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Accidental Gamification aka A Flipped Model that Finally Worked for Me

My 9th grade Geometry students are sitting in front of me, taking their assessment on right triangle trigonometry. I am confident that they are well prepared for the assessment and I feel satisfied because the work they did to learn the material was both rigorous, engaging and fun.

My colleague, Mike, and I have for several years spent most of the 2nd semester running flipped classrooms. I tried a flipped unit for the first time back in 2009. Students watch a video, made by myself and colleague Garrett, that teaches them a new concept. They take notes on a handout and in theory, pause the video from time to time to do practice problems to self assess.

I liked it because during class, students could get immediate feedback from their classmates or myself on tough problems. What it lacked was meaningful whole class discussions as students worked at different paces. Also, it was boring. This was my fault. I just handed them problem sets and walked around. I didn't take the opportunity to claim the extra class time for PrBL or discovery.

Cut to 2015 - Colleague Mike went to a conference, came back and said... Can we find a better to make our Flipped Classroom more engaging?

We worked together to design a better way to use the class time. I am calling it accidental gamification as we didn't set out to track badges - we just wanted to make class better. I divided each class into teams. We did a combination of games and discovery. There was only one formal, paper assignment. I tracked winners with low tech badges - I stamped posters with chickens or tigers, the value of which was determined on the fly. In the future, I would like to explore using a spreadsheet to track badges, as Alice Keeler writes about here.

Students playing The Game
Each day we used a series of problems to use for White Board Stamp Game. These were the easier, faster to calculate problems from homework (see the presentation below for all the problems). I give a certain amount of time for students to work out problems on white boards, showing work. I call for boards up and use a spinner app on my phone to choose a seat number to call from each team. Kids can help each other, but there isn't enough time generally if a kid struggles a lot on the attack. 

The harder problems were used for Team Challenges, in which students worked in their teams collaboratively with just one white board per team. They were required to provide thorough, justified solutions. I randomly made a few of these Tiger Challenges (because I have a tiger stamp).

The Game: Winning team gets 2 chickens, 2nd place gets 1 chicken
Team challenge: Winning team gets 3 chicken and 2nd place gets 2 chickens
Tiger Challenge: Winning team gets 1 Tiger Stamp (worth 4 chickens), 2nd place gets 3 chickens

Take a look at my daily lesson notes and materials. Warning: my videos contain a couple of mistakes and a lot of my silliness.

Day 1: Understanding the Ratios
Last Night the students watched Lesson 9.9 - Introduction to Trig.

1. Set up Teams
2. Trig discovery "Lab" -Each team was assigned the same angle and they compared trig values. We discussed the link to similar triangles and compared their values to a trig table as a group. I didn't dedicate enough time to have each team do two different triangles or for them to reflect on the activity via their blogs. I have seen other teachers make this activity a bit better by using a shared spreadsheet to gather the trig values. I like Dan's approach too.
3. 10 rounds of the game
4. Team Challenge #1

Ss working on Trig Discovery

Day 2: Finding missing lengths
Last night students watched Lesson 9.10#1: Trig Ratios
1. 6 -7 rounds of The Game
2. Team challenge #2,
3. Tiger Challenge: Trig Pile Up

I am worried that teams are unbalanced as two teams have yet to score in each class. Students are happy though and I can redistribute teams next time. 
Hard at work on the Pile Up.
Ss working on a Team challenge.

Day 3: Taking it Up a Notch
Last night students watch Lesson 9.10 #2: Trig Rations Again
1. 6 rounds of The Game
2. Team Challenge #3
3. Tiger challenge - Polygon Problem - a 3 Act I made of my 4 year old playing with his metro mags

We also considered a Trig Scavenger Hunt, a clinometer activity based on How High is the Ceiling from Amy or Sofa Away from Me (Mathaliscious) for this day.

Day 4: Get Students Creating
Last Night Students watched Lesson: Trig Review
1. A few rounds of the game
2. Make own Trig Pile - Check out the prompt here. My students have math blogs and this was a great activity that could go on their blogs (check out sample below).

We also considered the bat and the diamond building via Lisa for this day.

Day 5: Review

1. 6 or so rounds the Game
2.Team Challenge #4
3. 1 Tiger Challenge

Actual homework on paper assigned this day. Kids were excited and eager as a total of 7 chickens were up for grabs.

Winners will get candy.

Final Tally from 3rd Period
Final Tally from Period 4

Agenda on the last day.

Day 6: Assessment

I haven't graded them yet but no tears or heavy sighs. 

In the beginning I was a little worried that they wouldn't learn as much if they didn't do the homework on paper. I was wrong. My students were more likely to watch the videos because they didn't want to let their team down. They were engaged for every minute of class time. They had fun. They begged me to do it for the rest of the year. I heard a lot of "I love this" and "I want a chicken!"

I plan on doing this in some form for the remainder of the year. I feel like I started the year with a lot of boring days in Geometry. Perhaps finishing strong will redeem a slow start. :

Things I want to improve or change: 
Teams weren't quite balanced
We didn't do any Geogebra! 
Didn't do much web exploration from Math Open Ref like this or this.
No time to get outside and use the clinometer to measure tall things.


  1. OK, so you have a *ton* of stuff in here and a lot of it is outstanding. One key point you made was about the videos. I watched a portion of the Trig (SOHCAHTOA) video and one adjustment I would make is to the time. I tried really hard to keep videos down below 7 minutes, condensing whatever I could to a bite-sized portion. This made it more likely for students to watch all the way through and stay engaged. It also made it a challenge to me to determine what was so important to address outside of class and what was better done in class through activities or PrBL (or just fun stuff).

    I love the Pile Up activity and wish I would've seen it when I was teaching Geometry! I'm also digging the student blogging that relates to the content - you ROCK in that regard.

    As a teacher, I wasn't big on gamification, but I've seen some great models that have convinced me to not like it less. I would talk to Jonathan Claydon (@rawrdimus) about how he did his Standards-Based Grading - it seems a lot like gamification in the way that you're doing it. Also, Michael Matera (@mrmatera) in Wisconsin/Minnesota/SomewhereInTheMidwest is the person who has gotten me thinking heavily about gamification. He's definitely wrth a follow and a conversation about what you're trying to do.

    Keep up the great work, Regan. Seriously. I'll help however I can. If you want to continue this conversation with how I can possibly help, just let me know and I'll chip away :)

    1. Thanks for reading! :) I agree with you regarding the videos. Generally, shorter the better. I made mine a loooooong time ago, so redoing them tends to fall to the bottom of the list. My students are used to having (and doing) 45 minutes of homework a night for each academic class. So, for them, a 20 minute video is easier.

      I don't think this is actual gamification. It isn't individualized and there are no level up opportunities or framing. Really, we just made practice into a game, did more investigation and a bit of PrBL. I don't know if I want to do real gamification. How would that fit in with Standards Based Grading? At some point, I am overwhelmed by all the novel ideas and want to keep it simple.

      I am just struck by how much they LOVED it. Today, a traditional day, (geogebra discovery, short lecture, guided practice and paper HW) was met with groans.

      I wish I could go to Twitter math camp! It is an honor to be a (small) part of this community. :)

  2. Oh my gosh, this post is so full of ideas! I think the most important thing is that your students were engaged & learning!
    It is nicely scaffolded to offer a development of ideas.I love the assignment for students to develop their own pile up. I may have to use that next year & then have students trade and solve their peer's pile up. The beauty of the stamp idea is that you can quickly see how students are doing, but I wonder if it's possible for students to "hide" within their teams and have their misconceptions overlooked.

    I used to coach track & in track students would always have better times in the 400m relay than in the individual 400m - because they did not want to disappoint their peers. I try try to apply this motivation to teaching and it looks like that is what you did here!

    1. Thank you for reading! I think it is possible for kids to hide during the team challenges, but I see who knows what during white board stamp game.
      You are right about the motivation, they came to class eager and prepared. What I am wondering is, if I can continue this with my limited range of games? I will be looking for game suggestions!


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