Explore Like A Pirate: Chapter 7

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Ahoy there! Welcome back for chapter 7 of our Explore Like A Pirate book study. We've spent the last few chapters wrapping our heads around what game-based course design is. Now it's time to begin creating our own. If you need a refresher, you can check out the previous posts here
First off, we need to talk mechanics. There are several things that go into a good game that need to be accounted for. Matera discusses many factors in detail. You may or may not use all of the game mechanics outlined. In order to simplify things, I'm outlining a few of the key elements. 
Experience points are points awarded to a player throughout the game as he or she masters certain aspects of the game. In class, these can be awarded for "extra credit" or "side quests," or given durning review games, etc. You can use experience points to "level up" your players. Experience points MUST be tied to the game and not just awarded on a whim. Otherwise, the points will loose their value and the game will loose its effectiveness. 
Levels "represent where a player is in the game." Think back to playing Pacman. Each time you completed a level or challenge, you moved up a level and the tasks became harder. You mastered the skill at that level and went on to learn new ones. The same can be true in your classroom game. Use your experience points to "level up" your students. 

It reminds me a lot of the "Super Improvers Wall" in Whole Brain Teaching. In that structure, students earn points or stickers and move up different levels of leadership. (Check out pictures of it here.) 

Name your levels something that goes with your game's theme. For instance, with a pirate theme, your students may start as scalawags, then become deckhands, then fishermen, and make their way up to captain. For a sports theme, your players may start out as draft picks, then rookies, and move on up to MVPs or coaches. Use your imagination! Get creative!
Leaderboards show where students are ranked within the game compared to everyone else. This is NOT a student's grade. If you have only one class or a small number of students, this could be a poster on the wall with moveable names and point values. If you teach multiple classes, you may want to go digital on this one. 
Guilds are a group of students working together to earn points or complete tasks. This is simply game talk for student groups. You don't have to call them "guilds" either. They could be tribes, ships, houses, families, etc. Tailor it to your game's theme. Student groups teach your class a lot about how to work together. Students learn to look at their teammates' strengths and how each person in the group can contribute best to their quest. Keep groups together for quarters or semesters in order to maximize teamwork among players. 
Onboading is getting students into the game and building excitement for the possibilities. Keep it short and sweet but high energy. Matera starts his onboarding by creating houses and issuing the first house challenge. That way, students learn by doing. 
Achievements can take on the form of items or badges. Students earn badges after certain achievements. This made me think of the brag tags we already use in our classroom. Adding point values to your badges keeps the momentum going when certain guilds don't always win every game. 
Quests are "missions with an objective." Matera suggests starting with projects you already have and adding your theme to it. We will go into detail about quests in chapter 9. For now, think of it as extra credit for experience points. Students go deeper into the course content on their own time with open-ended guidelines from you. 
Items are anything a student can earn to help him or her with their game play. If you're familiar with Minecraft, you'll know players can earn a pick ax and other items to help them along with their play. Likewise, players in your game could earn items (I'd make baseball card sized images of them) to help them along in their game. These items can serve as locker passes or late homework passes or could be bigger like working with a partner or open notes on a test. If you choose a western theme, maybe a player could earn a lasso or a horse that gives them an added boost. If you choose a Harry Potter type theme, maybe getting a wand would lead to a special ability. Use your imagination!
Currency is some form of money for students to purchase items within the game. Matera uses a spreadsheet to keep track of his students' currency. 
Cascading Information Theory means that "only essential information is provided at intentional points during the game…" That way you don't overwhelm your players. You don't have to go over the entire game at the beginning. Just know when you may introduce certain aspects and keep it under wraps until then. 
Life jackets are designed to help bring up players who are too far behind. Life jackets could double or triple a players' experience points or give them more time on assignments or challenges. Have them available to the players on the bottom half of the leaderboard. 

Other things you may want to consider are player vs. player games where students compete against each other for points instead of with their teams. You can easily do this with a review game of some kind. Communal Discovery games are where the whole class has to work together to meet a challenge. This is great for community building and bringing the game together for the whole class.

Don't be afraid to used timed events or take away points or items. When taking away points, set it up as a double or nothing challenge. For instance, in a review game, if a player buzzes first and gets the question right, they gain points. But if they buzz first and don't know the answer, they lose points. You could also allow students to trade earned items or create special challenges. The choice is yours! 

This is your game. Your classroom. If it seems overwhelming, start small with a one day game. Or even a one hour game! This would be perfect for Fun Friday or during a review before a big test. I know there can be a lot of parts, but as you get the ball rolling in creating your own game, you may find all kinds of things you want to incorporate into your design. 

Matera's game is designed to last the entire school year. It's much more intricate than a simple day or week long game. The beauty of it all is that you can start or modify the game at any time. You could create simple one day or one week challenges for the fall and a whole semester long challenge for the spring. It's up to you. Begin where you are ready. Just don't be afraid to begin. 

Join us next week as we go into detail about putting it all together. Now check out what other teachers had to say about this chapter. Have a great day!


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