BLOG POST BY 2020 PA TEACHER OF THE YEAR FINALIST AND PTAC MEMBER PAOLO TOLOMEO
Being home during this pandemic has certainly presented many challenges, but it has also offered some blessings as well. During this time, I have been able to watch my two daughters, almost 3 and 1, grow and develop some personalities, for better or worse.
One of the greatest experiences has been watching my 3-year-old during her creative play. She loves building with blocks and playing with her toy kitchen, but she also loves pulling weeds with me and watering the flowers. What has been most incredible, though, has been that she has created a story for all these tasks.
Danica is never merely building with blocks; instead, she is building a castle to protect her toys from bad weather. She rarely is just “pulling weeds;” rather, she is searching for salad for the bunnies who live in the woods. Plus – she loves pulling weeds.
Watching the joy my daughter gets as she creates these stories is exactly why I gamify my classroom. In a gamified classroom, I can create a storyline, or theme, to go along with my class activities. Some use Harry Potter, others The Amazing Race, while some go for Legos. Your theme can fit your interest! Yes, it is OK to bring your interests into the classroom. I, for one, love Pirates and adventure.
My students have been able to present a convincing argument to the Queen as to why their voyage is delayed due to weather events while studying Natural Disasters and research in a nonfiction unit. My class has been able to analyze the lengths of bridges in Pittsburgh so that they could request the necessary materials to construct a bridge in a new land to span a previously hidden river.
A gamified classroom does not mean I infuse games daily. Instead, I include game mechanics into my pre-existing activities. I create a story to capture the students’ interest, I create challenges where students can explore a concept in a way that is interesting to them. I am working to build a learning experience for kids based on autonomy, overcoming challenges and obstacles, and building strong relationships.
Our students are surrounded by creative play every day, and I try to include those same elements in my classroom. Tech resources have taken notice and have worked to infuse gamification into their platforms as well. From Nearpod’s “Time To Climb” and Quizizz with their “Power-Ups,” to programs like Classcraft that is an all-in-one resource for gamifying your classroom. Finding new and exciting ways to approach our content and reach our kids has never been easier.
The strength of gamification is that we can all try it at any time! We do not have to recreate anything or throw out our favorite activities. Rather, we can think about a new layer to add on top of our work. We can find what we are truly passionate about and infuse that into our lessons. The possibilities are endless and can be adjusted to fit your class.
Resources like Nearpod, Quizizz, and Classcraft, as well as great books like Explore Like A Pirate from Michael Matera can help anyone get started. Online communities, like #XPLAP on Twitter, are filled with teachers sharing their activities and resources.
The aim of gamification is simple – create a learning experience for our students that they will never forget, where they will strive to “level up” as much as possible, and where we can infuse our love of learning with their love of play. The classroom is the perfect place to start building a game.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee