a sister classroom halfway across the world. Relationships will be so much more meaningful when students talk face to face. You can even do group projects together on air, brainstorm great ideas, and celebrate your respective holidays together. You can even archive the sessions via Hangouts on Air to YouTube for parents to see. While this can be completed on the class computer, student iPads make one-on-one hangouts a much more feasible possibility.

4. Control Your Very Own Drone

If your school has a robotic program or Maker extracurricular club, it’s likely that students are already getting their hands dirty in constructing their own drones. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from there into controlling that drone with an iPad with this amazing hack:

5. Augment Reality

“What’d you do at school today, honey?” “Nothing, just augmented reality or whatever.”

With iPad apps like Layar and Aurasma, this conversation will soon become the norm. Augmented reality apps are fantastic for demonstrative purposes, and they’re great for studying as well. Want to help students learn European geography? Have them scan a blank map with their iPad camera for a sneak peak at the answers. Add as many rich layers as you want and create a unique experience that blends the digital and the physical world to drive the lesson home.

6. Encourage All Forms of Digital Storytelling

You already know that the iPad is a fantastic tool for customizing the learning experience; this is especially true when it comes to teaching digital storytelling. Have a student who learns best just by listening? Encourage them to make an audio diary of a big life experience or interview family and friends and turn it into a podcast. Taking the kids on a field trip to the museum? Have your visual learners record via photo and video, your more verbal students take notes on the notepad or in Stickies, and your audio students record everything they hear. In this way, you can use student iPads to customize the learning experience.

However, it is also important to encourage students to explore all modalities to expand their storytelling horizons across their senses. Who knows where they’ll find inspiration?

7. Create Your Own Teleprompter

All of those creative performances may be exciting, but they’ll go even smoother when students have a little prompting here and there. The Telemprompter Pro Lite app, which turns your iPad into a teleprompter, may be a simple concept, but it will sharpen your students’ reading skills in the moment, and reduce the amount of editing your students will need to do once filming or podcasting has wrapped.

8. Turn Students into Teachers With Screencasting

There is a distinct period during the learning process when a student understands a concept, but may not have it deeply embedded, making them apt to forget important pieces within the hour. Having students teach other students what they know is a great way to help them form deeper connections — essentially, by having them apply that knowledge in real time. Screencasting is a great way to do this, and it comes with the added benefit of being recordable so you can add your student’s video to the class YouTube channel. Kathy Schrock has a complete listing of iPad screencasting apps here.

Alternatively, you can also use screencasting for show and tell or to let a struggling student tell the class all about his or her favorite hobby. Done the right way, screencasting teaching can be a great confidence booster, teaching storytelling and presentation skills along the way.

9. Make 3D Models

With apps like 123D Catch, students can capture everyday objects using their iPad camera and turn them into 3D models. If your school has invested in a 3D printer or has a relationship with a Maker studio, these models can then be printed out. Whether students use this to create their own toys, take a model presentation up to the next level, or miniaturize their own classroom, an app like this will encourage imaginations to run wild.

10. Sketch Over Live Video

You know what would make that iPad microscope even cooler? If you could animate the screenwhile you recorded video of those cells in action. With Stage Interactive Whiteboard and Document Camera you can do just that. Point out essential features on live video, add helpful notes, or simply draw a dancing stick man to lighten the mood.

We Want To Hear From You

iPads are so much more than what they first seem when you first pull them out of the box. Let us know your most creative iPad hacks in the comments below or via Twitter @Edudemic!

The Top 5 Blended And Flipped Classroom Tools

5 Great Tools For Blended and/or Flipped Classrooms


  1. Edmodo

Edmodo is a learning management tool (LMS). It is very simple to set up and use. Edmodo features a Facebook-like interface that is clean and appealing to students. Students and teachers can reach out to one another and connect by sharing ideas, problems and tips. A teacher can assign and grade work. Students can get help either from the entire class or make up small study-groups. You can also connect with the Google-drive. Edmodo is free for individual teachers.

  1. Schoology

Schoology is also free for individual teachers. It too uses a Facebook-like interface and is as appealing as Edmodo. It provides all the features necessary for an effective learning environment. This special mention is on account of the discussion features and the advanced assessment-tools.

  1.  Screencast-O-Matic

Screencast-O-Matic is a free one-click screen recording web app for Windows and Mac. It’s extremely easy to use, and you don’t even need to sign up for an account. When ready, you can upload your recording straight forward to YouTube. You can create videos of up to fifteen minutes. You don’t need to download and install the executable file on your school computers.

  1. VoiceThread

This is a very popular online tool to create and upload audio files. VoiceThread allows you to upload images (from your digital camera, scanner, or even paint program). You can also upload PowerPoint slides. Then students can record or write their own comments and/or narration about the images/slides. It’s a great tool to submit audio reports, assignments and audio feedback.

  1. Evernote

Evernote allows you to take notes and organize the material. It allows you to take notes in many formats, including voice and handwriting. You can sync notes on the web and across all your mobile devices. It is possible to share your work with other teachers and the class, and select them to edit your work. Evernote is free to use.

This was a list of the five best blending and flipping tools. Although I am exceeding the limit of five, but Wikispaces Classroom  Wikispaces Classroom deserve a special mention. Wikispaces tools can keep a track of everything. It allows students to collaborate on large projects, while teachers can assess them in real time.

How many of these tools do you use? What other tools do you use? We’d love to hear your views in the comments.