When most teachers hear about gamifying learning, they think of games that double as a teaching tool or a classroom-made game of trivia to review concepts before a test. However, some schools have taken the concept of gamification to the next level, such as Quest to Learn in New York City. At this school, 100% of learning is posed as a game.
What it Looks Like
The school awards levels instead of grades, everything from “Novice” to “Master.” Even the subjects have more descriptive names. For example, science is re-dubbed “The Way Things Work.” Learning takes place through quests: a thematic unit where students have to work together to solve a series of challenges.
Some such quests ask students to invent a method of transport that could penetrate the Earth to its core, managing all the layers of the Earth in the process. In another quest, students work at a fictional biotech company, where they must clone dinosaurs and create a stable ecosystem for them. Technology is interwoven into everything they do. Using Storyweavers, a collaborative program, students work together to create stories. To practice math concepts, students might invent and play a new card game or be asked to design a structurally-sound building. In one class, students were asked to pick a real Supreme Court case, have the class argue both sides, while students assigned as judges are tasked with ensuring a fair and balanced decision.
How it Works
Designers of the curriculum have studied how to make engaging games. Challenge is constant and mistakes are only minor setbacks, easily overcome. Immediate feedback and rewards are vital, and learning requires participation and interaction. Technology is often integrated into the curriculum, allowing students to play the role of professionals, using role-playing games, graphics programs, and simulations to explore complex careers and situations.
The school is exceptionally popular, and students enroll through a lottery system. Around 650 students attend, spread out across middle school and high school. The students are still required to take the same standardized tests as other students across the country, but their prep is clearly much different.
Effectiveness of the Program
Student attendance and teacher retention rates are high at Quest to Learn. Clearly, the students seem to enjoy learning and going to school. The students’ test scores are fairly average for the area, receiving a solid 5 on GreatSchools. However, perhaps more importantly, the students are above average in problem-solving skills, being able to collaborate and think critically. They also receive much more insight into potential future careers than in a typical curriculum.
However, the system is not easy to implement. Quest to Learn receives hundreds of requests every week from other schools who want to use the curriculum. One Chicago school attempted to integrate the entire curriculum into their existing one, but failed to sufficiently train their staff. Teachers and students were both confused and the implementation was not successful.
Quest to Learn potentially shows the future of learning, where games are not just used in the classroom, but naturally integrated in all aspects.
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