Gamifying the curriculum

By Daniel Groenewald

Gamification – the process of transforming school curricula into an exciting game format – is education’s next big thing. According to the go-to research paper on technology trends, the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report K-12 (2014), Gamification will start hitting classrooms over the next two to three years.

There are two aspects to gamification. The first is the redesign of the curriculum based on gaming structures and features such as levels, rewards, badges, repetition, competition challenges and collaboration. The second is the remaking of traditional bodies of knowledge into actual computer games. A notable example is Filament Games’ “Reach for the Sun” which sets students the challenge to grow a virtual plant. The game contains beautiful graphics, collaborative challenges and the sophisticated language of academic biology. Students cannot achieve the game’s objectives without a thorough working knowledge of photosynthesis.

Closer to home, some innovative teachers are redesigning their curricula with gaming elements in mind. In April 2014, inspired by local Formula One ace Daniel Ricciardo’s use of a car simulator as training, St Stephen’s School Design and Technology teacher Rohan Hotchkin decided to have a crack at making his own car simulator. The objective was to provide students with a safe, practical and engaging way to improve their understanding of car mechanics and handling – key theoretical components of their Automotive Vocational Preparation class. So, with the help of his students, Hotchkin grabbed a projector from the library, welded up a frame, and got hold of Sony PlayStation with Gran Turismo 6, a Reccaro seat from the verge, a Butt Kicker, some old MDF, and a Logitech steering wheel, gearshift and pedal set. In the blink of an eye, the car simulator was born. And trust me, the game feels like you are actually car racing thanks in part to a vibrating seat that kicks in every time you crash and a slick sports steering wheel.

Relevant student engagement and practical expression of theoretical concepts addressed in the course were a key focus for Hotchkin. He wanted students occupied with thinking about the performance and handling of cars in a safe way while he dealt with other issues in the workshop. On the simulator, students clock up laps to improve their knowledge of how cars work and they put the theoretical lessons covered in the course into practice. Students can modify a vehicle’s performance in handling, power and braking. They get instant feedback from the game and they analyse issues and make necessary adjustments.

The simulator is used as a rotational activity. There are log books for students to track their learning and Hotchkin has seen improvements in students’ understanding of performance, handling and driver skill. Instead of talking about their weekends when waiting for others to finish a task, students are now talking about different cars, potential modifications and different tracks. For Hotchkin, “Trying to motivate kids to learn so that they look forward to coming to class makes your job a lot easier and allows you to focus on other aspects of teaching and learning.”

Hotchkin wonders if the future of education will include more virtual elements. “With technology the way it is going, augmented reality, virtual reality… education is going to be very different … You could go virtually to pit lane or even look over a mechanic’s shoulder.”

The use of the popular Go Pro camera in extreme sports, like surfing for example, is allowing the less skilled layperson to experience what a deep barrel looks like and sounds like.

If you want to get into gamification, Hotchkin has some tips. “Be open to changing your mindset”, and debrief on a regular basis. There’s a big shift that has to occur in a teacher’s mind to accept that playing games, or designing the curriculum like a game, might actually be the best key to learning.

Daniel Groenewald is a Professional Learning Consultant at Datacom. This article was originally published in Technology in Education magazine.

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