Dichotomy in the Classroom: Teaching a Gaming Generation (Part 3)

I started this series earlier last year (Part 1 & Part 2), examining how video games have become one of our culture’s favourite types of text. But this series is not just about video games. It’s about how the benefits of games can crossover into education. This series stems from my fascination with how people learn vast sets of rules and garner a variety of skills when they are engaged in games and play. So, how do we use games and play for learning?

Dramatis Personae

EK – Edna Krabappel. Jaded teacher from the Simpson’s.

BRS – Brent Schmidt, yours truly.


EK: Why would we want to infuse gaming in the classroom? Kids play too much video games.

BRS: Gaming doesn’t mean video games. Many teachers over the years have used games to help their students learn, or used game elements to increase engagement.

EK: “Game elements?”

BRS: Game elements are things like: mystery, narrative, conflict, chance, scores, strategy, uncertainty, aesthetic appeal, competition, progress, emotional involvement, and collaboration.

EK: Still don’t get it. How can we possible play video games in class? That’s not educational.

BRS: That’s not what’s being suggested here, although video games have been used to teach.  Think of it like this: how can we design our teaching and instruction in a way where lessons are more “playable” using the elements listed above.

EK: “Playable?”

BRS: Playable means a lesson, unit, or project is inviting. It means, it should pique a student’s curiosity . It means that play becomes part of the way we learn and practice skills. It also means that it’s done collaboratively.

EK: Whoa, whoa, whoa, there buddy! You can’t do all that!

BRS: Yes, you can! You just need to practice what it looks like in a classroom. You start with a setting, students have characters, there’s a problem, and the students need to learn and use the curricular stuff to progress.

EK: Okay, so what do we call this? What’s the acronym? EdGaming? Gamification? Game-based learning? EGGGBL?

BRS: A term my colleagues and I have used is  “Classroom Story“. It’s not about acronyms, a detailed methodology, or cookie cutter lessons.  It’s having an approach using narrative and game elements to drive the students to learn and create.

EK: What about other methods? Like Project-Based Learning, or Writer’s Workshop, and Lit Circles? And what about technology?

BRS: All are still totally viable! A Classroom Story is using a creative narrative and game elements to drive the class forward. Teachers can still integrate their own strengths, styles, projects, and personality!

EK: You just said “Classroom Story” again, and before you were talking about video games! What are you trying to pull here!

BRS: I’m just trying to be part of a grander conversation about culture and education. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between popular culture and education system. I’m trying to incorporate the ancient practices of storytelling and game-playing, with modern technology and pedgogical methods to create a positive, creative learning environment. All those principles packaged together became something called a Classroom Story. 

EK: This confuses me and now I don’t want to do it.

BRS: If you try and don’t like it, or it doesn’t mesh with what you’re trying to do, I get it. This isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a solution to education’s woes, but many teachers have found it increase student engagement, the quality of writing, creative output, and classroom cohesion.

EK: I’ve seen a bunch of stuff online about using badges, achievements, and level-ups. Is that gaming in a classroom?

BRS: Some will say yes, but I don’t believe it is. Just because there’s an electronic achievement with a little badge, packaged like a game, does not make it gaming. Remember learning about the “Types of Players“? Achievements and badges are just re-packaged grades, and there’s only one kind of “player” that goes for that; achievers. We need to teach to the “Explorers”, “Socializers”, and “Killers”, too. And I feel that the Classroom Story does that.

EK: Why do I need to do a song and dance for the students? Why can’t they just sit in rows, read the assigned texts, and do the work? Kids are lazy these days!

BRS: The human brain learns and retains information better when it is engaged. When there is purpose and joy. When students are working and playing in proximity and community. This is why we need to teach students differently.

EK: Well, I’ll just add more tech. And YouTube. Kids love tech and YouTube.

BRS:  ಠ⌣ಠ


Doodle Battle: Fight for the Whiteboard

As with most things in our classroom, it started with a story.

In our Classroom Story, “Carta Marina”, we had a portion called Dungeon Dash where students’ characters were navigating a dungeon looking for monsters, loot, and keys. One group encountered a Slime, the most basic, weak, and ubiquitous of the Fantasy Role-Playing Game enemies/monsters.

Below is the first page of a comic about the events one group experienced…and the advent of JERRY the Slime.

Then, one October day, Jerry found a spot on our whiteboard (he didn’t start with the Santa hat). I’ve always let students draw and doodle on a certain part of our whiteboard, but one day in December, Mr.Wichenko (teaching candidate), noticed the students started taking liberalities with the space given.  Their doodles were encroaching on our valuable whiteboard space so he asks, “when do I start erasing stuff and taking our spot back?”

I figured it was time to take it back to the students. What is the nemesis of slime?





Salt throwers. Army of salt men. Puddles of slime. Saltinerator. THE DOODLE BATTLE WAS ON.

We had a couple rules though. 1. No erasing other peoples stuff. 2. Doodles had to somehow relate to the battle.

Here’s my quick-notes on why this experience was awesome.

  • students planning and working together
  • student and staff interaction
  • drawing!
  • students laughing
  • teachers laughing
  • making something
  • seeing all the little things appear on the whiteboard from class to class
  • seeing how the drawings would evolve and interact

Personally, my favourite part was when I drew a spy amongst the slimes. It was just a bunch of salt people in a suit.

Screen Shot 2017-01-01 at 1.06.50 PM.png

When the students eventually found it amongst the other doodles, they quickly acted.


And then sent their own unit into deep cover.


Over the course of a week the whiteboard became a living art installation in the room, constantly changing and expanding. We had our fun, and on the last day before Winter Break, the doodlers all got together and erased everything…except Jerry.

Oh, and here was our “finished product”.




Bartle’s Kids: Teaching a Gaming Generation (Part 2)

In part 1, I explored ideas relating to the current state of video game culture; the way video games have evolved with the ubiquity of social media and video sharing and how our students participate in this culture.

Here in part two I’m examining: how gamers have personality types, why we should view students as gamers, and why we need to view and approach lesson design like game design.

Years ago, a friend of mine Gregory Chomichuk, introduced me to a great YouTube channel called Extra Credits that explores a variety of concepts related to video game design theory; quality storytelling, engaging game mechanics, appealing aesthetics, difficulty settings, quality level design, the creation process, and even gamifying education are but a few of the topics. The crew at Extra Credits excellently delivers information. Their approach using visuals to reinforce concepts is a major plus. They take challenging topics and make them understandable. It’s great, check it out.

Fast forward to autumn 2015, when the above-mentioned Gregory shows me the video titled “Bartle’s Taxonomy: What Type of Player Are You?” Please watch:

My observations:

I instantly started seeing parallels between the player types*, and myself and my students. The semi-eccentric kid who doodles on everything and marches to the beat of their own drum is the explorer. The eager go-getter who must complete all assignments with a high mark is the achiever. The kid who acts upon their peers through some form of attention seeking or type A behaviour is the killers. The kid(s) who ONLY want to talk and socialize…all the time are the socializers!

*”player type” is not synonymous with learning styles (kinaesthetic, verbal, visual, etc.) “Player type” is  the preferred way with which a player (person) interacts within a particular game or social environment.

I saw these player types in myself, both as a learner and a gamer. I quickly identified myself as an explorer and achiever. I like to go for the game’s (or lesson’s) stated goals, but I like doing it my way, taking the time to go on tangents and explore. These spectrums are flexible. Some people are clearly one player type, while some fall into multiple categories.

I was provoked by the part in the video that talks about the video game environment Bartle researched. How players played games for different reasons,and although there was lots of disagreement, there was not one type of voice that stood out. But neither was there 1000 different voices saying different things. It was uncanny how these massive roleplaying game communities sound a lot like a classroom full of students.

In the book OutliersMalcolm Gladwell examines some the reasons behind success from an interesting angle. Among other things, he cites the 10 000-Hour Rule as one indicator of success. The 10 000-Hour Rule claims that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.

“World class expertise”- 10 000 hours. That means practicing something correctly for 2.5 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 15 years.

I teach 12-14 year olds. I doubt more than a handful of them are even close to reading quality text for over 1000 hours (2 hours per week for 10 years). But video games? That number is a lot higher.

The attraction of video games is that they are not a passive experience like TV or film, where the user takes in the content. Video games are an active experience where there is interaction, choice, consequences, achievement, and socialization. Our kids are gamers. It’s pretty safe to say that there is more gaming than book-reading happening, and that means that video games are the primary way in which our students engage with narratives.

Gameplay in games is fun. There are places to explore, people to talk to, and people to act upon, but a good narrative holds a lot of weight in the gaming world. Narrative weaves the details of the worlds, paints content, populates places with characters, and ultimately transports the player into that world. What if we took the same approach to teaching.

Oftentimes I don’t see a difference between how gamers engage in games, and how teachers engage students in learning. Can the player types be catered to in the classroom as they are in games?

On the game side, designers are always incorporating new data and technologies; innovating game design; creating faster consoles, better graphics engines, more responsive gameplay, a more immersive online experience. They are doing all they can to engage their gamers. Teachers have been designing unique projects and units, innovating with new technologies and tools, making classrooms places of inspiration and creation.

The big difference here is how Gaming is a large, international, multi-billion dollar industry. Companies want to make money and they are doing so in spades. They adapt to their market and provide the players what they want. That is the way the corporate system works in this world.

But is the education system listening to what its users want?

The education system has particularly catered to only a portion of the four gaming personalities; Achievers. “Here’s what you need to learn (goal), this is how to show (assignment), here’s your grade (reward).”

*Stop. Do I go on the anti-grade rant now? Wait. Save for a future post. Okay.*

* UPDATE* I did.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have things in our system for Achievers, but we teachers need to help balance the student-ecosystem from the inside.

Let’s get some fun back in our classroom and learning. Let’s Gamify a bit.

‘Til next time.


Down the Rabbit Hole: Teaching a Gaming Generation (Part 1)

Starting Note

Disclaimer: I’ve been a gamer my whole life. Not just video games though – I play sports, board games, cooperative games, riddles, whatever! I love using my mind and talents in a playful and challenging way. So it’s natural that I’m fascinated by the way gaming has evolved. But how we can use games and gamification in schools to help challenge and engage students in their learning?

In part 1, my intention is to build a foundation about gaming. I’ll explore ideas relating to the current state of video game culture, the way video games have evolved with the ubiquity of social media and video sharing, and how our youth participate in this culture.

So take the plunge with me and participate in the conversation.


Have you heard of the super-celebrities: Miranda Sings, PewDiePie, TheDiamondMinecart, UberHaxorNova, VanossGaming, JennaMarbles or Vegetta777?

If you have, then you’re more internet-savvy than most (including myself, because I had to look most of them up). These are some of the highest-paid, most famous YouTubers with millions upon millions of subscribers. Self-made celebrities who earn a very good living by producing videos on YouTube. As you might guess, many of the top YouTubers – including some in the above list – run comedy channels. But you might have trouble guessing the next most popular genre on YouTube. It’s probably because you have little reason to watch these videos, but due to a burgeoning community, there’s plenty of demand. These other top YouTubers produce videos themselves playing video games. Usually the video is set up picture-in-picture.The main screen showing the gameplay, and the inset, a webcam recording of the gamer.

*needle scratches off record*

Wait. Watching video games is a thing? Why are people doing this?

I’ll point you towards a description provided by Twitch.tv. Twitch.tv is a website that hosts “social videos for gamers” (i.e. where people go to watch others play video games live while interacting with them). It is the world’s leading social video platform and community for gamers. Oh, and Amazon purchased it in 2014 for a cool $1 billion. From Twitch’s About Us page:

“People enjoy watching others who are highly skilled or entertaining when it involves a shared interest. Twitch, however, is much more than a viewing experience; it is live social video that relies on audio and chat to enable broadcasters and their audiences to interact about everything from pop culture to life in general as they game.”

Video games have grown over the last 30 years to become a cultural force. Here’s some evidence:

  • The gregarious gamer, PewDiePie, is the top earning YouTuber  in the world with 42 million subscribers and a net-worth estimated at $60 million. After watching some of his videos, it’s hard not to like him. He’s just like a goofy buddy making funny comments while playing a game.
  • Sharing images and video of games has gone mainstream. XboxOne and PS4 have engineered their consoles to easily record, screencast, and share images and video with the touch of a button. It used to be that if you wanted to record and share your video game play you would have purchase and setup expensive hardware. Not anymore.
  • eSports – professional gaming – is rising fast. Huge prizes, agents, coaches, high stakes, sold-out venues. Approximately 71.5 million people watched competitive gaming in 2013, and it has only grown since then. RedBull even has a section of their webpage devoted to eSports.
  • Reddit has a subreddit (r/gaming) that has 9.5 million subscribers and features all sorts of jokes, videos, and comment threads all about games. Note, if you’re not a gamer don’t expect to make much sense of all the memes and jokes.

There’s so much more to say about why and how gaming has become so large, but suffice to say, it’s a different gaming world now than the one you and I grew up in. The old conception was that video games were an expensive novelty gadget for teenage boys who would eventually have to grow up, and invariably separate with said video games, in a drawn out heart wrenching fashion (think Toy Story narrative). That conception no longer exists. The gaming world now belongs to people of any age, any gender, any console/device, all around the world.

I should admit that I did know that recording and sharing video game footage was at least moderately popular. Years ago I started to view videos on YouTube to help me with a notoriously hard game. I wanted to learn more about where to go in the game, where to get certain items, find better ways to beat bosses, or how to access hidden areas.  I thought videos about video games was limited to tips, tricks, and cheats – things to help you play and beat a game. But little did I know that at this time video game social videos were garnering lots of attention.  This whole idea of watching video games for entertainment seemed so foreign to me and I needed to know more. So I turned to some of my in-house experts (students). A couple guys, Ben and Randall, volunteered to talk in front of a camera while we discussed video game culture and why people watch. I shot questions at them and they didn’t flinch; these guys were fantastic with their answers and insights. We did this for about 10 minutes and I felt much more informed. So what did they say? Why watch others game? It came down to

  1. To see someone very skilled perform at a high level.
  2. To be entertained by the gamer’s personality, reactions, and comments.
  3. To learn new things about the games.

Ben and Randall went on to make an acute comparison between gaming and sports. It is great to play sports but the participation doesn’t have to end there. You can watch sports on TV, listen to sports talk radio or podcasts, watch highlights,talk about it with peers, buy merchandise, and follow and support your favourite teams online. All of these same ideas also hold true for video games. It is an experience that ties millions of people together.

I’ll admit, in researching this topic I watched an hour of PewDiePie playing my current favourite game. It wasn’t hours upon hours of him just playing and talking. He split up the main quest into six, 10-minute episodes. I was surprised by how entertaining I found it! He has hilarious responses and commentary (nsfw language), edits his videos very well, and a certain charisma that keeps you watching.  I consistently found myself laughing at his reactions to things that had happened to me in the game. And that was the crux of it. I found it funny because we shared the same experience, he was doing something that I had done. PewDiePie records, edits, brands, packages, and shares his experience to a global audience, and they love it.

But to wrap up, what does this all mean? Why am I spending my time on this topic?

Games engage. Games are collaborative. Games are fun. Games challenge. Games are remembered. Games teach.

Those are words I want to have describe my classroom.

This I Believe


I believe in…

education. it helps make our future brighter.

I believe in…

a future with an education system that meets the needs of all students.

I believe in…

volunteerism. a network of care in action.


I believe in…

learning about various histories, cultures, stories, and peoples of the world

I believe in…

diving headfirst into three books at a time.

I believe in…

enjoying food, drink, and discussion with friends, family, and new people.


I believe in..,

playing acoustic and electric guitar… usually in my classroom…while singing.


I believe in…

using all tools available (techy and non-techy)  to interact and engage with students and the world around our classroom

I believe in…

encouraging youths to find their passion, build truths, and make a difference in their community and world


I believe in…


I believe in…

playing and coaching various athletic activities that aren’t ball.


But most of all.


I believe in…

forgiveness and hope. because we’d never make it anywhere without those two things.


Teach Your Passion (It’s Engaging)

If you’re an educator, you know that the feeling of being overwhelmed comes from a plethora of directions. The province, curriculum, the school board, parents, experts, other teachers, students, and yourself. All these influences come crashing down on you – the axis of the wheel. “Teach this, grade this way, assess this way, engage this way, create this way, talk this way, be this way.”  At every turn it seems there is some research, study, or opinion that says, teach this way.  We read articles, go to PDs, and hear experts that espouse a certain way of teaching, and then we feel a pressure that we do the same thing.  Now, it’s great to pick up on new methods and styles, but it should be because you felt moved, not because you felt obligated. Well, now I’m going to tell you something: teach in a way where your interests and passions come out.

A teacher at my school is big into comics and graphic novels. He’s spent years building up a wide variety of grade-level graphic novels for his class. This year, his Graphic Novel Unit was a huge success. What a coincidence! He had the kids engaged and loving reading. Meanwhile, he got to grow his technology skills because he was engaged.

So teach the best way you know how. Push yourself to improve, but don’t feel that you have to jump on board with every trend. Still integrate technology because it is a tool, not an outcome. Uniformity can become boring and static, diversity strengthens.

If we want engaged students we need engaged educators.

Please Don’t Over-share

While participating in Dean Shareski and Alec Couros’ ETMOOC sessions last week, the topic of over-sharing came up a couple times.  From what I gather there are two camps on this topic.

  1. I Share, You Filter  (ISYF)
  2. Too Much Information (TMI)

I love the line, “why is everyone such an exhibitionist all of a sudden?” At some point, whether intentional or not, people who share “too much” aren’t trying to create memories or share valuable information, they’re just trying to be seen. Their posts are a validation of their existence. “I post, therefore I am”.

Yes, having to constantly filter through a persons mundane updates, pictures, and tweets can be annoying, but in the grand scheme, not a big deal.  My main issue is that over-sharing subtracts from the good things that person has to say.  I’ve unfollowed people (GASP!) from various social media because of over-posting the trivial. I’m a “quality over quantity” kind of person and while Mr.Over-poster might have some great photos, comments, or media to share, it’s few and far between. When a person expresses a good idea, shares a valuable resource (funny, inspiring, thought-provoking, etc), or has an interesting conversation online, they are contributing. When a person is giving you a play-by-play of their life, it dilutes the good things share. Others get desensitized to the over-sharing and will eventually ignore the good content of the Over-poster.

So for the sake of your message and reputation, think before you post.