Category Archives: Gamification

Camp Wonderopolis


Many of you may be familiar with Wonderopolis, a fun site to learn about all kinds of topics that may have piqued your curiosity at one time or another – and even topics that you didn’t know might cause you to wonder.  This summer, the site is offering another free, online camp.  It looks a bit different than last year’s camp, as this year’s description suggests that you will be able to follow your own path of wonder, and there will be photo and video contests in addition to hands-on activity suggestions.  For more about Camp Wonderopolis, click here.


Go Noodle

It’s time for state-wide testing in my neck of the woods.  Even though we are not allowed to have computers on during the test, you might want to consider using GoNoodle after the test, particularly for students who have been sitting for awhile. They also recently added a feature called, “Flow,” which helps with stress.

I mentioned GoNoodle a while back in a post I did on “Physical Ways to Survive the Week Before Winter Break.”  Shortly afterward, I started meeting with my new Kinder GT students twice a week.  On Fridays, they miss Kinder Cafe (when the students go to the gym once a week to dance to different songs) to come to my class.  Last year, the students didn’t seem to mind.  But, this year I nearly had a mutiny on my hands. Even though, they only meet with me for an hour on Fridays, and we barely sit down the entire time, it was clear they needed a “Brain Break.” So, I thought I would give GoNoodle a try.

GoNoodle is free.  You can register your class (no individual student names necessary) and then get started.  It’s a fun way to gamify being physical for your entire class.  I usually choose a student randomly with Class Dojo to pick that day’s GoNoodle activity. (“Let it Go” and “Everything is Awesome” are huge favorites.) There are lots of videos to choose from – some including more physical activity than others.  Go Noodle keeps track of the time spent on the video, and gives the class points toward the next level.

The students enjoy the goofy looking characters and the silly pieces of trivia they offer.  But, of course, they enjoy the music and dancing the best.  Admittedly, not a lot of dancing goes on with “Let it Go.”  It’s actually more of a sing-along with dramatic magical gestures 🙂

If you are wondering about the appeal to older students, you might want to check out this post from @TechNinjaTodd about the way he uses GoNoodle with 5th graders.

Note: If you are in a district that blocks YouTube, you may have some trouble accessing some of the videos. Our district allows us to log-in, but the first time I tried to go directly “Be Happy” through GoNoodle without logging in, I had a group of very disappointed Kinders!

a selection of the GoNoodle Brain Breaks
a selection of the GoNoodle Brain Breaks

The Villains on Our Most UNwanted List

See below for the link for the full set of Genius Hour villains.
See below for the link for the full set of Genius Hour villains.

Last summer, I was playing around with ways to spice up my Genius Hour time, and decided to add some of the elements of gamification to the mix.  One of these was to create Challenge Cards.  At the beginning of each Genius Hour, students have the option to choose a Challenge Card.  The higher the level of the card, the more difficult the challenge is.  If they complete the challenge successfully, the students earn that number of points in Class Dojo (we use the points to Level Up and earn privileges) – but if they don’t complete the challenge, they will lose the points.  It’s been wildly successful with my 5th graders, and my 3rd and 4th graders are just about to join in on the fun.

One other gamification element I invented last summer happened to be a flyer that listed “Genius Hour Villains.” I mean, think about it – what good is a game without any villains to fight?  So, I thought about some of the obstacles my students had faced in the past during Genius Hour, and tried to personify them.  And that was when the “Genius Hour Villains” flyer was born.

I ran the Villains by my 5th graders when they started Genius Hour last Fall.  They have been referring to them ever since – particularly “Decoy Boy.”  When we reflect on Genius Hour, he seems to be the biggest culprit when it comes to the students making progress on their projects.  However, just the fact that they can identify the problem has reduced its occurrence quite a bit, compared to the students who worked on Genius Hour last year with me.

4th grade just started their Genius Hour time last week. I brought out the flyer, and went over all of the “characters” they should avoid during their research time.  They thought the characters were hysterical.  Maybe it was a coincidence, but this was the smoothest “First” Genius Hour I ever experienced.

The kids embraced the villains so much, I thought that maybe a little flyer wasn’t enough.  So, I went home this weekend and worked on a set of posters.  I wanted to make “Wanted” posters, but then I realized that these guys are actually what we don’t want in the classroom.  So, these are my (Not) Wanted posters.

The posters are now available on Teachers Pay Teachers for $2.

For more Genius Hour Resources, check out my page here.  There are more free downloadables, including the Genius Hour Challenges on that page.  Or, if you don’t feel like spending the time visiting each link, you can also purchase a set of all of my current Genius Hour downloadables for $5 on TPT.

Level Up!


After seeing Jane McGonigal up close and personal with thousands of other people at ISTE this summer, I was more inspired than ever to integrate some gaming elements into my classroom.

I lamely attempted last year to implement a “Level Up” system with my 5th graders, where we would use Class Dojo points, and they would earn badges for certain things, and certain numbers of points in particular categories would give them new privileges.  It was one of those ideas that sounded so-o good in my head…

It flopped.  Not because the kids weren’t motivated – but mostly because I made the system far too complex to track.

So, I’m trying again this year, and I have simplified it immensely (though I am now adding my 3rd and 4th grade GT classes to the mix).

The picture shows a chart I created on a part of my magnetic dry-erase board that I never use because of the interactive board.  This is a “faux” chart since I haven’t started classes yet.  I want the students to have some input on the jobs and privileges at each level.  I brainstormed some of my own for now.  I bought a bunch of sticky magnets at the craft store so everything can be moved around.  I also purchased some printable magnet sheets that I will be using to print out the kids’ Class Dojo avatars (I made some paper examples for the purposes of this post).  I used Scotch Expressions removable tape to make the table borders.

The students will be helping me to decide how many points are necessary to achieve each level.  Part of their Genius Hour time will include “challenge cards” that will enable them to earn more points (or lose them).  They also earn points in class for displaying the 7 Habits, saying or doing something that makes me go, “Wow!”, or doing optional homework assignments.

And just to add a tad of technology to the mix, I am going to have the kids help me add some “heARt” to the jobs and privileges by using Aurasma to explain each one.  Then, when someone gets the job of “Class Photographer,” all he or she has to do is scan the sign to see and hear the job description.

Seems simple, right?

I hope I’m not writing another post a year from now bewailing everything I did wrong…

Here are some more gamification resources if you are interested: (sign up for their beta if you want to go all out!), Class Realm, Education Levels Up!  (kind of what I was trying to do last year – but I was way over my head) or my very measly 7-pin Pinterest board for Gamification of the Classroom.

The "Genius Bar" privilege is explained more here.
The “Genius Bar” privilege is explained more here.

Trends in Education for the 2013-2014 School Year

Augmented Reality in Education Flipboard Magazine
Augmented Reality in Education Flipboard Magazine

I know it’s an odd hobby, but I spend a lot of time reading blogs, tweets, Flipboard magazines, etc… about education.  During the summer months, I’ve noticed some common themes in articles, and I thought I would share them with you here, along with a few resources for each.  These are all topics I think you will be hearing a lot more about during the next 12 months.

  • Genius Hour – You might see it called 20% Time or Passion Time, or something else, but the concept is basically to give time to your students to pursue topics that interest them.  You can read about my own plans for this in the upcoming year here.  I also have an entire page dedicated to Genius Hour Resources.  Also, check out the Genius Hour Wiki and Joy Kirr’s Live Binder with many other resources.
  • Online Learning – MOOCS (Massive Online Open Courses) are being discussed all over the web.   While I disapprove of educating the masses in this way, I did see a powerful example of the benefits of online learning this summer when our district piloted a program for the elementary gifted students in which they could sign up for one online course to take (for free) over the summer.  The students got to take classes in subjects that interested them with teachers who were passionate about the topics.  They met students from all over the district through the courses, and pursued their own interests.  I think it’s important to maintain the personal aspect in online courses and to never forget that it is the connection that is created between teachers and students that has the potential to make the most impact.  Human to human interaction is essential.  Using tools like Edmodo and Moodle can make this possible.
  • Gamification – I posted about this earlier this summer after watching Jane McGonigal’s keynote at ISTE 2013.  I plan to use the ideas of challenges, quests, and leveling up in my class this year.  One example of this would be the Genius Hour Challenge Cards that I created.  I also like to use Class Dojo to help me with this.  Edmodo offers badges that are great to award to kids, and allows you to add your own.  Class Badges is another site that you might want to utilize.  Here is a great article on gamification for newbies, “Education Levels Up!”
  • Online Portfolios – The most prevalent example of this at the moment seems to be blogs.  Students as well as teachers are blogging and “publishing” class work examples.  Some other ways that this can be done are through Educlipper and Edcanvas (both have partnerships with Edmodo, too).  I saw great examples of Edcanvas being used by a teacher during her online photography course this summer.  Another option, though not nearly as robust as those two, is the Artkive app.

So, those are, in my estimation, the hot topics in Education right now – the ones you can harness to “Engage Their Minds.” Some other up and coming trends: innovative classroom design, maker studios (including 3d printers), and giving teachers million dollar bonuses for every five years they teach.

Okay, maybe not the last one.  Just checking to see if you made it to the end of this article 😉



If you are interested in integrating some computer programming into your curriculum, you may want to take a look at Tynker.  Earlier this year, I mentioned Tynker in a post about programming for kids, but I hadn’t had the chance to try it.  It looked promising, so I decided to offer it as a free class for students to take online this summer.

You may have read yesterday’s post about Gamestar Mechanic, another site that teaches programming to kids.  Tynker is similar to Gamestar Mechanic in that it offers a free version and a premium version.  However, Tynker’s free version has a lot of features – including the ability to add classes and projects.  It includes a basic curriculum for elementary and middle school that already has lesson plans with projects.  Or, as a teacher, you can create your own.  Another thing that I like about Tynker is that my students were able to use their Google I.D.’s to register, and did not need e-mail addresses.

Tynker is similar to Scratch.  In fact, you can import lessons and projects from Scratch.  I, however, am a beginner.  So, I stuck with Tynker’s package of lessons, and studiously watched the provided videos before I assigned each week’s lesson.  (Tynker allows you to choose “Student View” so you can see what the students will see when they get each lesson.)

It is web-based, but the site states that there will be a mobile version available in the future.

When students complete a project, they can submit it, and you can approve it or send it back.  You can quickly see, by glancing at each lesson in the “Grading” tab, who has submitted and completed each project.  The students can send you messages through Tynker if they have questions or comments.  There is also a Class Showcase area where you can approve exemplary projects to be shared with everyone in the class.  This is all FREE!

There were a couple of glitches in the Tynker lessons.  For example the “Driving Lesson” appeared to already have the code done in it before the students even had a chance to do the project.  At one point, I got locked out of assigning lessons with the note that they were now “Premium”, but Tynker’s excellent Customer Service quickly fixed that.

I spoke to a Tynker rep at ISTE, and he mentioned that they will soon be offering “puzzles” where the students will have to rearrange the code to achieve certain goals.  I look forward to that, and hope it will also be in the free version.

I definitely plan to use Tynker again – probably as a “Level Up” motivator in my Genius Hour.  Now that I am more familiar with it, I might create some of my own projects and lessons to “jazz” things up a bit.

Gamestar Mechanic

Gamestar Mechanic

In some of my posts about Genius Hour, I’ve mentioned Gamestar Mechanic.  “Gamestar Mechanic includes a self-paced learning experience that uses game-based “Quests” to help youth learn how to design games while they build critical 21st century skills.”

Gamestar Mechanic, by far, was one of the most popular projects my 5th graders pursued during Genius Hour last year.  A couple of my students had mentioned an interest in learning how to design video games, so I showed them the site.  When the other kids saw what they were doing, practically everyone clamored to register for it, too.

Even though I am a huge advocate of teaching programming to kids, I know practically nothing about it.  I am slowly teaching myself, but I left it up to the students to figure out Gamestar Mechanic.  Of course, I “vetted” it by researching it thoroughly beforehand to make sure it is appropriate for them.  Several reputable articles and blog recommended it, and I even found this curriculum from the Institute of Play, so I felt comfortable letting them explore.

Of course, it’s very uncomfortable to have your students working on something about which you have very little knowledge – but that is one of the feelings you must swallow and accept when you do Genius Hour.  It’s inevitable you will have students who want to learn about something that doesn’t fall into your area of expertise.  The great thing about this is that you can’t help them very much, and they know it, so they learn to problem solve and collaborate.  It may go “against the grain” for many of us who teach, but admitting we don’t know something can actually be the best thing to happen to our students.

Gamestar Mechanic has a free account available for anyone who would like to register.  There are also Education accounts that give the teacher the ability to track, assign projects, and otherwise customize the student experience.  The Education account does cost (last check, it was $2/student).  It is also available as an Edmodo app.   I have not tried the Education account, but I am considering it for this year.  I am thinking of including it as one of the benefits of “Leveling Up” in my classroom.

By the way, I insisted that anyone who chose to do Gamestar Mechanic during Genius Hour time had to teach the class something new about it when they were ready to present.  Interestingly, we all learned each time there was a presentation, and the students were regularly asking, “How did you do that?”, eager to try it themselves.  And, my greatest fear – that they would end up playing video games for the entire period for the rest of the year – was thankfully never realized!  They quenched their curiosity in one area, and went on to learn other things.