Unlocking Levels and Gathering Badges

Even after creating several gamified units for my social studies class, it still helps to look over a list of game mechanics and strategies. Sometimes I forget about the power of “Easter eggs” and unlocking mystery levels. These things can make a seemingly dry set of content into an exciting adventure for students.

I LOVE teaching 8th grade social studies. It is literally my dream come true. I love the content, the age group and the dynamics of middle school. However, even though I am extremely passionate about my profession, my craft, my students and American History, I am not always thrilled to teach every little part of my content. Teaching the US Constitution is not my favorite. I love me some America. I also appreciate the beauty and power of our written plan of government. I just find it difficult to teach and make exciting for my students. Plus, many of the concepts in the US Constitution seem foreign and confusing to 8th graders. Gamifying my ‘New Nation’ unit has completely solved this problem for me. I am excited about the game I created, my students have been responsive and curious about the game I created, and because of the way I inserted basic gaming mechanics into my unit, I think I have found the perfect way to teach government to my students.

I decided to test out my tech skills for this task. Using a free website builder,, I made a special website for my ‘New Nation unit.’ This website has several mastery levels built in that are password protected. For this game, students will visit a page (level) on the website and complete a task. Once they show mastery of the learning target on that particular page, I give the student a special password to unlock the next level. The activities on each page vary. Some pages have helpful videos or fun online games along with ‘Easter eggs’ (hidden bonuses or challenges). Students are able to work at their own pace, at school or at home! My favorite part of this game is how I am always aware of which students are mastering learning targets, and which students are in need of my help. Students are also self-aware of where they stand and on where they still need to go.

In addition to the game that all students will play is a ‘bonus game’ meant as an extension to the learning, or as an enrichment opportunity for students. Certain students will be handed a personal invitation from me to consider “running for President of the United States of America.” With this invitation, they will be granted access to the bonus game (located on a password-protected page through the website). In this bonus round, which I titled “Road to the White House,” students are trying to be the first person to win enough electoral votes to win the race for president. Students will be asked to earn badges by creating a campaign, participating in debates, choosing a staff, etc. Students will be working through side quests and special missions to earn their badges. Through these badges students will learn additional information about our government, the electoral branch and presidential campaigns, while racking up electoral votes that will hopefully lead to a victory!

This online game was a fun way for me to do something I’ve never done before–make a website, and a way for me to get students engaged in the content. I wasn’t bored, my students weren’t bored, I was able to easily track their progress, I was able to differentiate with ease, and my students were able to learn and grow. Perfect.

By the way, I called my game and my website “Save Baby America.” This might seem silly or weird to you, but I  use the analogy of a growing baby to explain the story of America. After the American Revolution, America was just a baby; helpless, scared, and young. Our newborn country almost didn’t make it passed its infancy. It would take a solid plan of government to help it grow and survive! If you’re curious, I try to compare America during the Civil War to a moody adolescent teen that has finally had enough… To me it makes sense, and my students seem to appreciate the metaphor too.

Check out the site here:

(Note: When I am using this website with my students, I have each level password protected. If you are trying to look through my site and need the passwords, just message me directly and I’ll hook you up!

Game Mechanics

Check out this article about Gamification!

Major shout out to! They make it sooo easy to make your own website!

Do awesome. Be awesome.


Bringing “Big Brother” Into the Classroom!

Another school year is in our midst, and more game ideas are swirling around in my head. As I sat down to plot out my first game of the year in my 8th grade social studies class (Colony Quest— more info. on the game below), I just knew I HAD to find a way to incorporate my favorite guilty pleasure, “Big Brother,” into the game.


I love this goofy show! I especially love the competitions that the contestants play. After attending a Gamification conference this past summer by the amazing Dave Burgess (@burgessdave on Twitter), I was reminded how important it is to bring our personal passions into the classroom. When teachers are passionate and excited about what they are doing, they are able to bring a level of enthusiasm into the classroom that can foster crazy high levels and creativity and engagement from our students. I knew that the fun, silly, highly competitive Big Brother-type competitions would be the perfect way to make my Colony Quest game something all of my students would be excited about.

Here are some of the competitions that I creatively “stole/borrowed” from my favorite show:

  • OTEV: This classic BB game involves houseguests retrieving the answers to questions and bringing them back to a foul-mouthed robotic monster thing– named OTEV.  This game uses a musical chairs concept; because when the houseguests race back to OTEV, there was one less spot for each player to kneel down and present their answer. Therefore, the last houseguest to arrive to OTEV would be “out” of the game. As I watched this game on the show, I thought it was PERFECT for the classroom! (Well, aside from the foul-mouth part… obviously). I came up with a list of review questions about our content, hid answers in the courtyard at our school, found some rubber place mats (to use for the musical chairs concept in this competition) and played my version of OTEV. It. Was. Awesome. Students were working together with their group to figure out the answers to the question, and then sending their runners to retrieve the answer and bring it back to me (aka OTEV). One by one, students were eliminated until we had a winner who gained bonus XP points for their colony group!
  • SPELL-IT-OUT: In this BB game, houseguests are required to dig through muck and grime to find letters that they bring back one by one to try to spell out the longest word in the time allotted. I knew instantly that if I took out the muck and grime part and swapped it with obstacles for students to climb over and through, this would be an excellent game for vocabulary practice! One student from each colony group had to climb over chairs and under desks to retrieve one letter (written on a notecard) at a time from a baby pool and then bring it back to their group that would work on spelling out the word. The groups had to tell me the definition of the word and spell it correctly in order for their word to count. The group that correctly spelled and defined the longest term from our unit was awarded bonus XP! It was hilarious.
  • ENDURANCE COMPS: Big Brother loves making their houseguests withstand torture with their endurance competitions. These comps require houseguests to stand on a small platform for hours while objects are tossed at them, gunk is sprayed in their faces, and the platform is moved and shifted. The last player standing wins. I had my students try to stand on one foot on top of a brick. Then, I had them do different things with their hands (hold them up over their heads, cross them, clap them together, etc). The last player standing won extra XP for their colony group. I know exactly what you’re thinking… What learning targets were “covered” in this game? Um, NONE! It was simply for laughs, and we had a lot of them. Laughing and having fun with my students helps me build a positive rapport. This early in the school year, I need to win them over as fast as I can; this 3 minute game helped me inch closer to that personal goal.
  • FILL IT UP: Guests in the BB house always find themselves playing a game where they have to use a tiny measuring cup to fill up a big jar high enough to be able grab a ping pong ball from the small opening of the jar. The first player to grab their ball wins. In the show, houseguests normally have to “skate” on a Crisco-like substance from one end of the race track to the other; making it very slippery and challenging. I decided to make it a team-building relay game for my colony groups. The relay concept took the place of the Crisco (and made the game a lot safer). It was so fun and memories were definitely made.

I am always trying to find inspiration to help me improve my craft. I loved being able to bring these competition ideas into my classroom–it was the perfect way to spice up my Colony Quest game.

Check out pics on our Instagram account: @gamyedu


COLONY QUEST GAME (General Concept): In this game, students work in groups to prepare a crew and a ship to set sail from Europe across the Atlantic to the “New World.” This game is used during my first unit of the year: European Exploration and Colonization. Students roll a pair of dice to let the fates determine their groups and the European country they are sailing for. Students work cooperatively to learn about the Explorers that came before them, different motivating factors for exploration, and all the details of packing a ship and sailing it across the Atlantic. As they complete class activities (and competitions) they earn XP (experience points) for their group. For every 10 XP a group earns, they are awarded privileges (homework passes, extra supplies for their ship, music passes, etc.). Students are working hard to get to the New World and then create a settlement that will survive the hardships early settlers faced in the 17th century. For more details and materials on this game, email me directly!

Game on! Don’t get yourself evicted.


Working Hard

Recently, I read a quote from Hyman Rickover.  Rickover was an admiral in the United States Navy.  A Russian immigrant, he is the father of nuclear propulsion.  Admiral Rickover was known as a workaholic.  He never considered himself smart, only those around him dumb.  Looking forward, the United States education system worried him a great deal as he thought about the country being left to our descendants.  He thought it in disrepair, failing our students. Admiral Rickover wrote extensively about the issues facing our students and the failing nature of our education system.  One such quote jumped from the page:

“The student must be made to work hard, and nothing can really make it fun.”  -Admiral Hyman Rickover

I wanted to give this quote plenty of space to let it sink in a bit.  He believed student and social issues were a waste of time.  Curriculum should be taught to students until they reached capacity.  The age old lecture and learn scenario. Industrialized education at its finest.  Rows upon rows of desks, strictly arranged one after the other.  Students dutifully sitting behind their desk, writing careful notes from the content specialist, nay, content genius, wanting to emulate this individual with all of their knowledge-filled hearts.

This is the image I wrestled with as I transitioned my classroom to gamification.  How can this be beneficial to my students?  We are essentially playing.  Would some type of curriculum police show up at my door and demand to see proof of desks in rows and a lecture podium?  This dilemma caused a great deal of anxiety.  The idea, however, that my students were not getting what they needed from me and the fact that they were not engaged, in the least bit, was far more stressful than the changes happening in my room. I gathered the courage and decided it was better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

To begin, I had to ask myself what I wanted from my students.  I wanted engagement.  This was the key that would unlock everything else that is necessary for a student to be successful.  How would I get that kind of engagement?  What do kids do, in their daily life, that manages to keep their short attention spans engaged for long periods of time. The answer was simple: gaming.  Kids will play a game over and over again until they beat it.  They will do whatever is necessary to overcome any obstacles and beat the game.  Could you imagine that kind of dedication in the classroom? Working on a concept, over and over, until a student achieves mastery.  And that, in a nutshell, is gamification.

A year and a half into this journey and my philosophy on education has changed dramatically.  The classroom should be a second home where students are up, moving, problem-solving and working together.  While the content is important, the way in which students think about the content is much more important.  Bringing the world into my classroom and learning through role-play, simulations, game mechanics, and virtual lessons has replaced the traditional textbook and folder.  The results have been positive.  Test scores have significantly increased but more importantly, student engagement has increased.  And yes, Admiral Rickover, it’s okay to have fun in school.

Rank Up, Soldiers!

13I am currently half-way through my current Civil War Game! This game, in its simplest  form, can be used in any classroom, with any subject, for any age students. The basic premise is that students are soldiers who work hard to “rank up.” With every increase in rank, students are rewarded with a week’s pay and extra privileges. Students earn money for attendance, their participation in daily basic training, effort, teamwork, etc. Students can use the money from their weekly paychecks to purchase items from our class store (such as: candy, homework passes, hat passes, etc.). Students earn XP (Experience Points) for reaching learning targets. As students increase the amount of XP they have, they are able to rank up! Students earn a “badge” (aka: sticker) during a special ranking ceremony each Friday. With each promotion, comes extra privileges (such as: getting out of the daily work outs, choosing their own seats, homework passes, getting to eat/drink in class or listen to music while working, etc.)



Students have been loving this game! Here’s why…

  1. Students love having the opportunity to be active and train like a soldier every day.
  2. Students are able to keep track of their own progress.
  3. Students don’t earn grades, they earn XP!
  4. Students can always work to improve themselves. If they don’t earn all the available XP for completing an assignment, they can try again!
  5. Students feel awesome when they are promoted. They enjoy competing with each other and work hard to earn rewards.
  6. Students that need or desire an extra challenge can do so with “Side Missions.” With these side missions, students can dig a little deeper into the current learning targets in order to earn extra XP or money to use in the game. 10

As a class, we are able to have a lot of fun and laughs together. Plus, students know exactly where they stand–they keep track of their own progress! I said before that students earn “XP” instead of grades, and that’s true! It’s just a simple change in the vocabulary I use. When I give students back their assignments, it says +10XP or +7XP; however, on my grade sheet it says 10/10 or 7/10. I have said before, my students don’t care about grades. Grades don’t motivate them. What motivates my students is things like being able to listen to music in class, or free time. Therefore, with the XP system, students work hard for their army promotions and for their paychecks. This is what is so great about a gamified classroom! BONUS- my grades actually have meaning. They truly reflect each students individual progress with the 8th grade learning targets for social studies.

I bought some rainbow colored stickers and a whistle. I took on the role of the classroom General. I provide solid lessons, simulations and experiences. Other than that, students have taken complete ownership of their learning and progress while being pushed to have a growth mindset. They keep trying until they reach the goals they have set for themselves. IT’S AWESOME!

Be. Awesome.

Feel encouraged,

Amy 😉

(If you have any questions or would like copies of any of the materials for this game, please contact us!)

PS: We go outside any chance we get. Some fresh air can be a game-changer itself! In the pictures below, you can see how we took a timeline activity and some sidewalk chalk outside to make it even better!

Trading Card Game

This time last year I was working on a board game to help my students understand ancient civilizations.  This year, my students had a firm grasp on the ancient civilizations but needed a little bit of help on globalization and economics in general.  Enter the game Economica.

I knew I wanted my students to build their nations to world powers and experience the nation’s growing pains along the way.  The students needed to feel the competitiveness of globalization while collecting the resources they need to be successful.

Each student began with a playing mat or board and a starter deck of random game cards.

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The focus of my content is the Eastern Hemisphere.  While all countries of the world are represented in the deck, I asked the students to only pick a country that can be found in the Eastern Hemisphere.  Once they have acquired their country of choice, it is placed in the center of the board.  From this point, players begin collecting the cards needed to fill their board with the accurate information about their country.   Play begins with players taking a few minutes to trade with other players.  Trading is fast in fierce and deals are made quickly.  After trade stops, play continues as follows:

  1. All cards are placed in a deck and shuffled.
  2. Seven cards are drawn.  This is the players hand. The rest is the draw/discard pile.
  3. An event card in your hand must be played first.
  4. Trade occurs once again.
  5. Players return to the board and either discard to seven or draw to make seven.
  6. Cards are placed on the board (the first to fill their entire board wins).
  7. Cards placed on the board are retired from the discard deck and the player again draws to make 7.
  8. Players can form alliances and enemies.
  9. Players can declare war, changing a country’s government and religion, delaying a player form finishing their board.
  10. Players can buy “booster packs” of cards with our class money system.

Now that we have played for a few days, the students have a good idea of the rules and have quickly moved into the roles of their country.  Students are looking for information about their country, including current news items.  Their conversations are incredible pieces of formative assessments.

Worried about keeping the game pieces together, I turned to Amazon. These amazing red plastic bags are simple and hold each player’s entire game.  Keeping the bags in a box, by the door, allows students to grab their games as they come in and begin playing.  This has turned out to be a great way to start class and students are super excited  to get the game started!

As the game grows, I will check back with pictures and student reviews!