Gamers Like to Be in Control – Gamification and Classroom Management

by Randy Fairfield, 11/12/18

During my last blog post, I introduced my new blog series on gamification in education. In this post, I will be addressing my first point, “Gamers like to be in control,” by discussing gamification and classroom management.

Classroom Management: The Controller


Control. It’s something we as people like to have. We like to be able to make our own choices rather than having someone else make them for us. Perhaps that’s one of the the great appeals of gaming: You can choose what you want to play and how you want to play it. In fact, the more I think about it, this appeal to control and power is exactly what Nintendo was marketing to their younger audience back in the day. Consider the message: When you have a controller in your hand, you’ve got the power.

What makes this marketing strategy so effective is that control and power are not something that kids are often used to having in their everyday life. Part of the reality of being younger is that, whether it be at home or at school, you are going to be told what to do and how to do it for a significant portion of your day. While much of what adults tell kids to do is entirely appropriate, I wonder if, in general, we could do more to release some of that power and control to provide students with a greater sense of autonomy over their lives. For as much discussion is held about having student-centered classrooms, the reality is that the vast majority of classrooms are still very teacher-centered.

You know, it’s kind of funny that I’m now saying this because I’m quite literally cringing as I think about what my approach to classroom management looked like when I first started teaching. It was bad. Really, really bad. I was working with an extremely challenging group of students, and particularly as a young teacher, I felt the need to get in there and establish my authority early. I’d heard about young teachers coming in and trying to be too relational with the students, and I just didn’t want to give off that vibe. So what did I do? I took control of my classroom. Or so I thought.

38 Special: Hold on Loosely

Right out of the the gate, I hammered kids on the dress code. I stood and delivered from PowerPoints and expected silence and note taking. I frequently called home and let parents know when their students were misbehaving. There was little grace and a lot of sternness. Full transparency here, it probably wasn’t long before the sternness became meanness. I wish I could say differently, but I can’t. You see, what I was doing wasn’t working. I wasn’t happy, the students weren’t happy, and honestly I started to doubt if I wanted to teach for the rest of my life. What I didn’t understand at the time was a lesson perhaps best learned from 38 Special: “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go. If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”

There’s that word again. Control. You know, we really desperately need to change some of the vocabulary we use in education. Why? I really think the language related to classroom management had a significant impact on my perception of what was expected of me as a teacher in the early going. I find it curious that “being controlling” is generally considered to be poor behavior, and yet that same behavior is often seen positively when describing a teacher’s approach to classroom management. That is, when a boss constantly tries to control his or her employees by telling them what to do and how to do it, we call it micromanaging; yet when an educator does the same to a group of students, we say, “Oh, wow! Mr. Fairfield has such great control over his classroom!” Do you see the problem here? Rather than teacher, I now prefer to be considered a facilitator of learning. Rather than rules, I prefer guidelines and parameters. Rather than a classroom management plan, how about an academic and behavioral engagement plan? Words convey meaning, and the words we use and the way we use them can have a significant impact on the way we are perceived by the students in our care.

Stop a moment and think: Are you in control of your classroom, or have you found ways to release as much of it as you reasonably can to your students?


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Gamification in Education: 14 Things Teachers Need to Learn from Gamers

by Randy Fairfield, 10/20/18

A few years ago I was teaching a course and noticed a curious trend towards the end of the school year: There seemed to be a direct correlation between students wearing Minecraft t-shirts and failing my class. It was uncanny. Now I wasn’t really sure what Minecraft was at that point in time, but I wondered if there might be a way for me to harness the energy these students were expending on the game and somehow get them to use it on my class instead. So I bought a copy of the game and put in a good fifty or so hours of time over the summer. In all honesty, I found the game to be fairly enjoyable; In fact, my wife had to get on my case a few times! This was all the beginnings of a great of learning about gamification in education, and I’ve finally decided to sit down and blog about my learning and experiences.

So anyways, I somehow talked my principal into letting me experiment with Minecraft Edu—which ended up largely being a failed endeavor due to the lack of support from the IT department—but I’m not sure Minecraft Edu was really the answer anyway. The more I thought about it, the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach didn’t really sit well with me. Nevertheless, I still wanted to find ways to get kids more plugged into my class and less plugged into their video game consoles.

PNW Tecmo Super Bowl

The truth is, I have more than a little experience to draw from to relate to my students. Indeed, about 90% of my misspent youth was playing the good old Nintendo Entertainment System. While my days of hardcore gaming are now largely behind me, I feel no shame in admitting to winning a few Pacific Northwest Tecmo Super Bowl Championships over the past few years.

A few weeks ago, I had a fantastic conversation with Peter Grostic, Director of Professional Learning for CBD Consulting, and we discussed gamification in education. Gamification is the process of taking the design elements of game play and applying them in another context, and I think I have a unique perspective on the topic. Feel free to listen if you’re interested!

During our conversation, we talked about some things I’ve learned from incorporating elements of gamification into my own classroom. By better understanding what motivates gamers, we as educators can do a lot to keep our students more engaged with our classes. Over the coming months, I’ll be blogging once every few weeks about each of the points raised below. Stay tuned if I’ve piqued your interest! You can subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like a reminder to check back every once in awhile. 🙂

Gamification in Education - Keynote Overview

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If a Picture Speaks 1,000 Words, an Animated GIF Speaks 10,000!

by Randy Fairfield, 3/21/18

No, students will not be asked to effectively integrate Animated GIFs into their writing on their high stakes standardized tests. They probably won’t be asked to analyze questions related to the author’s purpose in using Animated GIFs in a blog post either. And that’s a shame. It’s a shame because Animated GIFs have become an increasingly important way that people communicate, and it’s a shame because there is a whole lot of higher order thinking that goes into this whole Animated GIFs thing. Just think about it!

Not convinced yet? Just consider how my use of Animated GIFs supported my response to a small kerfuffle that unfolded over an email chain at my church this past week. There were some concerns expressed that some children had gotten in the habit of taking the gluten free snacks provided during coffee hour, and as the email chain started to get a little too snippy for my liking, I decided to try and diffuse the situation with a little humor.

The following is a true story about the last 24 hours of my life:

​​Opens email from the rector.

​​Closes email. Goes about my day.

​​Opens reply all emails.​​

Considers whether or not 1 Cor 11:17-33 has any relevant wisdom.

Says a short prayer.

​Considers the following passage from Proverbs 32:​​​

Oops. I accidentally on purpose slipped a meme in there at the end instead of an Animated GIF. I actually thought about renaming the title of this blog post to, “If a Picture Speaks 1,000 Words, a Meme Speaks 10,000, and an Animated GIF Speaks 100,000.” Then I decided that would be a bit too wordy. In fact, I’m being a bit too wordy now! Moving on…

So, yeah, I had to put a lot of thought into which animated GIFs I selected for that email. It took a number of different searches on Giphy for me to find the Animated GIFs that precisely communicated the feelings I wanted to convey. Perhaps we should be teaching our students how to do this stuff, eh? As a reader, did you find yourself watching and then re-watching the Animated GIF loops to see what I was going for? What do you think I was thinking? Deep questions. Maybe ones we should be asking our students? Just a thought.

Animated GIFs can be used as a one-off to convey humor, help tell a story, draw attention to a social media post, and so much more! When I was in the classroom as a teacher, sometimes I would often send my students assignment comments on Edmodo with Animated GIFs and memes to give them feedback on their work and to encourage them in a fun way to keep working towards mastery. Sometimes I would include these images in assignments I posted on Edmodo to keep the group from being nothing more than stale and uninviting text. Here is one I used to send my students when they didn’t capitalize “I” in their essays:

Below are some resources to help you begin using Animated GIFs and memes. Some of the content found on these resources is not suitable for children, so curating resources for students use and putting it in a shared Google Drive folder is probably the best way to proceed.

• GIPHY – https://giphy.com/
• Cut duration of Animated GIF – https://ezgif.com/cut
• Blank meme templates – https://imgflip.com/memetemplates
• Meme Generator – https://memegenerator.net/
• Google Draw meme template – Link
• GIPHY CAM (Android)
• Meme Generator (Android)
• Video & GIF Memes (Android)

SESSION EVALUATION: http://gsummit.link/eval

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MisterEdTech’s Encouragement to EdmodoCon 2016 Presenters

by Randy Fairfield, 5/20/16

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