Category Archives: Gamification

Genius Hour Challenges


Since I have decided to gamify Genius Hour, I thought that it would spice things up to give the students surprise challenges.  I haven’t designed the cards, yet, because I am hoping that some of you can give me more ideas.  Please go to this link  to add some ideas to my Padlet wall, tweet me @terrieichholz, or add your suggestions in the comments for this post.

The idea is that students will choose cards knowing their level of difficulty, but not the challenge.  Level 1 and Level 2 cards will be challenges that could be accomplished during the hour.  Levels 3, 4, and 5 are challenges that can be accomplished during the length of one Genius Hour project.  Students who choose Level 1 and Level 2 cards must choose one each Genius Hour.  Higher level challenges can be done at the students’ discretion.

This is what I have so far:

Level 1:

work with someone new for this hour

use no computer/mobile technology during this hour

no speaking during this hour

use a non-dominant hand for the entire hour

Level 2:

use 2 completely different resources than you have been using so far

use this hour to write a blog post about your project

go to Wonderopolis, and find a way to make the Wonder of the Day connect to your project

Level 3:

interview at least one person for your project

include a timeline with at least four major events in your project

Level 4:

include a game in which the audience can participate in your final presentation

include a self-created video of at least one minute long in your final presentation

create a poster advertising your presentation

Level 5:

switch projects with someone else (my daughter thought this was a particularly cool idea!)


Gamifying Genius Hour

This is going to be one of those think-out-loud kind of posts.  If you’ve been following this blog, then you know that I am a big advocate for Genius Hour, and that I have been playing with the idea of gamifying my classroom.  Actually, I made an attempt at both of these last year with my gifted 5th graders.  The Genius Hour was pretty successful.  However, the gamifying got bogged down.  I had a whole system of levels that the students could work through, badges they could earn (that they designed), and new privileges they would gain at each level.  My method of tracking everything fell apart, though, when I could not get the reports I needed from Class Dojo, the site I was using to record the progress of the students.  Class Dojo now has those reports, so I am considering giving it another try.

I want to focus on gamifying Genius Hour, in particular.  I am working on: levels with increasing challenges and privileges, ways to “level up”, “Easter Eggs” (hidden messages they can discover), and ways to encourage collaboration and problem solving.  Just to clarify, I am not necessarily using video games in the classroom – just the attributes of video games that can increase engagement.

This year, I plan to start Genius Hour with 3rd and 4th, as well as with my 5th graders.  (I meet with each grade level once a week.)

Knowing that I have a tendency to needlessly complicate things, I thought I would put this post out there to see if anyone has used the gamification concept with Genius Hour, and to hear any suggestions you may have.  I have found many online sources, such as the infographic below, to support gamification, and several education blogs with descriptions of its use, but I have not found any, yet, that combine it with Genius Hour.  I’d be happy to receive your tweets/suggestions regarding this topic @terrieichholz or in the comments below.

Gamification Infographic

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Genius Hour Villains

Genius Hour Villain Flyer

Update:  *As of 1/2/14, you can now download all of my current Genius Hour resources in a bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers for $5.  Or, you can still download them separately (for free) by clicking on the links below.  You can also download (separately) a pack of Genius Hour Villain (Not) Wanted Posters for $2 here.

As I continued to work this weekend on freshening up my #geniushour resources, I decided that I want to try a little bit of “gamification”  with this project.  With that in mind, I realized that a mission must have obstacles or it doesn’t feel like a true accomplishment is achieved.  I thought about the “villains” that threatened Genius Hour last year, and wondered how I could give them a face.  After a few trials and many, many errors, I hit upon an app that I liked called, “Dibu’s Monster Maker Lite.”  I used the app (and a little bit of Photoshop on one of the pics) to create my “monsters.”  Then I loaded them onto another Smore flyer, which you can find here.  I also created a printable PDF for you that you can download below.

How will I be using this flyer?  I’m not sure yet.  I am thinking of allowing the kids to “Level Up” during Genius Hour, giving them freedom to learn and use more technology tools at each level.  Succumbing to the villains might impede their leveling up progress.  I’ll keep you posted… 😉

Don’t forget, for more Genius Hour Resources, you can click here.

Genius Hour Villain Flyer

My Brainpop

One of the booths I visited at the massive ISTE expo this week was the Brainpop booth.  I got my picture taken with Moby, the famous Brainpop “mascot”, but, trust me, you don’t want to see it.  This one is much better (Moby is on your right):


I haven’t shared a lot about Brainpop on this blog because most of its resources are based on purchasing a subscription.  There is a free app with featured videos that can be viewed, though, and you can get a free 30-day trial.  It also has a fabulous and free “GameUp” section which I have mentioned on this blog, and I still highly recommend it.  The games tie very well into school curriculum.

I think the subscription ($1200/yr. for school-wide access) is well worth it, and I rarely say that about subscriptions.  If you can convince your school, district, or PTA to fund one, I think you will find that it is money well spent.  There is a treasure trove of animated videos that are very engaging for kids, quizzes, accompanying worksheets and activities, and lesson plans for teachers.

The reason I am mentioning all of this today, however, is that Brainpop has an exciting new feature, called My Brainpop,  coming down the pipe later this year  (in time for the 2013-2014 school year), which will allow you to really utilize it for differentiation.  You will be able to add classes, track your students’ progress on quizzes and games, and even personalize your own quizzes.  This is a huge benefit.  Although it does not sound like they will be offering the ability to assign specific videos to different students, I am hoping this feature will be added in the future.

If you have never tried Brainpop, I urge you to check out the free trial.  And, if your school does have a full subscription, you might want to think about how you can use this new feature to your advantage during this upcoming school year!



I intended to spend this week posting about what I have learned at ISTE, but I came across this site last night, and could not wait to share it.  It combines quite a few of the educational topics that are near and dear to my heart: creativity, self-designed learning, gamifying the classroom, and even programming for kids.

What is Gamekit?  According to their site, “Each month, Gamekit will bring you a new game development challenge to stretch and build your creative muscles.”

The site has four warmups, currently, and I can’t wait to see what they add.  My favorite one, so far, is “Mod a Board Game.”  I’ve actually done an activity similar to this in my classroom, asking the kids to take an old board game they no longer play and to make it into a new game.  You can use a lot of the tools from S.C.A.M.P.E.R. to do this.

Each warmup describes the steps, gives suggestions for how to “dive deeper”, and gives tips for educators.  Under each warmup is an area for comments, where the community can give examples of how they completed the challenge.

In the “Design a Play Space” warmup, Gamekit has teamed up with Gamestar Mechanic to create a challenge – perfect for those aspiring video game designers.

I am really looking forward to seeing the evolution of Gamekit.  I love this idea, and will be sharing it with the parents of my students to encourage some creative thinking during the summer months!

What Does Massive Multiplayer Thumb Wrestling Have to Do With Teaching?

courtesy of Dr. McGonigal at ISTE 2013 Keynote, San Antonio, TX
courtesy of Dr. McGonigal at ISTE 2013 Keynote, San Antonio, TX

I have the good fortune of attending the International Society for Technology in Education annual conference in San Antonio this week. Last night, Dr. Jane McGonigal gave the opening keynote to around 6000 of us, and we might have broken a world record for thumb wrestling.

If you have not heard of Dr. McGonigal, you might want to see my previous post about her or go directly to her TED talk.  Her studies on the effect of gaming in education are fascinating.  In last night’s lecture, she made a good case for how we can utilize the positive aspects of gaming to our advantage in the classroom.  She spoke a lot about the importance of engagement in learning, and the fact that our students become less engaged as they move higher in our educational system.  Integrating gaming with our lessons could help us to change that.  The picture above shows one of her slides on the 10 positive effects of gaming, and I think every teacher would like to see that mirrored in the classroom.

McGonigal’s work is controversial because so many people have pre-conceived notions about gaming.  What’s important to note, though, is that you do not have to use actual video games to reproduce their significant qualities.  By convincing her entire audience to participate in a massive multiplayer thumb wrestling game for 60 seconds, McGonigal was able to evoke the same emotions.  We can do this in our classrooms by emulating the positive characteristics of popular video games – choice, control, collaboration, challenge, problem solving.  There are some great educational video games that can be used, but we can also create the type of environment that will have virtually the same effect with less dependence on technology.  Whether you choose to use electronics or do it the old-fashioned way, you can “gamify” your classroom  and aim to awaken all 10 of the emotions above in every student each and every day.


Don’t worry; I promise this is not going to be an advertisement for a home improvement network…

DIY is one of the coolest new sites that I’ve chanced upon in a long, long time.  I haven’t even shown it to my students yet, and I am super excited about it.  This is going to be something awesome, I have a feeling.

DIY offers kids the chance to earn Skill Badges by doing challenges.  After browsing through the skills and challenges, I was ready to start earning my own badges.  The challenges look fun, and since I never got a chance to participate in Girl Scouts, the virtual badges seem like the next best thing to me.  For example, how would you like to earn your Papercrafter badge by doing 3 challenges (out of 13 choices) that include making a walkalong glider or building a paper vehicle?

Most of the challenges include instructions, either with video or pictures. There is a great parent info page, along with a Parent Dashboard once you sign up.  DIY kids get their own website to show off what they make, and there is a supporting iOS app to easily upload videos and pictures of their creations.  The site seems very user-friendly and, best of all, encourages kids to be creative and inventive.