The What, Why, and How of Gameful Learning

The What, Why, and How of Gameful Learning

What is gameful learning?

Gameful learning in my classroom combines best practices from research-based instructional strategies and project-based learning with the elements of games and design thinking to create highly engaging, differentiated, student-centered learning experiences.  This semester I am running two gameful learning experiences – one for students in my Earth/Environmental Science class and the other for students in my World History class.

Why is gameful learning effective?

Last week, I had the privileges of taking 4 students (2 from each game) to present during the NC Technology in Education Society’s Student Showcase.  My students did an outstanding job sharing their experiences with gameful learning and showing off their work from our class wiki.  I was impressed at how well they rose to the occasion to answer challenging questions from teachers and administrators who stopped by our booth.  Listening to students’ discussion with adults and one another reminded me just how valuable this learning experience really is. 

After walking around to view the other projects at the showcase, one student had this to say: “They’re all just showing tools like Edmodo and iPads.  Nobody else is really doing anything new and different.  Nobody is creating their own thing like we are.”  

Here are a few of my other favorite quotes from last Thursday:

“I know if I’m learning what I need to because the warm-ups and exit tickets are a check-in for me.  If I can’t answer the questions, I know I need to go back to the assignment and learn the material better.”


“Relating each lesson to our biome helps me understand the material.”


“I like learning this way because it’s a lot more interactive and creative than regular classroom instruction.  I think I understand it better because I interact with the lessons more.”


“I really like the game.  It’s so much fun I even complete quests online when I’m absent to make sure I’m not letting down my kingdom.”


“We’re creating our own colony as we go, so, we have to know the science to do it right.”



How do the games work?

ImageThe first game, Kingdom Quest, is the second iteration of a gameful unit for World History students studying the Middle Ages.  The game begins with each student drawing a role out of a hat: king/queen, lord/lady, knight, freeman, villien, or serf.  Students then conduct research to create their character – choosing an Avatar from Renaissance artwork and writing a journal entry to describe their daily life.  Students work in learning teams – “kingdoms” – to complete assignments, and they earn points as they learn, and their feudal roles extend to the classroom.  For instance, during group work the king/queen always delegates tasks, and students must have permission from both their king or queen and myself to get a hall pass.  Points are awarded for completion of assignments at mastery level, winning competitions, and various other challenges (such as addressing me with my proper name – the Fantastical Empress Prattina). 

The second game, Earth Quest, is my first attempt at creating an entire course using gameful learning.  Students are assigned to crews of aliens who are hoping to colonizImagee Earth after destroying their own planet by over population and poor environmental stewardship.  Student crews drew a biome, and chose a location on earth within that biome to establish a colony.  Currently one colony is on Australia’s York Peninsula in the rain forest, another is in Australia’s Little Sandy Desert, and the third is in the chaparral region outside of Los Angeles, California.  Students’ colony becomes their lens through which they view the content we study.  For our weather unit, students collected data about weather in their biome and made predictions for one week.  The next project will involve researching severe weather in their biome and writing a survival guide for members of their colony.  Points are awarded similarly to Kingdom Quest – for completion of assignments at mastery level, first and second place in competitions, and other fun activities.

In both games, students unlock “powers and perils” as they progress – such as the ability to expand a colony, set up an industry, attack another kingdom, or spread the black plague.

How can I become a game master?

Are you interested in creating a similar gameful experience for your students?  On June 11, my research partner and I will be leading a special Professional Development track – Rebooting the Classroom: Leveling Up Motivation, Collaboration, and Learning with Gameful Pedagogy for teachers interested in doing something similar in their own classrooms. Hurry – applications are due by March 15!  If you can’t make it to Madison or want to get started sooner, check out the Resources page at the Coalition for Gameful Learning, and connect with us on Twitter or e-mail.