Classroom gamification can be fun and functional when you use games that check these elements off the list.
So, you’ve decided to incorporate game-based learning into your classroom schedule. That’s a great choice, but holy smokes, there’s a lot to choose from out there!
You might be considering computer-based, card, or board games—but how do you know that the game you’ve chosen is both fun AND an effective learning tool?
You’ll know you’re on the right track to gamifying your classroom if your game-based learning program contains the following six elements.
1. The best game-based learning programs don’t try to feed children chocolate-covered broccoli.
Yep, you read that right—no chocolate-covered broccoli, please! This is a concept from the field of instructional game design that refers to duping students into performing an academic task by masking it with a game or other fun experience. It can also mean a game makes the completion of the task (math problems, for example) an obstacle to overcome in order to get to the fun.
The solution here is to use games that highlight the fun in the academic material with game-like interactions and provide authentic, applicable experiences with the content.
“The academic content isn’t something you need to just drag through to get to the fun game,” says Dr. Steve Ritter, Carnegie Learning Founder and Chief Scientist. “It’s all one and the same.”
For example, in this game from MATHia Adventure, kindergarten students practice reading and writing numbers through 5 while helping Zorbit and his friends as they journey through space helping planets in distress.
2. The best game-based learning experiences don’t focus on a “winner.”
When we think of games, we often think of an activity that results in winners and losers—but game-based learning shouldn’t narrow in on the idea of winning and losing.
Think of it this way: Yes, my history-loving teen relishes the days he gets to come out on top in a classwide trivia-type game, but he isn’t really learning anything. It’s just an opportunity to show what he already knows and for the students who aren’t so quick on the buzzer to shrink into the background.
Instead, the best educational games allow all students to feel like they have a chance to succeed. They’ll end up competing against themselves to beat a high score and not other players. This type of competition helps students develop a learning orientation, where they believe that participating in the game or activity will help them learn—a mindset that’s useful outside of the classroom, as well.
3. In the best game-based learning programs, children are given the opportunity to practice problem-solving skills.
“There's a lot of research on the importance of practice,” says Dr. Ritter. “One of the things that people often misunderstand about practice is they think of it as flashcards or rote memorization.”
“But in fact,” he continues, “Practicing problem-solving is equally as important, if not more so, because problem-solving is so complex and involves so many different skills. In many games, students are not only practicing an academic skill, but they’re also problem-solving.”
This clip from MATHia Adventure shows just how problem-solving and academic material can be combined in a fun, gamified way. Watch as a 5th grade student helps renew the ecosystem and reclaim civilization while problem-solving to unpack properties of shapes and expressions to build to volume.
4. Great game-based learning programs contain an element of collaboration.
Another benefit of the best game-based learning programs is that they allow students to collaborate and communicate.
When students join together to problem-solve without worrying about who’s going to win the game, they’ll learn from each other and possibly even discover new perspectives or ways of thinking about the problem they hadn’t previously considered.
This social element of collaboration also allows students to develop the habit of being a good teammate who can work with others to achieve a common goal. Part of the fun of gaming can be being part of a team, which also carries the benefit of allowing students to explore academic concepts in a lower-stakes, safe environment.
5. Game-based learning programs allow teachers to engage in stealth assessment.
Another interesting research-backed feature of game-based learning is stealth assessment.
Well-designed educational games draw data from how a student interacts with the game that can help teachers make decisions about what type of re-engagement, support, or extension should come next.
Often, this assessment data is more authentic than what we can glean from standardized tests or assessments because students are showing what they know in a low-pressure, low-stakes environment.
6. The best game-based learning programs make differentiation a breeze.
Differentiation and acceleration are constantly top of mind for teachers—I know every time I considered a classroom activity, I spent much of my planning making sure it was appropriate for every learning need in my classroom.
The great news about game-based learning is that differentiation and acceleration naturally occur when you’ve found a well-designed educational game.
Many games are inherently differentiated because of levels of gameplay and pacing: Students can progress through concepts or levels at a pace that is appropriate for their own learning, and the best game-based learning platforms will funnel that information to the teacher for data-based instructional decisions.
The immediate feedback of the best-designed learning games also provides a level of differentiation to the activity. The best digital games, like those under the umbrella of MATHia Adventure, have the ability to adapt to the student’s needs and meet them where they’re at.
Find out more about the best game-based learning programs
When you choose a game-based learning program that allows your students to collaborate, think critically, and feel successful—all while allowing you to assess their learning and make data-based instructional decisions—I’m confident that you won’t ever want to turn back!
If you want to learn more about how to incorporate a game-based learning program into your elementary math classroom that checks all the boxes, check out MATHia Adventure, the digital component of ClearMath Elementary.
Before joining Carnegie Learning's marketing team in 2022, Karen spent 16 years teaching mathematics and social studies in Ohio classrooms. She has a passion for inclusive education and believes that all learners can be meaningfully included in academic settings from day one. As a former math and special education teacher, she is excited to provide educators with the latest in best-practices content so that they can set all students on the path to becoming confident "math people."Explore more related to this author
In many games, students are not only practicing an academic skill, but they’re also problem-solving.
Dr. Steve Ritter, Carnegie Learning Founder and Chief Scientist