Westward HO! was the very first game I ever made, and it’s still my favorite game to play with my 8th grade American History students!  I would love to share with you the overall concept of the game as well as some of the specific game elements that I chose to use in this game about American westward expansion.

The overall concept for this game (which is always where you should start when you are gamifying your units… the STORY!) was for students to work in family units that were prepping their covered wagons to gear up for travel on the Oregon Trail! Students were able to play the parts of Ma, Pa or a kid within these family units. I have learned that my students love to pretend to be someone different than they are in real life… and I don’t blame them, I remember how awful it was to be 14! After family members chose their family surname and chose Ol’ West inspired names such as Obadiah, Jed, Rose and Nelly, they were ready to start working hard together to earn badges and money for their family.

This is the next step you should take in gamifying your unit: Choose what game mechanics you will utilize (XP, badges, currency, bonuses, levels, leader-boards, etc.). Students worked to earn badges for their family by mastering the learning targets that I had set for them. Students would have to earn all 9 badges to be able to bring all of the items they “packed” in their wagon. (Side note: Students chose items such as blankets, extra wagon wheels and food to pack during the first day of this game). If students didn’t earn all of their badges by the time they were due to set out on the trail, they wouldn’t be able to take all of their items!

Students also earned money for their family by completing homework. Families would need money to purchase extra supplies before the journey or while on the trail.  On my grade sheet, mastering a learning target might look like 10/10 points. However, instead of a grade on an assignment, (which most 8th graders could care less about) students would earn a badge or money for their family. Students have been very motivated by this system compared to simply earning points for compliance. Plus, if students didn’t earn their badge or money with the first attempt, they kept trying–again and again until they “got it” (which mean they would try again and again until they were mastering the learning target… WHICH IS AWESOME!).

Here’s how my classroom looked when the students came in on the first day of the game:

WestwardHO-1Students loved feeling like they were in a real covered wagon. Nothing is too cheesy for students–or at least I haven’t found anything yet!

Students would show mastery on assignments that I had created or adapted from other educators. I use anything from sketch-notes to map challenges, projects to quizzes. I also love throwing in random challenges to my game to keep the motivation and engagement levels high! As students were learning about territorial acquisition, I would add in family challenges like these:

WestwardHO-2(Covered wagon races as students finished activities)

WestwardHO-3(Building log cabins out of peanut butter and pretzel sticks)

WestwardHO-4(Panning for gold)

Little fun challenges like this would keep them on their toes, educate them about the time period and give us all an excuse to laugh, play and have fun! HAVING FUN IS OKAY TO DO IN A CLASSROOM! (I am shouting at you, sorry.) I also had students lasso ‘bulls,’ ride ‘ponies,’ reenact the Alamo, and contract diseases like dysentery and cholera! So fun, right! Even super-cool adolescent teens can play pretend–and they learn that way!

I love using the power of simulation in my games. This past week, I had students go out on the “Trail of Tears” in order to learn about President Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. Students went hiking on the property by our school. Every so often, students would stop and read a quote by a Cherokee Indian that had experienced injustice, or students would complete a task/challenge to help them learn the content. Here are some of my favorite pics from that day:

Next week, my little families will all head out on the Oregon Trail. They have been equipt with the knowledge, supplies and curiosity that they will need on this grand venture! I will let you all know how it goes!



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