Alone, I win. Together, we succeed.
The concept of competition does not seem like it would be a likely system that would foster collaboration. Under normal circumstances I would agree! However, the mechanics of my gamified classroom have allowed groups of students to rally together to not only find success as a group, but also individually. It is through the group dynamic created in the game that encourages students to think about more than themselves. So what does this look like and how can you add it to your classroom? Keep reading to find out!
Whether it is a long term grouping or just for a single activity, team dynamics have great capabilities to foster support through collaboration. Typically, classroom environments are not built in such a way that students look out for other students in an academic way. While cultivating a place where students feel respected and safe are common attributes, I am looking to push it even further. When a student needs help on a problem, I am looking to have students be the first line for support.
The ultimate question is, does this help all students? In all honesty, this is a difficult question to answer, as you have to look beyond the initial learning moment to see the value. As a teacher of the gifted and talented, I know that consistently having strong students help weaker students does not help the stronger student academically, but this DOES help them develop a greater sense of empathy for other learners. In addition, one of the most difficult attributes for strong students to develop is the willingness to ask for help. By breaking down the stigma against asking for help and realizing a support structure is present, stronger students are more likely to take risks as they know they have a safety need of peers to catch them. The reality is that this experience is more about culture than content and in a dynamic world, creating a space for students to develop a growth mindset is most certainly worth it.
Next, let’s talk about how to get everything setup!
Setting the Stage - Groupings!
My game consists of groups of “warriors” batting each other for control of land. The group (or league) is the game based group which focuses on strategy and accumulating land and resources. In many circumstances the members of the group are not required to work together on academic work. When work is not individual groups are either randomly selected, groups by player type (non-league), or a combination of player types (also non-league). This not only gives players a break from their league, but also keeps the potential for group variety very open and subject to change. When it really comes down to time, players spend more time with non-league players than members of their league, but the investment in the academic groupings are always going to be less as your success in the game is based on league success.
League groupings are heterogenous in nature with evenly distributed by player types and academic abilities. Using the Bartles Player Type Analysis (see previous post), I have been able to identify how students are likely to react in a game and evenly distribute them among leagues. In addition, using pre-testing data, players are distributed by academic ability. This large variety in a league presents the opportunity to allow students to support others in a variety of different scenarios.
Group Experiences - Name, Crest, Challenges, and Boss Battles!
Before the battle for land even begins, it is important to provide non-academic opportunities for the group to gel together. Building a sense of pride within a group will allow them to be more comfortable seeking support and providing it when requested. Breaking down the social barriers within a group have produced better results. Encouraging students to check outside influences at the door have also alleviated stresses from outside the classroom. Sometimes it is difficult, but creating the right culture makes all the difference.
What’s in a name?
Building buy-in from students is the first opportunity to get them invested in their league. Second to this is helping them develop a sense of ownership in their league. Autonomy is the key element in developing these attributes. In my game, it all starts with a name. A groups first task is to develop an identity that will end up being showcased on the leaderboard and on their individual score cards. The public display of a team’s identify creates a unified interest in putting the groups best effort forth. The addition of this name on the individual scorecard is done as a reminder that the student is responsible to more than just him/herself.
Crests or Shields
Just as with the league name, the team is also tasked with creating a symbol, crest, or shield as a means for identification throughout different parts of the game. I also try to integrate these symbols within game elements as well to further reinforce the group’s importance. Shields are found on game tokens that are used to identify the land owned by each league. Players are proud to see their tokens covering the board or when the get to place a token on a new plot of land. The tokens and symbol show the success of the league where all can see the fruits of their labor.
Challenges can be done at anytime in the game. In my game, these are used when groups need to revisit the need to work together for success. It is natural for students to isolate in certain scenarios, but if they do not reconnect a challenge can help solve the issue. These challenges best serve the purpose as being non-academic challenges. Puzzles, scavenger hunts, or breakout room experiences that force student collaboration and the application of multiple perspectives and brainstorming work the best. Something as simple as the Spaghetti and Marshmallow Tower Challenge works to help groups ideate and prototype. Encouraging risk taking and resilience, challenges help the group work together toward a common goal.
Done primarily as substitutes for review games, Boss Battles are ways that students can earn items in the game and practice content for a soon to follow assessment. In a Boss Battle, it is all students against a single foe, often the teacher. Players must collaboration among and between leagues to defeat the boss. Using items such as “Life Preservers,” league teammates can help each other out by providing clues or eliminating incorrect choices. In this scenario, players use their own items to help other players as they all work toward league success. These selfless acts are celebrated and become necessary actions in order to vanquish the boss!
League Collaboration - Land Battles!
The manner by which a league will most frequently be expected to collaborate are in League vs. League land battles. These events are assessments where player vs. player scores are based on academic performance and added values of played items. With the basis of the game being to conquer and defend as much land as possible, theses battle days are quite the big deal! With that in mind, the success and failure of a league comes down to their collective strategy and performance. In preparation for these events teams need to hone their critical thinking, brainstorming, analysis, and decision making skills in order to formulate a successful strategy.
As league success is based on the amount of land the group is able to conquer and defend, the success of all members is essential. The loss of one warrior could have broader strategic effects than just a loss of land. With this in mind, players need to not only prepare academically, but also strategically. Both of these elements create opportunities for students to collaborate in preparation for their battles.
Content preparation is at the forefront of the experience. Regardless of the amount of items or strategy cards, a student needs to have a strong understanding of the material. Leagues are a built in structure for student to student review. As groups progress through the game, it is my hope that they begin to develop a sense of commradery and implement review strategies that encourage success for all members. Items such as review sheets, practice questions, and flash cards are simple things groups can create and share so that each player has the materials they need to succeed.
Strategic preparation is an element of the game that fosters a greater sense of ownership within their league. There are items that can be shuffled among league members that will allow them to either prevent them from loss or to increase the probably of success in a battle. In addition, leagues also formulate their attack/defense strategies in response to other group’s strategies. These efforts require groups to be open about capabilities, strengths, and requests for support. This more honest environment helps league members empathize with their teammates, creating a more supportive environment.
With the success of the league being a responsibility of all members of the group, each member must always be prepared to put their best foot forward. In this competitive environment a single player is not able to hide or avoid contribution. This element requires students to perpetually be ready to support their group and individually do their part. The fact that each player is accountable for their actions brings to the forefront the need for group support. When students feel that they are at risk of failure, other members of their group can step in to help them. Without this level of accountability, students are less likely to ask for support as they feel their effort is not required.
The major metric for success in World of Legends is the amount of land a league controls. This is a collaborative endeavor that requires all members to succeed. Thus, when a league succeeds everyone in the group succeeds. While some players would be unlikely to find success individually, there is a higher likelihood that they will find success as part of a group. The opportunity to feel a positive result in class often bolsters their belief that they are capable and can achieve the same success individually if they mirror the efforts and procedures of the group.
Above else, the collaborative nature of the game provides a venue for student to student support. This play oriented environment has great potential to foster collaboration. The competitive nature of the structure is intended to accelerate the development of these relationships. While I would attest that play alone can allow this to occur, some students are not motivated for collaboration in those parameters. With a combination of player types (see previous post on group selection and development of “soft skills” student groups are equipped with necessary resources and perspectives to cultivate a positive and successful group dynamic that supports all players and encourages positive collaboration skills.