Gaming as a Pedagogy

Connecting the Dots…

In pursuit of reshaping teacher instructional practice, or pedagogy as it’s known, has brought about new instructional strategies to foster student learning in recent years. Finding the “perfect” digital pedagogies is still somewhat elusive in the complex field of teaching and learning, but much needed because students entering classrooms today are wired completely different. According to William D. Winn, the director of the Learning Center at the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory, children raised with technology, “think differently from the rest of us. They develop hypertext minds. They leap around. It’s as though their cognitive structures are parallel, not sequential.” (Prensky, 2007). Thus, the big ideas of messy learning, noisy knowledge and challenge-based learning through purposeful play have me thinking lately about gameful learning as a pedagogy. Furthermore, Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk takes an entertaining look into gaming as a culture and as an important set of life skills needed for students to be future ready. Using a gaming mindset, I’d like to take a closer look at how an app like Goosechase can be utilized to hack concepts of gamification to achieve the value of digital play to support and deepen classroom learning, bolster student engagement and encourage collaborative teamwork.


Goosechase in the Classroom…

From the teacher perspective, the Goosechase app is an interactive gaming platform to foster active learning, engage students in problem-solving and higher-order thinking exercises, builds student agency, facilitates self-directed learning and utilizes motivation techniques to capitalize on the Generation Z/Alpha psyches. Think of the Goosechase product as a digital scavenger hunt on steroids. The app provides a simple gamification designed shell for teachers to construct and integrate game mechanics such as missions, points, progression and feedback into classroom curriculum either for one-setting, for a few days or even for multi-week use. Structuring the game starts with developing a game story and flow by determining the curricular and non-curricular learning targets and employing a backward lesson design process to build a robust and highly curricular connected gaming experience.

The actual game building process takes place by a teacher creating a free account through the www.goosechase.com website and then accessing that account still via the website to develop the individual gaming missions that link together in a linear or constructivist format. The number of missions an individual student or groups of students participates in is determined by the teacher’s curricular or assessment needs. For one setting of classroom play, around 6-8 missions is appropriate, for play over a couple of day think around 10-14 missions, and for multi-week play consider 18-20 missions or breaking the games into mini-series that students can level up. For each mission created, the teacher names the mission (being clever and/or having a theme is a must), assigns a specific number of points, determines how evidence will be collected and uses 300 characters or less to articulate the mission’s goals and requirements. The teacher can also add links to a mission to support access to additional resources. Once developed, missions can be coded to occur in a specified order or allowed to be played as user desired. While students are playing the game, additional missions can be added “on the fly” to accommodate new learning opportunities as they arise. Once missions are launched on the student side, the teacher has real-time access to game analytics including student submissions and a game leaderboard. Having real-time data affords the teacher the opportunity to identify any students or student groups that are struggling with the learning activities and provide any necessary intervention as needed.

From the student perspective, the Goosechase free app needs to be downloaded on an iOS or Android mobile device. If students are working in teams, only one student on the team needs to create an account. Once logged in, students search for the name of game to begin completing their missions. Students submit evidence to support their learning and although they receive their points right away when completing each mission, those points are subject to review by the teacher. Additionally, students can receive bonus points if their submissions are extra impressive.


From an Educator Lens…

Using gaming methods to integrate gamification experiences for gameful learning and assessment accomplishes many of the goals for both the ISTE Student Standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and Districts’ curriculum requirements if planned appropriately. Using the Goosechase app, students will leverage technology to demonstrate content competency through challenge-based missions and must possess digital citizenship skills in submitting their digital evidence and artifacts. Student can also have choice and voice in the curation of the digital resources that they will use to construct their knowledge as well as the potential to make learning meaningful for themselves and their teammates. Using all of the 4C’s, students will complete different missions along the way that can broaden their perspectives and enrich their understanding through purposeful technology-mediated learning. Leaderboards and experience points can offer transparency in the learning process and also potentially provide “surprise” elements to reward students for taking risks, failing forward, using perseverance and grit all while building a feeling of accomplishment of the learning goals. The CCSS’ are taken into consideration during the build process by the teachers to ensure that these gameful experiences are not viewed as fluffy or just for fun activities but rooted in an innovative and blended pedagogical way.


Recommended Improvement…

If I were to recommend one major change or update to the Goosechase app, I would encourage the creator of the app to cleanly split the business into two separate entities. Meaning, create a Goosechase business app and a Goosechase educational app. Doing so, would allow the vendor to better serve the very disparate user groups of the existing app, and perhaps provide a more reasonable pricing structure for non-profit institutions, offer help desk support with an educational bent, and possess the ability to offer additional specific “educational” app needs like running multiple games concurrently, sending signals to teams in action, and building in a robust feedback loop to perhaps find wider acceptance in the educational market.


Final Thoughts…

In an era of high-stakes testing and compliance progress monitoring, non-traditional pedagogies such as gamification and game-based learning get placed too often on the back burner in classrooms and/or are used primarily as filler Fridays or for end of the year fun. Through my experience running Goosechase games in a K-12 setting, students are very engaged, motivated through the missions because they realize that a larger audience will be looking at their hard work, and enjoy demonstrating content mastery in a non-traditional way. Goosechase has been a powerful learning and assessment tool to offer students experiential, self-directed, collaborative team learning. It’s time to consider moving gameful learning to the front burner!


Prensky, M. (2007). Digital game-based learning. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Can You Digitally BreakoutEDU?

With many digital-based coding gaming tools in “pilot” mode throughout my district, it’s time to turn some attention on an educational game-based learning tool that can be used across the K-12 grade levels and subject areas. This hands-on tool is called BreakoutEDU and you can play the game with a set of boxes and locks or through a web-based version. Both options of this ultra-engaging gaming tool promote teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and troubleshooting by presenting learners with challenges to be solved. Although BreakoutEDU boxes are perhaps more “hip” and appealing, going digitally with BreakoutEDU is a quick and less expensive way to get started.


Let’s start with a quick overview on BreakoutEDU using Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” philosophy to build a foundational footing:

WHY use the game-based learning tool BreakoutEDU in an educational setting?

10-reasons-breakoutedu-sylvia-duckworth

Image Source: @MariaGalanis & @sylviaduckworth


HOW to use BreakoutEDU digitally & in box and lock form?

Consider using BreakoutEDU to:

  • Welcome students to their new classroom in the fall or at each Semester/Trimester changeover to build student engagement, getting to know your peers activity or getting to know the classroom and how it will run
  • Connect BreakoutEDU to a curricular component or as an activity to practice 21st century skills of collaboration, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, etc.
  • Kick-off a Staff Professional Development session to build team capacity, practice communication strategies, learn new instructional content or even to learn a new building protocol
  • Want to know more? Check out these links: How to Get Started & Game Facilitation Slides

WHAT exactly is BreakoutEDU?

by James Sanders – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWSoR-0DH8Q


Let’s dig a little deeper into the tech tool itself…consider me your “thinking aloud” tour guide. The best way to get started is to go to the www.breakoutedu.com/digitally landing page that provides a welcome message, access to featured games, FAQ’s, digital sandbox and more. From there, simply click on a featured game and begin to poke around. For example, I selected the “Trapped In Our Classroom” game to explore how this digital game works. The first thing that I notice right away is that a storyline appears at the top of the web page. This story seems to serve as the anchor for the BreakoutEDU experience. It’s interesting that there is a clickable link in the storyline called “abandoned classroom” that leads to some picture clues. Seeing that one clickable link, leads me to believe that there are other clickable links elsewhere on the web page, so I start hovering on images all over the page. I quickly discover that there are a series of book titles that all have individual links as well as images at the very bottom of the screen that also link to somewhere on the Internet. Probably one of the more noticeable items on a Digital BreakoutEDU web page is the digital locks section that must be “broken into” to successfully complete the game. I’m starting to put 2+2 together and realize that I have some investigative work to do on all of those clickable links. I’m thinking that they will produce the lock information indirectly and after a lot of collaboration and thinking power with a group of learners. Furthermore, I notice at the bottom of the game web page that I can email the game creator if students or I get stuck. That’s definitely comforting! Additionally below that email, I realize that I can get a “Hint” if I’m stuck. I’m feeling that this type of learning is a lot different than having scripted instructional materials with an answer key, and that’s a good thing.

As you can see from the brief “talking” tour above, a Digital BreakoutEDU game, that “breakouts” can be used to enhance or extend learning in a classroom or training setting for learners of all ages. In my mind, what makes BreakoutEDU a value-added learning tool is that it complements, is aligned with and really amplifies the ISTE Standards for Teachers & Students as highlighted below:

  • facilitates and inspires student learning, in particular the experience of breaking out amps up the innovative thinking and inventiveness that students must use to find some level of success through a variety of small failures to unlock the locks
  • fosters communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking because the random web links and hints in the game require constant thinking, discussing, testing, and retesting in a collaborative manner to succeed
  • models digital age work and empowers learners to take an active role in learning because the answers are not easily achieved, learners must navigate the digital resources and artifacts, curate their meaning and apply to the storyline to find success
  • allows learners to become innovative designers themselves through constructing their own BreakoutEDU digital game

If I had the chance to refine the digital version of BreakoutEDU, I would first survey teachers and students that have used the website before. From a teacher perspective, I would look to find out what additional supports might be needed for successful implementation in a classroom setting, what hurdles teachers feel are preventing them from facilitating a digital BreakoutEDU experience, and any ideas to improve the current landing page. From a student perspective, I would look to gather open-ended feedback about the gaming experience and then share that data back with the teachers so that they can see the value of running this type of learning experience. Additionally, I would add a “cheats” web link that was password protected to hide important facilitator information that cannot be conveyed on the actual game pages. Doing the aforementioned refinements might bring about a higher comfort level to the facilitator. On a positive note, the user base for this type of learning has grown so dramatically that BreakoutEDU has created User Groups by teaching discipline on Facebook which allows for social and focused discussions on facilitation tips and much more. As BreakoutEDU suggests, “It’s time for something different“! Give it a try and you’ll not only like it, but find it’s more than just a game…it’s a new way of thinking!

Purposeful Play with Puzzlets!

I’ve been blogging lately about a variety of newer educational technology tools that promote gamification and game-based learning for the K-5 classrooms to support coding, math, inquiry, storytelling, purposeful play, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. I would like to share another gamification tool called Puzzlets. Puzzlets Play Tray is a hardware accessory for a tablet or computer on an iOS or Android platform that allows students to build programs out of real Puzzlet pieces to navigate through an app-based gaming storyline. Puzzlets game pieces are grounded in computer science methodology with each game app focusing on a STEAM subject area. Although the vendor suggests that Puzzlets can be utilized for a K-8 student population, my guess with student prowess continuing to develop in the computer science arena, that the more appropriate grade range is K-5.

There is very little upfront set-up needed to get this technology tool up and running quickly in the classroom. Simply add an app, Cork the Volcano as an example, onto a mobile device and either hardwire the Puzzlets Play Tray or use the Bluetooth wireless connection. I would recommend that students work in pairs, with one student acting as the “navigator” by putting the instruction tiles together on the Play Tray while the other student is the “driver” of the app that advances the program throughout the gaming quest. Students level up by first participating in a “build mode” to plan and determine the possible solution to the challenge on the screen, then run the “play mode” button on the app to gauge their coding success as well as use trial and error to fix any programming problems so that they can guide their character successfully through the quest with the end goal of rescuing their island to “cork the volcano” with the treasures they’ve earned along their journey. Each level up requires a higher level of critical thinking, many more attempts through trial and error, and efficient coding because the quests become timed. As students develop their newfound programming skills, they can go back and replay previous levels to collect more treasures and also practice their enhanced coding skills. What is interesting about this gaming app is that directions and wording does not fill the screen or drive their learning, it is more about intuition, deep thinking and possible solutions. The Puzzlets gaming system currently offers three apps including Cork the Volcano which focuses on coding, Abacus Finch which focuses on math skills and Swatch Out which introduces color theory.

In eLearning educational gaming terms, Puzzlets Play Tray would be considered more of a gamification tool because:

  • it utilizes game design elements and mechanics to challenge and motivate the students
  • it takes an existing course of coding or math and adds gaming elements such as point systems, level progressions and achievement badges
  • the game is created to engage learners so that they become active participants in their own learning
  • the game elements are integrated to help the learner achieve their learning goals and objectives

Additionally, the Puzzlets gaming system pairs nicely with the current ISTE Standards for Students as they become:

  • Empowered learners to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating coding competency by mastery/leveling up
  • Knowledge constructors by using trial and error to solve the challenges screen by screen
  • Innovative designers by creating imaginative solutions to complete each path and level up in a timely fashion
  • Computational thinkers by testing solutions and leveraging their power as a collaborative team
  • Creative communicators in how the student teams use the platform pieces and app to reach their goals

Furthermore, through grit, failure and teamwork, students have the power to persevere and develop core academic and foundational technology skills. I think the vendor tagline says it all, “make game time, brain time”!

Meet Dash & Dot!

Having just spent last week at the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC), this blog post for my doctoral class on learning technologies is perfectly timed and extremely relevant. Echoing the requirement for the blog post was my same goal while attending the FETC Conference in that I am always looking for educational technology whether it be a device, app, website or program that fits together pedagogically with our district curriculum yet extends student thinking, application and creation. With coding becoming a large focus in my district in the lower grade levels, it is only natural that I would like to share my insight on Dash and Dot.

Dash and Dot are cute little teal educational robots that work together to teach children how to code from Pre-K through 3rd grade. Dash acts as the actual robot and Dot functions more as the remote control for Dash. At the simplest level of operation, a student can bo_and_yana_1075_724_sdirect Dash’s operations by drawing a line with his or her finger on a tablet through an app called Go. Students can also send Dash on missions to deliver messages or use Dot to act out a character in a story. As students develop a better understanding of how Dot and Dash operate and move, there are three other apps to support higher order thinking including Path, Wonder and Blockly. From a hardware perspective, the robots work with a variety of Android and iOS devices, but ideally, you will want to use a tablet for a larger work surface. Dash has a battery life of 90 minutes and Dot well over 2 hours and easily can be linked to almost all curricular subjects because learning how to code is like learning how to read, learning how to write, solving math problems, using physics and learning a foreign language.

Since the robots are driven by the apps, it is important to take a closer look at the other apps that support Dash and Dot and showcase how they connect to the teaching and learning process. Before reviewing the remaining apps and linking to the ISTE Student Standards, ISTE Teacher Standards and the Triple E Framework, it is important to remind teachers that using these robots in a classroom setting is best accomplished in student pairs or triads to elicit collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication.

  • Regarding the ISTE Student Standards, Dash and Dot check the boxes on the majority of those standards including: #1 Creativity and Innovation, #2 Simple Communication and Collaboration (partially), #4 Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making, as well as #6 Technology Operations and Concepts. Using the Path app, students can plan, program and execute adventures. The ISTE Student Standards complement the students sharing their successes and failures of getting Dash and Dot to successfully complete their physical challenges and extend their newfound skills to apply to an authentic classroom challenge such as a problem solved through storytelling or actually creating a process for someone struggling on a task.
  • The Wonder app is a step up from the Path app and really supports the teacher and student in achieving higher order thinking. Using the ISTE Teacher Standards in conjunction with the Wonder app, the only box that really gets checked is the first ISTE Teacher Standard of Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity. The Wonder app functions as picture-based language and guides students on a variety of challenges to learn how to code. The challenges run the gamut of traveling through the Arctic Wilderness or the African Grasslands or even to Outer Space. Students also learn how to turn Dot into a traveling companion of Dash with a variety of noises like a lion, trumpet or arcade. The Wonder app is the coding canvas for creative play. By designing these behaviors and interactions, it’s as if the robots have personalities and intelligence as well as afford hours of unstructured play with endless ideas and innovations brought to life.
  • The Blockly app is yet another bump in the higher order thinking process and continues to check the same boxes for both the ISTE Student & Teacher Standards. Blockly is a visual drag-and-drop programming tool that allows students to snap together commands just like you would puzzle pieces. This app offers the highest level of student practice in coding through sequencing challenges such as control flow, loops, algorithms, operations and conditionals as well as sensors and events. Applying the Triple E Framework Rubric on the Blockly app produced a score of 15 out of 18 possible points making the app an exceptional potential for classroom usage. The app received high marks on the engagement in learning component, mid-to-high marks on the enhancement of the learning goals and mid-to-high marks on the extension of the learning goals element. Key takeaways from applying the Triple E Framework was that the app afforded students the opportunity to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of programming, provided a bridge between student school learning and everyday life experiences, and offered the chance to build authentic life soft skills.

After playing with the technology and apps, I would offer the developer of the product a few suggestions. The one app I didn’t overly mention in this blog was the Xylo app which is a newer app centered on music. Although it teaches algorithm design, command sequence and loops, it’s not overly needed in my opinion at this point compared to the other apps and perhaps a little gimmicky. In the bigger picture, it might behoove the developer to create a new app that allows multiple robots to interface with one another and/or create a wetsuit that Dash and Dot can wear to head into water play. Overall, the developer has created a full-featured product, with a variety of apps and teacher curricular support content to fully utilize the robots in a lower elementary classroom setting that will support many of the required district, Common Core and NGSS standards.