Written By Becky Koza
When I entered my first classroom, I was taken aback. Not because I was excited to make the classroom mine, not because I was anxious to rearrange furniture, and not because I was overwhelmed with the amount of work that needed to be done. I was taken aback because in the technology-centered year of 2012, there was an overhead projector in my classroom!
My undergraduate education included discussions on utilizing iPads, laptops, video cameras, and interactive whiteboards in my classroom; not overhead projectors that were invented in the 1950s. Overhead projectors were used when I was in elementary school. Should they still be in classrooms that serve to educate students that may be involved in a career that doesn’t even exist yet? I knew I needed to get my classroom out of a technology ‘drought’.
Current elementary school students are used to fast-paced video games in which students get immediate feedback on their success. In fact “over 1.7 million students drop out of school every year, while 5 million people admit to playing 45 hours of video games each week” (LaGarde & Winner, 2012, p. 47). I knew utilizing aspects of gamification (also referred to as gameful design) and game-based learning theory in my classroom would help engage and excite students. I just wasn’t sure how to capitalize on students’ love for gaming, when I did not have necessary tools in my classroom.
My classroom was equipped with one projector, one desktop computer, and of course, the overhead projector. I thought to myself, “ how am I supposed to engage my tech-savvy students, teach students important 21st century skills, and develop an environment that utilizes technology to enhance learning in a low-tech classroom?”
“It is possible to transform your classroom to capitalize on students love for gaming by implementing elements of gamification and game-based learning theory in the classroom using just paper, establishing small groups to engage in game-based learning, and acquiring technology through DonorsChoose.”
My students have saved Toad and Princess Peach, and defeated Bowser all while practicing fraction skills. No, I do not have a Nintendo Wii in my classroom. To engage students, I developed a game-based theory inspired activity in which students earned badges by correctly computing fraction problems. The directions state: “To beat this video game, you must travel through treacherous levels, complete challenging math problems, and eventually defeat the boss himself, Bowser! After defeating each level, you will earn a badge. These badges are rare and serve as a reminder of your bravery exhibited while rescuing Toad and Peach and defeating Bowser.”
The activity was simple. It included many fraction computation tasks. However, because my students connected with the characters from Mario video games, were engaged by the competition of completing the tasks, and were excited to earn badges, they loved the activity! When stuck on how to make a dry but necessary learning task engaging, adapt the theme and directions of the activity to be based in gamification.
If you do not have time to “gamify” an instructional task, many well-developed games already exist. Marilyn Burns has developed many helpful math games that help students develop conceptual understanding of math concepts (http://mathsolutions.com/books-resources/classroom-lessons/) . Some of my favorite classroom games include Leftovers, Target 300, and The Factors Game.
I only have a few laptops. I do not have enough laptops for students to all play a web-based math game at the same time. So my solution was to create math stations, inspired by my cooperating teacher when I was a student teacher. For 30 minutes daily, students complete a task at one math station. There are a total of five math stations that students rotate through. The computer station is definitely the favorite station! Kids love playing web-browser based games that provide practice on a math skill. I have a list of math station games that students access through my classroom website (http://mskozafourthgrade.weebly.com/student-links.html). http://www.coolmath-games.com/ and http://www.mathplayground.com/games.html are two websites that allow you to search for games that reinforce specific math skills.
The technology that I have acquired has been through writing up projects on DonorsChoose.org. I have received 6 laptops, a document camera, classroom student response clickers, and a library scanner all thought DonorsChoose.org. Thanks to this gracious service, it is possible to obtain the technology needed to engage 21st century learners!
Take the time to write a thoughtful project description that allows possible donors to get a full picture of how the technology will be used. It is important that potential donors understand how acquiring the piece of technology will enhance learning for your students. When developing your plan, be as specific and detailed as possible. I have been very fortunate to have generous parents who are willing to support my classroom. Showing enthusiasm about acquiring technology to engage students will get parents excited to help you fund your technology resource project.
Effective teachers use student interest to guide instruction in order to engage students in the learning process. No one will argue that the current generation of students we are educating is excited by video games. Although, not all classrooms are equipped with the technology to develop a classroom constantly supported by gamification and game-based learning , there are several ways to enhance your classroom in order to capitalize on students love for gaming!
LaGarde, J., & Winner, M.C. (2012). Level Up Book Club. Knowledge Question, 41(2), 46-49.