Gamification in the rainforest
I'm currently reading Karl Kapp's brilliant book, "The Gamification of Learning and Instruction." If you haven't yet taken the time to read our recent interview with Karl, I highly recommend it. Gamification is a fairly new concept but it's something I've been interested in for a couple of years now. This is doubtless because I was born in 1978 and thus was part of that generation that grew up having home access to computer games for the first time ever.
Two years ago I designed a reading scheme based around the achievements concept adopted by Microsoft Xbox. My logic was simple: Microsoft had made targets cool. They had made targets something children strived for and were linked to precise, achievable next steps. I lifted the achievements structure wholesale and applied it to reading, with tasks that earned various points and leaderboards to track progress. We even had stickers designed that looked like the Xbox achievement icons! It was a huge success and as far as I was concerned, demonstrated gamification in action.
In truth it did but what Karl's book has already opened my eyes to is the idea that true gamification must go beyond adding points and scores to pedagogy. In its truest form, the mechanics of a game should be harnessed to transform an approach to teaching rather than augment it. In this respect it can be thought of in similar terms to the SAMR model.
A better example then would be the recent session I designed around the Motion Math Pizza app. Students used the app as a simulation at the start of an enterprise project to learn about the ways a business can annoy and lose customers. You can read more about that lesson here in the guest article I recently wrote for Motion Math!
So where does the rainforest fit into all this? Well I am often contacted by teachers, both from my own school and view our Facebook page, asking the classic question: "do you know any good apps for..." One colleague is currently working on a rainforest project and thus asked me for ideas for rainforest apps. Without even opening the App Store, I knew what I would likely find in abundance: absorption apps. Ebooks and encyclopaedia type apps that presented information about the rainforest in a multimedia way. Now there's nothing wrong at all with these types of apps, indeed when presented well they can be invaluable tools for enquiry based learning as they streamline research and stop kids ploughing through Wikipedia when the content there can often be too difficult for them.
I just wanted to find him something different. The experience we had with our kids using the Motion Math app was first class. Surely there was something I could find that would appropriate that to his topic?
The first app I offered him is called Rainforest Survival Challenge. It's actually a card game where you are dealt five living (an sometimes dead) things and the AI gets five. I described it to him as food chain poker. The aim is to face your cards off against the computer, of whose you can only see three out of five, such that the organism on your card will not be eaten by the opposing card. Each card can be clicked on to bring up a profile that details, amongst other information, what it eats. You can even swap out two cards per round if you get something that you don't want. Having lined up your rainforest troops, you play the hand and the other two AI cards are revealed. The winner is judged on how many survivors you have after the five pairs match up. Wins are logged and the cards dealt again. Oh, and you know those dead animals I mentioned? Well if you get a decomposer or a carrion eater like a vulture, then they're the cards for you!
This is simple genius at work. The gamification of a food chain concept that teaches children about interdependence using a mechanic that echoes both traditional card games and battle-style card games like Magic or even those Match Attax etc that the kids all get into. Engaging and inventive, this suggestion was taken on board by my colleague happily as he quickly identified the fact that it could be used as an independent activity during small group work or guided reading sessions with others. Need to record something in a project book? Easy, just get them to screen grab their final hand (showing their total wins and the layout of the actual game screen) and print it for their books then have them write a reflection of learning. Alternatively you could get them to log each organism that wins and what if eats. You could even get then to present on one victorious animal or use the game as a launching pad for an independent enquiry.
The second app I showed him was Rainforest Heroes. This is actually an app produced alongside the Taronga Zoo in New South Wales. Many zoos and museums are now getting into the app market with virtual tour type apps. These are great as they allow students to sample educational institutes that they may never be able to visit in person. Generally they are quite straightforward in design, showcasing exhibits and providing information. Recently some have gone further, such as the excellent Natural History Museum Alive app we recently reviewed. Rainforest Heroes falls into this second category and in fact is something quite special.
The zoo has a rainforest trail and the app works as a virtual tour of this but in game form. A time limit of 80 minutes is set (it can be edited via settings) and students are tasked with researching each of the animals on the trail. They select an animal and then complete a range of tasks to build a report on the animal. These tasks include watching video footage of the creature, selecting images of it, reading a fact file, spotting the incorrect fact from a set of four and even identifying the correct food groups to feed it.
Upon completing these tasks, the completed report can be viewed in a really slick layout that could easily be screen grabbed for printing or insertion into an ebook or other multimedia project. If the students complete the entire range of animals, the whole report can even be emailed as a PDF.
As I explained to my colleague, an entire session could be developed around this app, with students in teams, racing to complete the challenge. It cleverly reinvents the research process and engages students with a direct, hands-on approach to learning about these creatures.
Finally, the icing on the cake was Wilderquest, a very different type of app that will probably have a five star review from us in its future! Wilderquest harnesses the iPad's built in camera in an incredibly clever, augmented reality style game. It puts you right in the heart of the rainforest (or other biome if you wish) and challenges you to locate the animals. You do this by actually turning around with the camera and zooming in to hunt for them. Capturing three images of a species brings up a brilliant, multimedia profile on the creature including video of it, the sound of it and a wealth of facts.
Students (literally) immerse themselves in the habitat and enact the role of explorer. This is such an authentic approach to the study of these animals that it is infinitely superior to just presenting them the information. As a gamification example it is ideal. Yes it has a points system but that is secondary to the actual process and therefore the redefinition of the actual learning is paramount. You really have to try it to experience it first hand. This is the type of app that only a mobile device can deliver and a true way to redefine a learning experience.
So what' she moral of the story? Well I think there are actually three.
1. Don't just look for apps that provide content about a topic you are teaching. Be prepared to think outside the box and even look outside the education section of the App Store.
2. Don't underestimate the power of games and game structures as learning tools. When harnessed carefully, they can allow for redefinition of tasks and huge boosts to engagement levels.
3. I'm so glad I picked up Karl's book! It really has opened my eyes to the misconception of gamification as just the bolting on of badges, awards and medals!