Foreword – I originally posted this blog on PE Circle and would like to pay a huge thanks to Mike Prior for setting up the site and providing an accessible platform for me to share my thoughts. It seemed only right that my first post on my own website should be this blog, as I have subsequently received a great deal of interest and intrigue since posting.”
“Spoiler alert – This blog does not refer to “gamification” in the case of technological games/apps that can develop activity in PE. A quick google of “gamification in PE” will lead you to various articles and blogs talking about apps, the Nintendo Wii and such innovations. You will not find comments on such things here.
What I mean by gamification in this blog is the notion that video game principles can motivate and engage students in PE lessons to a degree which I have rarely seen before. My intention is to outline the key principles of such video games and give practical ideas as to how they can be incorporated into PE lessons.
First, though, a little bit about where this blog has come from. I have been teaching at a secondary school in Cambridgeshire for four years and have overseen the transformation of the KS4 curriculum to adopt more “alternative activities” such as tchoukball, dodgeball, capture the flag, boxercise etc. Within these activities, our ethos focusses heavily on leadership skills such as teamwork and self-management, with many activities delivered in a sport education style. It is within these lessons that I have, over time, come to realise the huge impact video game principles can have on students engagement and activity levels.
I myself am a video game enthusiast and find it fascinating how passionate some students (particularly boys) speak about video games. I once taught a boy who struggled with school and found the learning environment altogether challenging and unstimulating. It would be fair to assume that such a boy found learning a challenge in any environment, but I was proven drastically wrong one day when I found out the very same student was a clan leader for a European group on a first-person shooter game. To put that simply – he was one of the best in the world! I would challenge anyone to deny the level of skill required to perform at such a high level in such a game. The skills required include application of tactics, spacial awareness, teamwork, reaction time, decision making – a list very similar to those we would expect to see in an elite games player.
Video games provide many students with a world where:
- Learning is fun and, more importantly, wholly covert
- Challenge is presented again and again through cleverly crafted levels
- Competition is a crucial part of the learning experience
- Regular rewards and upgrades constantly encourage higher performance
It is with these core principles in mind that I have set about incorporating them into my KS4 lessons with one overall goal – to increase the motivation and activity levels of those that I teach. Below are some practical examples of how I have gone about it.
The language of gaming
Simply incorporating the language of some of my students favourite videogames automatically engages them. For example:
- I have named conditioned games in dodgeball things like “the sniper” or “the infiltrator”, tapping into the culture of Call of Duty and Battlefield.
- name differentiated levels military ranks that students of first-person shooters will be familiar with e.g. private, sergeant, colonel, major etc.
- refer to rewards as “perks”, as they are known in Call of Duty. in conditioned games I have awarded high performing/well behaving students with “perks” of choosing teammates, or selecting conditions to apply to their team etc.
The principle of ranking up
I introduced this one whilst teaching Capture the Flag (CTF), an activity that automatically lends itself to a video game culture. After the initial few lessons of teaching students about the game and developing their tactical understanding, I move on to a sports ed style block where students are told they are all mercenaries being recruited in CTF. They each have an offensive track and a defensive track on a rank sheet, and score points in each game they play by:
- Offensive – reaching enemy base (1 point), returning flag to base (1 point)
- Defensive – tagging an enemy player (1 point), rescuing a teammate from jail (1 point)
You will genuinely be amazed at how into this the students get. It is made clear to them that honesty is essential in recording their points scored, and the teacher (or a reliable non-doer) collates the points at the end of each game. The ranking sheet then gets placed on a noticeboard each week and it is not unusual to see groups of year 10 and 11 boys gathered around it at lunchtimes saying things like “I only need 2 more attacking points to become a colonel – amazing!”
The role of “perks”
It is well known that one of the draws of videogames is the constant potential to level up, or gain more content, or unlock new material. This is one of the features that students always ask to be included, and I have often found it very difficult to include because it can become a logistical nightmare (imagine playing a game of dodgeball where all 12 students have a different rank and therefore different perk/condition – chaos).
However, very recently I have managed to include it on a team basis. For example, in CTF I have thrown hoops into the map (again, language of video games) which act as currency. When a team collects 5 hoops, they can cash them in and recruit a new team member from the teams that are watching.
In year 10 football (which is done in a sports ed format), students could trade in points for perks that would benefit them in the long run e.g. a smaller goal to defend, 2 points for headed goals etc. The key to this principle is that there always needs to be something for students to aspire to which rewards them for their high performance.
The power of scenarios
This perhaps is a concept that is not new to many, but is still a feature of video game culture – allowing students situations where they can apply their activity to a real world scenario.
for example, in football, I have created scenario cards that students draw at the start of the lesson, consisting of either a benefit or punishment e.g. “your star player has been seen turning up late for training. start the first game 1-0 down” or “apple has paid a fortune for your new kit and wants to show it off. Do not wear bibs at any point in todays lesson”.
Lots of opportunity for creativity here, but students get a real buzz out of finding out what each team draws in the changing rooms. In the interest of keeping competition fun and engaging, I often rig the draw and ensure the team at the top of the league is guaranteed a punishment card!
The notion of levels
Another one used in CTF here. Each week I create a new map to play the game on, with a quirky and engaging name such as “the two rivers” or “the air drop”. The map features different terrain (rivers, lakes, mountains etc) or different team roles (the medic, the marine etc). I have been amazed at how the simplest change to the game can keep it fresh and engaging, and towards the end of one unit with a group they were coming up with their own roles, maps and conditions. We even played a few weeks with a different game mode, heist (2 teams fight to steal the money from the vault, guarded by guards. Once all the money is stolen, the guards can roam to steal it back).
I have tried to outline some practical examples here of how these principles can achieve the goal I stated earlier on. The three main sports that I have used to experiment with them are CTF, dodgeball and football, largely because these are the three sports that I have had most engagement from boys in KS4 (If you want an activity to engage “non-sporty” boys at KS4, I could not recommend CTF any more).
I would be really interested to hear comments from people, or to find out if anyone else is doing anything similar. You may be doing things that sound similar without identifying it as “gamification”. Also, if anyone would like any resources to try and incorporate it into their own lessons, I would be happy to share.
My aim now is to consider how to incorporate some of these ideas into other curriculum areas. The main thing with this is that it is a tool to develop motivation and activity, and should never be incorporated at the expense of these two things.
Afterword – Since posting this blog in November, I have been overwhelmed by the resources and ideas created by others on twitter incorporating some of these concepts. I aim to write a follow up blog in the coming weeks discussing this further.