The Gamified Classroom

The Gamified Classroom


Part I: The Unique Obstacles Teachers Face

Today’s 21st century students are not like their parents’ generation. Never before have we, as a civilization, experienced such a large generation gap — and the reason behind it is video games. Within the span of only one generation the world’s dominant form of entertainment has shifted from passive (TV, Novels, Comic Books, Theater, etc) to interactive. This represents a fundamental shift in individual interactions with the community, and other segments of society are struggling to keep up. The goal of making the rest of our lives as engaging, interactive, and collaborative as the entertainment our generation consumes is the essence of gamification, and nowhere else is gamification as needed as in the classroom.

Today, students are expected to pay attention and learn in an environment that is completely foreign to them. In their personal time they are active participants with the information they consume; whether it be video games or working on their Facebook profile, students spend their free time contributing to, and feeling engaged by, a larger system. Yet in the classroom setting, the majority of teachers will still expect students to sit there and listen attentively, occasionally answering a question after quietly raising their hand. Is it any wonder that students don’t feel engaged by their classwork?

In the upcoming months we’ll be looking at how gamification can be used effectively in schools to help students feel engaged by their lessons. Gamification principles are quickly being incorporated by the private sector to increase customer loyalty and engagement, but can the same tools be used by teachers to increase a student’s involvement with their work? In order to answer that question we first have to examine how schools differ from the private sector and identify the unique challenges faced by teachers who want to gamify their classroom.

In his 2006 TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case that our modern school systems stifle creativity. He argues that since they were based on the industrial model of the 19th century, public schools around the world over-emphasize traditional academics and ignore anything that isn’t mathematics or literacy. Gamification, if handled properly, could be what we need to make our classrooms more supportive of creativity while still teaching traditional academics. There are three considerations that must first be taken into account: motivation, administration, and budget.

There are already successful case studies of games in the classroom, such as the classroom of Teacher Ananth Pai.

The fact remains that engaged students are better students. A child who is interested in the lesson being taught will be a more productive learner and be less of a discipline problem. As long as lessons are properly planned to meet the core curriculum, gamification can be a great tool to help our students stay engaged and meet these objectives by allowing teachers to creatively differentiate their lesson structure. Much like a good game, students will always be preforming at the edge of their capabilities.

Secondly, before worrying about student engagement in a gamified classroom a teacher must also convince the school’s administration and the student’s parents that a gamified classroom is beneficial to learning. In the private sector, decisions to gamify can be made on the management level after carefully analyzing costs and benefits. But in a classroom, teachers who do things out of the ordinary may be viewed with suspicion. Our current educational climate focuses on high-stakes testing and national standards; Gamification may not be seen as fitting into the traditional mold and preparing our students for these tests. To best gain administrative and parental buy-in, the focus must remain on the core curriculum standards. Even teachers who are vehemently opposed to the idea of high-stakes testing must face a harsh reality; without tailoring lessons to prepare students to pass these tests, a teacher just isn’t doing their job.

Lastly, there is one overriding factor that we must take into consideration when we discuss gamifing a classroom: budget. With the current state of school budgets, teachers interested in gamification can’t depend on state funding to provide their class with the technology needed for video games. No matter how good a system, any gamification platform that relies on technology is sadly out of reach for many classrooms. We need a method for teachers to implement game mechanics into their classroom without adding to the financial burden. Any other solution, no matter how engaging, isn’t scalable. It’s easy to think that merely by adding technology to our classrooms we will be engaging with this generation of Digital Natives, but students do not merely crave more computer use. Students demand to feel as involved in their scholastic lives as they are in their online lives.

Next month we will explore the role technology can play in helping motivate our students to become active participants in their learning.

Andrew R. Proto taught middle school science for three years before going to work at Apple as a technology instructor. After teaching there for five years, he realized how much he missed his classroom. He is currently completing a Masters of Science in Early Childhood Education at Metropolitan College of New York.

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The Gamified Classroom by Andrew R. Proto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License


  1. Andrew,

    Loved reading this. I’m the Assistant Head of School at Milken Community High School in LA and am teaching a fully gamified class this semester called America 3.0. I’m blogging about the structure, challenges, opportunities and experience of teaching the class at my personal blog – – and would love to hear your thoughts and participate in the discussion.


  2. Andrew’s article is on the point in so many respects. However, one shouldn’t come away with an impression that there isn’t money. Just look at the Smart Boards this countries schools have been flooded with. In the face of data that shows classrooms have students from one to ninety nine percent apart, district administrators nation wide have deployed the interactive whiteboards that perpetuate the problem that began in the blackboard era – whole class learning. Despite the “smart” in the name, it is the most misaligned capital allocation I have ever seen in my professional career.

  3. I completely agree. This article highlights one of the greatest obstacles to learning our students face today; lack of engagement. Rather than a teacher using whole group strategies to teach memorization, gamification shifts learning into a more active process that significantly deepens understanding. More importantly, gamification reaches and engages those students on the fringe of the group. While typical children can almost teach themselves, struggling learners and gifted students need that extra meaning, individuation of levels, and feedback that make learning effective and exciting. I’m excited to see this movement in action and I hope that the word spreads to educators everywhere!

  4. Very interesting article. The basic premise seems to be seeing students as active rather than passive learners. While modern technology is a great way to do this, it is not the only way. I think using technology should be seen as part of a whole range of skills that students have, to learn about themselves and their world. One key element that the older generation can offer the newer generation is the concept of balance…how to choose the best learning tool, how to manage the 24hour a day intrusion of technology, how to turn off electronic devices. I love the sentence ‘Students demand to be as involved in their scholastic lives as they are in their online lives’. As a teacher, what is not to love about engaged, active learners?

  5. I have been introducing gaming to my early years class over the last year and have used many iPad apps which have been great. I have also used the x box Kinect, and even though the games we have played on the x box are not educational, they have opened up many avenues for investigation and learning…

    When I talk about games based learning, I always use Kinectimals on the x box. I think it is safe to say that, despite the challenges it presents to young players (and occasionally adults!) the game is purely designed for fun!

    The learning in my setting comes from what I do as a teacher after game play. Whatever inspires my class during gaming will lead the learning. We may investigate animal homes, caring for pets, eating healthily, how moving toys work, the weather, habitats… Games learning does not need to come directly from game play. It can be a stimulus just like a book or school trip is as well.

    Please see my blog and leave some feedback on the kinds of learning we have achieved from gaming

  6. A few years ago I was speaking with some of my chemistry students about what they had done over the summer. One kid said ” I played video games.” I said well what else did you do? He said “Thats all I did.” So when he elaborated, he said he had played from 9am (when he woke up) until 10 or 11pm, all day every day. I came to find out, there are a lot of teenagers just like that. The parents do not want to raise them, and so they live in some fake video game world. So, I look at what their parents allow them to do, and I can not agree that I need to customize my teaching to reach a kid who lives that way. That kid doesnt need video game lesson plans, he needs new parents!!!!OK, sorry for the rant…There are many kids who get to play games 2 or 3 hours day, actually I bet this is 70% of my kids. Since I never play video games myself, I dont have a clue how to create the “gamification” of my classroom. I have to admit I am more set in my old school ways. I did use a smartboard today and kids who usually never participate were going crazy to take a turn at the smartboard.