GBL vs. Gamification:
What’s the Difference?

by Aaron Baum, Associate, Legends of Learning

A handful of game-related terms get thrown around the edtech sphere. Two big ones are gamification and game-based learning, or GBL, just check out their hashtags on Twitter: #GBL and #Gamification.

What exactly is the difference between gamification and GBL? Many confuse the terms, but one is not the other.

It’s an innocent mistake, one that I have made, too.

Last Spring, just before my first day at Legends of Learning, a friend asked me what exactly we do. Ill-versed in edtech buzzwords, I did my best to explain, and he said, “Oh, so you do gamification. We talk about it all the time in education consulting.”

To my uninitiated mind, “gamification” was a pithy explanation, and I wondered why the term had never come up in previous conversations with the Legends team. It turns out, gamification isn’t what we do.

Gamification in Education: What it Looks Like

To show an example of gamified learning, let’s turn to our friends at Classcraft. I met these folks at ISTE 2017 in San Antonio, and they’re great — they even wrote a blog about us! Classcraft defines the principle of gamification as “applying game principles to non-game situations.”

Basically, Classcraft is an experience, and it works like this:

Teachers deploy their own learning materials that they’ve created—think worksheets, quizzes, and videos—as different destination points within a “Quest.” Students work through these materials to advance through the Quests at their own pace. As they complete their work, they travel across a map, from one end of an island to another.

A Classcraft quest, which employs gamification rather than GBL.

This is a fun way to visualize progress, and it uses the principles of an adventure game to capture students’ interest while they learn. That’s gamification.

The learning itself is done through traditional classroom assignments, not a game. That would be a different story.

Understanding GBL

Unlike the traditional classroom assignments that persist in a gamified classroom, GBL is exactly what it sounds like: using games to introduce, enforce, or enrich learning concepts.

The idea is that learning through gameplay can be more engaging than more traditional methods like lectures, textbooks, and worksheets. When students are more engaged, their brains are more capable of absorbing new information. This makes for better subject matter retention, leading to higher test scores, as demonstrated by research.

Games are often more engaging than traditional learning tools because, of course, they’re fun. But beyond this highly unscientific assertion, how does GBL achieve higher engagement from an educational theory standpoint? GBL guru Dr. James Paul Gee attributes it in part to the principle of “Performance Before Competence.”

In his essay “Good Video Games and Good Learning,” Dr. Gee explains that students playing a game “can perform before they are competent, supported by the design of the game, the ‘smart tools’ the game offers.” This differs from more traditional learning methods, which often require students to read a text and become competent before they can start trying to perform tasks related to the new knowledge. For many students, these methods are far less effective than the “learn by doing” approach that GBL allows.

Engagement is the ticket to effective learning. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at how gamification and GBL are similar, and why so many people tend to think they’re interchangeable.

A Key Similarity

GBL and gamification are guided by the same overarching principle: morphing a traditional classroom task into a more engaging, competitive activity.

Take for example the Interactions in Ecosystems learning objective on our site. It is home to ten mini-games, ranging in length from 5-25 minutes. Each game interweaves specific science concepts — in this case, how ecosystems work, as delineated by the NGSS — into the gameplay.

Deep Sea Adventure, a game-based learning (GBL) tool in the Interactions in Ecosystems learning objective.

In “Deep Sea Adventure,” you start out as a tiny shrimp, eating plankton and avoiding predators, ultimately growing into a fish, a jellyfish, a turtle, and a shark. In “EcoKingdoms: Interactions,” your role is park manager, making decisions to balance the flora, fauna, and finances that are crucial to the park’s operation.

Other GBL experiences feature competition amongst students. They compete with one another and motivate each other to perform at a higher level in the game. Some learning games even have leaderboards so students can compete against players all over the world.

Have you ever tried to get small children to help clean up their toys after making a mess? One effective strategy is to say “I bet I can clean up more toys than you… ready, go!” Nine times out of ten, the child will go whizzing around their bedroom trying to beat you in the new “clean-up game” you just created. That is gamification at work.

Competition is a motivator, and can make any task — whether cleaning the playroom or learning science — a lot more fun. So if GBL and gamification share this core similarity, why is the distinction so important?

A venn diagram comparing gamification and game-based learning (GBL).

Gamification alters significant structural aspects of the learning experience, breaking from the norms of lectures and worksheets. Teachers gamify their classrooms for a fresh new approach to a complex concept.

GBL is a component that can be flexibly plugged into a traditional classroom, interchanged for other tasks like worksheets, without altering the way the classroom runs overall.

Next time you talk tech in the teacher’s lounge, see if your colleagues know the difference. Let them know you’re not playing around!

Five Reasons Teachers Should Use Playlists for Game-Based Learning

The new playlist feature from Legends of Learning gives teachers the ability to deliver engaging middle school science games while closely monitoring student achievement and growth. Here are five reasons to use playlists in your class this coming year:

1) Real Time Data Dashboard – The live teacher dashboard displays student progress in real time. Each student has a dot that moves along the playlist and shows their answers to the questions from the games.

Once the playlist is over, the data is automatically stored in your account. Since every playlist is saved, you can see how student and class performance improves over time.


2) Differentiated Playlists – Creating multiple playlists allows your classroom to divide into cohorts based on academic performance and play the games most appropriate for their academic level. For example, you can create three different playlists for your advanced, proficient, and basic students, or even create a unique playlist for every student in the class. Unlimited playlist creation makes personalizing content easy.

3) Total Teacher Control – Three features give you control of the gaming experience:

  • Playlist length – You can set the timer for 3-60 minutes of game play. If you want to shorten the playlist in live mode, click the stop button and every student’s game will end.
  • Dot Color – Dots turn red if your students stop playing and wander into a different tab. This makes it easy for you to know who is actively engaged in game play.
  • Pause Button – In live mode you can pause all students simultaneously. This ensures you have every student’s attention while you teach.

4) Student Voice – If you offer students Free Play, they can choose which games to play within the current lesson’s learning objective. There are two ways to deploy Free Play:

1) Launch a playlist with extra time built in after the games are completed. When the students finish their assigned games, they can pick which games to play with any remaining class time.

2) Free Play occurs when you launch an “empty” playlist with no games in it. In that case, students can choose whichever games they want throughout the time period.

Free Play Option 1

Free Play Option 2

5) Scheduling Playlists – This soon-to-be deployed feature will allow you to schedule a playlist to deploy automatically at any time. For example, on Monday you could set a playlist to launch on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m., or on Friday you could set a playlist to launch at 2:00 p.m. and end Sunday night at 7:00 p.m.

This feature lets teachers deploy playlists for homework, or provide substitute teachers playlists as an assignment.

As you think about ways to introduce game based learning in your classroom this coming year, consider using playlists from Legends of Learning. With all the features playlists offer, you can be confident that fun will translate into real academic growth. Sign up and start creating your playlists today!

16 Ways to Study the Total Solar Eclipse in Your Classroom

On August 21, 2017, we’ll see something the country has not seen in 38 years: a total solar eclipse. The day will excite students and science teachers alike. The below resources introduce students to eclipses, both lunar and solar, and prepare them for the solar eclipse.

These 16 resources compliment the Legends of Learning series of eclipse games and lesson plan that can be found in the Eclipses and Seasons Learning Objective.  Legends of Learning published a lesson plan for this Learning Objective, too, and on July 10 will offer two of its games — “Walter’s Travels” and “Bubble Eclipse” — publicly on its Alpha Games page as a public service.

Websites

 

Interactive Media

  • Eclipse2017.org App. Go mobile with the Eclipse2017 app. With it, students will learn about eclipses and how to find the best location to watch “totality” occur. (Available on iOS and Android)
  • Eclipses and Seasons. Encourage engagement and solidify learning objectives with Legends of Learning’s seven games about eclipses and seasons. If wishing to cross into other science subjects, look at the “The Sun, Moon, and Stars: Patterns of Apparent Motion” games, as well as “Our Solar System.”
  • JavaScript Solar Eclipse Explorer. Eclipses are historical events, and this web-based calculator provides data not only on past eclipses but also future ones.
  • NASA’s Extremely Accurate Map for August’s Total Solar Eclipse. Use this tool to combine geography and science. Students can use the tool to identify the best states for solar-eclipse watching on August 21, 2017.
  • SpaceMath. Show students how mathematics applies to real-world scientific studies with this in-depth resource from NASA. The page features numerous math activities designed to present eclipses and astronomy in a “different light.”
  • THE GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE. With this resource, your classroom can watch the total solar eclipse in real time. Discover’s Science Channel will cover the eclipse as it happens, then follow up with a one-hour special during primetime.
  • Total Solar Eclipse Animation. Prepare students for the eclipse launch date with PBS NOVA’s animation. For additional classroom resources, check out PBS’ toolkit, webinar, and videos.

Classroom Activities

  • Build a Sun Funnel. Spend the first few weeks of August with a collaborative science project, the Sun Funnel. While inexpensive, the funnel takes some time and expertise to build, so you may want to practice building one at home before introducing the project to the classroom. For simpler versions of the concept, consider using the Exploratorium’s instructions for building a pinhole camera from a UPS shipping container or SPACE’s shoebox concept.
  • Create an Eclipse in the Classroom. Styrofoam and cardboard possess magical properties, becoming anything from molecules and atoms to planetary systems. Follow the guide to help students create Earth-Moon-Sun systems and explore how solar and lunar eclipses work.
  • Exploring the Solar System: Solar Eclipse. This instructional tool uses an inflatable Earth to teach students three curriculum-based learning objectives. Provided by the National Informal STEM Education (NISE) Network, the tool includes resources for English- and Spanish-speaking students.
  • How to Film or Photograph the 2017 Solar Eclipse Like a Pro. Unite the arts and sciences with SPACE’s instructions on how to film or photograph the solar eclipse. Warning: This resource features some advanced photography and film techniques, so you’ll either want to use it with advanced photography students or adapt the methods to your particular classroom.
  • Yardstick Eclipse Activity. This classroom activity from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) caters to the older crowd that may be less than pleased with cardboard and Styrofoam projects. You can create the activity from scratch or purchase a pre-made kit for $35.00.

Other Resources

 

Have you taught about lunar and solar eclipses before? What are your favorite lesson plans, activities, or resources? Share your thoughts in the comments or start a thread in the community forum.

Get Your Classroom Ready for Blended Learning

The following is an excerpt from our new white paper, “Eight Steps to Successfully Implement Blended Learning in Your Classroom.” Download it today!

Do you ever find yourself leaving school at the end of the day thinking you could have taught your lesson just a little bit better? It is very natural as a teacher to take stock of your day and think about adjustments you can make for tomorrow. What if you could use tools like games to make a large scale change to your classroom that would lead to much higher levels of engagement and achievement? You can, and blended learning is the 21st century key to this kind of change.

You might be wondering how can you transform your classroom with a blended learning model? After all, the possibilities with tech based learning — middle school science games (hint, hint) — can be truly infinite given the right strategies.

Time to Rearrange the Desks

http://www.schooltechnology.org Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects. student_ipad_school - 030

Whether you have a cart of iPads or a room full of Chromebooks, integrating technology into your classroom is a great way to engage students in learning. One facet, the classroom setup, is often overlooked. It might seem that just putting technology on the desk in place of a textbook will improve a student’s experience and engagement, but research has found otherwise.

Says Ramona Persaud, Edutopia contributor, “From the front door and school grounds to the classroom, the aesthetics of learning spaces impact brain function and influence how students feel when they’re in school—as well as how they feel about their school.”

You likely understand Persaud’s point intuitively. Students perform better when they feel comfortable, safe, and feel as though they belong. You might even have anecdotal evidence demonstrating the impact of something as simple as a desk arrangement.

If classroom setup is instrumental in determining the success of your blended learning model, try something a little out of the box next year. Get a bunch of chairs and a couch and have your students use them during blended learning time. No room in the budget for furniture? No problem! Let students sit on the floor. Students simply do not have to be sitting at a desk in order to be engaged in learning.

Seven Ways to Set Up Your Class For Success

http://www.schooltechnology.org Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects. student_ipad_school - 112

Check out this great list of recommendations from Blended Learning Universe on how to arrange your classroom for Blended Learning.

  • Station Rotation – moves students from station to station on a fixed schedule, with at least one (if not all) of the stations featuring digital learning activities such as games, puzzles, or videos. The rotation can free up teaching time, allowing you to work one-on-one with students needing extra attention.
  • Lab Rotation – looks similar to Station Rotation except that students go to a dedicated computer lab rather than an in-classroom station. Many teachers enjoy the flexibility of using an outside lab in terms of both scheduling and classroom layouts.
  • Individual Rotation – provides students with personalized schedules and assignments. The students may or may not visit every work station in a single day, instead focusing their attention on completing assigned activities.
  • Flipped Classroom – changes the classroom dynamic. Students learn at home via a digital curriculum and online lectures. They then complete teacher-guided projects and other activities in the classroom.
  • Flex – gives the most control to students. It allows them to move through classroom curriculum and activities — both digital and traditional — on a fluid schedule. Teachers, in turn, offer support and instruction as needed. This model tends to use online learning to a greater degree than the previous four.
  • A La Carte – allows schools to offer electives they can’t provide due to a lack of on-site resources. The model often supplements high school classes.
  • Enriched Virtual – requires students to learn at home via online instructional materials and meet with a teacher face-to-face two to three times a week. This model tends to be less common than the other six.

No matter which approach you choose, remember that bringing blended learning into the classroom is a chance to approach student learning in a new way. Do something new this year with your class and get excited for a transformational 2017-2018 school year!!!

Don’t forget to download the new white paper, “Eight Steps to Successfully Implement Blended Learning in Your Classroom.”

5 Earth Day Playlists to Engage Your Students

Earth Day is coming quickly (April 22nd, remember?) and it’s a great opportunity to teach students about conservation, responsibility and being part of a global community.

There are so many ways to make this happen. In addition to the many project based learning opportunities we listed on Monday, you can use games to help students engage in Earth Day.

See our Earth Day Activities and Ideas page for free games, additional resources and lesson plans!

The following is a list of Ambassador recommended playlists of games you can use for Earth Day. They drew from our 90 learning objectives, and more than 600 NGSS aligned science games for middle school that engage students in virtually every topic for Earth, Life and Physical Sciences.

We are dedicated to incorporating Ambassadors’ content suggestions on how to use games in the classroom. In addition, our own team offered an additional playlist.

Without further ado, check out these awesome recommendations and give your students an amazing new Earth Day experience this year.

 

Janessa Slattery’s Earth Day Playlist

Learning Objective: Increasing and Decreasing Impacts on Earth Systems

Games: Defender: Human Impact on Earth, The Big Picture Hosted by Zedd: Animal Agriculture, Mini City

Synopsis: These games show students the impact of human activities on our planet and ways we can build sustainably to avoid doing major harm.

Mariana Garcia-Serrato‘s Earth Day Playlist

Learning Objective: Global Climate Change

Games: Warm Planet Adventure, Escape Global Climate Change, Greenman and The Global Climate Change, Preventative Measures

Synopsis: Student learn about harmful greenhouse gases, ways to combat a warming atmosphere and environmentally friendly sources of alternative energy.

Caitlin Unterman‘s Earth Day Playlist

Learning Objective: Natural Resources

Games: Wealthy City, Resourceful Adventure, The Story of Natural Resources, Pipe Mechanic: Natural Resources

Synopsis: This playlist is great because it takes students through different games that express the importance of natural resources in our everyday lives. Without natural resources from our Earth, many of our daily activities and technologies would not be possible!

Jennifer Pendleton‘s Earth Day Playlist

Learning Objective: Greenhouse Effect

Games: Infrared Escape, Green Planet Adventure, Little Green Planet

Synopsis: Infrared Escape would be a good refresher on the greenhouse effect. Green Planet Adventure helps review more concepts about the greenhouse effect and reinforce them. Little Green Planet is a chance to apply the concepts learned to make decisions.

Jennifer's Earth Day playlist.

Legends of Learning’s Earth Day Playlist

Learning Objective: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

Games: Oscar’s World: Human Impacts on Earth’s Systems, Dam Planner, Bottles: Human Impacts on Earth’s Systems

Synopsis: These three games use a variety of methods to help students understand how their actions have a direct impact on Earth’s ecosystems. Dam Planner really puts students in the drivers seat and helps them actualize their decision making.

Legends of Learning's Earth Day playlist.
 

You can log in and play these games today on the Legends of Learning platform. To become an ambassador, visit our site and fill out this simple form.

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