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Gameful Learning

School as a Game

From gold stars to weighted assignments, every learning environment employs game mechanics to one degree or another.

If you doubt this, think of how often you refer to points, percentages, or grades in your classroom.

Baseball has box scores; teachers have grade books.

Baseball is more fun.

There’s a better way to use game mechanics in education.

Did you know that a well-designed game leverages Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, Duckworth’s Grit, Dweck’s Growth Mindset, and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow?

The Mac Lab Way

Humble Beginnings

This video, commissioned by the Classroom of the Future Foundation to commemorate our 2013 Inspire Award, gives a little insight into how our gameful journey began.

Fast Forward

After ten years, our little WordPress plugin has grown into a full-blown gamified LMS—a tool you could use to change the culture and trajectory of your learning environment.

How? Well, that would depend on how you decide to leverage the tool. You’re the GameMaster. You make the decisions. I’m just a guide.

The GUHSD Growing Readers through Gamification Summer Reading Program earned the Classroom of the Future 2021 Innovate Award for an imaginative utilization of our Gameful LMS.

What might you create with Gameful?


— from (re)Imagine

Game Lore

A good backstory will provide a foundation for your game. More than that, it can give context and purpose to your players.

Heighten their experience by embedding relevance in your story. Make the players an essential part of your story and give them freedom with responsibility. Insist on deeds, not words, and embrace a common objective.

From that foundation, amazing things may happen.

Gameful Features

An overview—not a comprehensive list.

  • GameMaster: You are the Master of your Domain. You control all aspects of your game.
  • Players: Individuals formerly known as students.
  • Display Name: In-game identifier to ensure a measure of privacy amongst players.
  • Customization: Change Gameful feature names to match your Game Lore.
  • XP: Experience Points. Used for Leveling.
  • Gold: Virtual Currency. Used for in-game purchases (and hoarding to stay atop the leaderboard).
  • Rep: Reputation. Classroom management tool. Rep affects the percentage of gold earned.
  • Map: One location for all course content. Use any number of maps.
  • Quest: Call it a mission or challenge if you prefer, just never call it an assignment!
  • Chain: A collection of quests to complete sequentially.
  • Pod: A collection of quests to complete in any order.
  • Nest: A compact collection of closely-related quests. (Can be a chain or a pod.)
  • Lock: Various methods to restrict player access to content.
  • Key: Various methods to enable player access to content.
  • Blog: One location for each player’s course submissions.
  • Stats: A personalized date and time-stamped record of each player’s activity.
  • Leaderboard: May be limited to the top X% of players.
  • Forum: An optional, threaded discussion board.
  • Inventory: Badges, tokens, keys, etc., that players may earn, collect, and utilize.
  • Store: Contains passes, privileges, supplies, and other items for sale or exchange.

GameMaster Tools

A very simplified summary. GM tools help us become more efficient and effective educators.

  • Who, What, Where, When? All records are automatically date and time-stamped.
  • Clipboard: The GameMaster’s ultimate tool. Access to all player data.
  • Manual Override: You can adjust XP, gold, inventory, rep, or quest status, for any player.
  • Reader: Review, revise, respond, or reset player blog submissions and loot.
  • Private Notes: To document and preserve important information.
  • In-Game Messages: To individuals, groups, or classes (with additional auto-email option).
  • Attendance: Leverage this mechanic to facilitate classes starting themselves.
  • Discoverable: Items, quests, or entire maps that are invisible until the player earns the key.
  • Are You A Gamer? Utilize unlimited forms of loot, gathering and crafting professions, hidden and discoverable content, random and rare loot drops, Easter Eggs. Endless opportunities await!


— from (re)Imagine

Pre-Game Strategies

Think about naming your classroom. I teach in Room 219, but at Valhalla High School, it’s known as The Mac Lab. Your classroom could be one of the few to have its own identity.

Think about a tagline, motto, or rallying cry to employ. “You’re never finished in The Mac Lab” is my classroom mantra for “There’s always more to learn” It’s also a potent antidote for “I’m done.”

Think about inventing a Guild for your players. Make them a part of something larger than themselves. It gives them a sense of community. Ours is TAG (The Artists Guild).

Fighting the insidious forces of apathy and wasted potential, members of The Artists Guild (TAG) engage in Missions, earn Experience Points (XP), and Level Up while learning to wield powerful tools, techniques, and strategies. TAG members adhere to a Code of Honor as they self-assess through the stages of each Mission.

Note: Feel free to copy, paste, and edit any of my ideas to serve your own Gameful needs.

— from a code.org video

Game Settings Strategies

The names and icons in Player Bar are customizable. Select from thousands of built-in icons and personalize the naming conventions. Deactivate features you don’t want to use. (e.g., I never start the year with an active Forum.)

The Big Three: Levels | Virtual Currency | Reputation

Levels: Levelling up is firmly embedded in our collective conscious and is a big draw for many players; however, you may toggle this feature off. In the Player Bar (above), the level name includes the 35th element of the periodic table. Without custom names, the player will only see the current level.

Virtual Currency: One day, a formerly unmotivated student asked, “Can I bring my sleeping bag to class?” When I asked why he explained that he wanted to earn enough gold to purchase Sleep In Class (a very expensive item in the store) and didn’t want to lay on the cold floor. Both of us were extremely happy the day he finally earned enough to purchase that item.

Reputation: Call it what you will (Rep, Cred, Health), but don’t underestimate our primary classroom management tool. Rep directly affects players’ virtual currency rewards. If initially set to 1%, players quickly learn the importance of long-term strategies to optimize Rep gains. (Plus, low Rep levels help control inflation early in the year.)


Adding Players to the Game

Ha! Let the players do the work for you.

Ask players to click Login (or Join) on your site.

Restrict logins to @[school district] email accounts, and names, ID numbers, and email addresses auto-populate. Require players to select their class period and seat (if you have assigned seating).

Boom! Your class lists are automatically generated in the Clipboard, sorted by period and seat (if you chose to use the latter option).

Thinking About Quests

Aw, heck. There’s too much to explain. I’ll set up a map and show you.


Rumbling Bumbling Video Tour

Shorter, more targeted videos will follow.

More Information

See The Mac Lab Way and (re)Imagine for more information about the evolution of Gameful and the importance of reframing the culture and structure of your learning environment.

— from Dream Yet Complete