Relationship Building

How You Can Gamify Your Classroom (Ep. 320)

Kyle Wood returns to the show today to discuss gamification in the art room and his upcoming NOW Conference presentation on the topic. Listen as he and Tim discuss the concept of gamification, its benefits for both students and teachers, the role of the Double Dare TV show, and ideas for teachers who may want to gamify their art room.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Now, one of my favorite things about the NOW Conference that we do every summer and every winter, of course coming up in July here soon… one of my favorite things is the ability to share new ideas, share interesting ideas and share things that can go back to the classroom, that you can use immediately to change what you’re doing, improve what you’re doing, new ideas for what you can do in your classroom.

And so today on the podcast, I want to start to explore those ideas just a little bit, in particular, one on gamifying your classroom with Kyle Wood. Kyle will be my guest today. He is an elementary art teacher from Naperville, Illinois, and he is the host of the Who ARTed podcast where, I’m making sure I get this right, I believe he always says Who ARTed is where they explore visual arts in an audio medium. Very cool way to do things, very good podcast, which I would highly recommend.

But last time Kyle was on, we were talking about his Arts Madness tournament, which was a lot of fun, something he did in March to determine the best artwork out there and just asks kids which is better, and has people all across the country voting on which is better. He also has a podcast episode to go with every, single artwork, which is really, really cool at this point. Anyway, we talked a lot about Arts Madness last time, great conversation, and we just touched a little bit on the idea of gamifying your classroom. And as I said, I think that’s an idea that’s worth exploring a little bit more, so we’re going to do that a little bit today in the podcast and we’re also going to do a lot more at the NOW Conference.

We have our live event that we always do with the NOW Conference, and this time around we have an expanded after pass, so you’ll have an entire day of asynchronous learning. Kyle’s presentation on gamifying your classroom will be part of that asynchronous day of learning. So if you’re interested in this conversation today, if some of his ideas intrigue you, I would definitely encourage you to make sure you sign up for the NOW Conference, and you can check out his video, which is just going to be chock full of information. He’s going to share a ton of resources. It’s going to be a really, really good explainer. So like I said, if you enjoy the conversation today, make sure you are registered for the NOW Conference and you can learn a lot more from Kyle there at the end of July. But anyway, I’ve been talking for a while now. Kyle’s ready to go, so let me bring him on now.

Kyle Wood is back on the show, joining me now. Kyle, how are you?

Kyle: I am doing well. I am in that restful period between the end of the school year and the start of summer school. I’ve got-

Tim: All right.

Kyle: … that one week off to prep for the transition.

Tim: Hey, you know what? We really appreciate that one week, though. Honestly, kudos to anybody out there who’s teaching summer school. That is tough to wrap my head around for a lot of people this year. I can’t imagine going back and doing even more this summer. Before we get sidetracked with that discussion, though, we have a lot of other stuff I want to focus on. I do want to follow up, though, from last time you were on the podcast. We talked a bunch about your Arts Madness tournament. And for those that did not follow along, and shame on you for not following along, you really need to be doing this, let me ask you though, how did the Arts Madness tournament go and who was the eventual winner?

Kyle: The tournament was fantastic, because a lot of your listeners do follow along. I had a lot more people joining in this year. We had people voting from all over the country: Massachusetts, Texas, California. The eventual winner for the second year in a row was Yayoi Kusama. I think you can’t beat a bunch of neon colors in a darkened infinity room.

Tim: Right, right. Well, and I think Kusama just appeals to everybody because you have great use of color, you have the simplicity of the dots, but then if you like more complex stuff, like you said, the infinity rooms are there. There’s just so much to love, so that doesn’t surprise me, to be honest. Are you just going to let her win every year or are you going to try and stiffen up the competition or are you going to keep her out of it? What’s the plan for future tournaments?

Kyle: I’m thinking I’m going to take her out for a year. One of my goals early on was to create enough podcasts so I had a resource for every single artist in the tournament.

Tim: Right, right.

Kyle: And now I have surpassed that point so I can start rotating through, and I think it’s time to give her a year off and then see if she comes back triumphant the following year.

Tim: All right. I like it. I like it. That’ll be cool. That’ll give us something to look forward to, what, nine months from now?

Kyle: Yeah, coincide with March Madness.

Tim: Perfect. All right, so our real topic today though, is gamification. I would love for you to just start by giving us an explainer on the concept of gamification, and if you could talk a little bit about how you utilize that concept in your classroom, that would be awesome.

Kyle: Okay. So gamification, there’s something in education and the art world where we just love jargon and conjugating nouns.

Tim: Yes.

Kyle: Gamification is basically the way we dress up bringing in those fun gaming elements to our teaching practices. Think things like digital badges, leaderboards. I use a class health meter from time to time, and it’s just re-contextualizing those… I’m in my arts speak mindset right now, but it’s just taking those familiar elements and putting them into a new context in the classroom. Another thing people talk a lot about is game-based learning and that’s more of using games to teach a skill or a concept or a technique. Think when we did class Jeopardy, or I do art class Double Dare because it’s just fun.

I was drawn to gamification really for a few reasons, and one of them is that I teach in a really high-achieving school. There are a lot of driven and focused and wonderful students to work with, but high achievement often comes with high anxiety, and so I wanted to bring just a little bit of fun into the classroom and relieve a little bit of that stress. That kind of got me moving towards that choice-based… I’m not a TAB guy. I was reinventing the wheel going towards that direction before I even knew what TAB was, but I’d say I embrace a lot of that philosophy. There’s a lot that’s really good there, even if I’m not strictly schooled in it and a strict adherent of it. I use digital badges to mark students’ achievements and give them a little bit of guidance and a goal that they can be working towards, give them some key learning targets and stuff like that as they’re going out and exploring and figuring out what they want to do.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s really cool. Did you have something else you wanted to add? Sorry, I’m jumping in there.

Kyle: No, I always have more I want to add, and I’m trying to remember what the original question was because I have a tendency to just go off on what I want to talk about. So I was trying to think back like, “What was I initially asked?” Because I start to get into like, “Let’s define gamification,” and all of a sudden I find myself talking about TAB and I want to make sure that I’m not losing the thread there.

Tim: But I think there is an interesting thread there. I think there’s a connection, and I guess I can see the idea of starting with some choice-based ideas, but then giving it some kind of structure and some specificity for what kids can be doing, giving them a little bit more direction on things while they are choosing what they want to explore, what they want to learn about. And so I think the structure and the setup is something that feels like you can find a lot of success with that.

And so I guess that gets me thinking about how you set things up, how you organize things. So can you talk a little bit about how you got started putting this all together, how much time went into setting everything up and maybe also just how much ongoing work is involved with your processes and the way things are set up in your classroom?

Kyle: The initial setup time… it’s hard to say exactly how much, because the initial setup probably took me way longer than it should have because I have a tendency to tinker and I have a tendency to find success after I have exhausted every possible path to failure. And I’m sure a lot of people… we’re in the arts. We like to play around with things. We like to experiment. I’m the type of guy who created lessons because, “Oh, that paint that they spilled all over my countertop and nobody wiped up, it just peels off. And so then I’m wondering, “Well, what if we made a mold for that with packing tape?” And then they’re casting poured acrylic bracelets and stuff like that.

I like looking at systems and structures and experimenting and tweaking things. Probably, I don’t know, six or seven years ago, I thought myself much younger and hipper and I was looking into like, “Well, what are the young, cool tech companies doing? I want that kind of a vibe. I want to be like Google.” Google had their famous 20% time.

Tim: Yes.

Kyle: They let their people go for… 20% of their time can be dedicated to their passion projects. And so I went to my students and I said… because in my classroom, people always, when they finish early the early finishers, I never give free draw time. I absolutely do not like the term free draw time because it just suggests it’s free time, do whatever you want. I always would tell my students, “You’re an artist every minute you’re here,” but kids love that free time. Kids love that freedom to explore. In my classroom, we call it self-directed art time. And I would have students ask me the worst possible question. And I know we’re not supposed to admit that there are bad questions, but there are some questions that I hear and a little piece of me dies inside. I would have students asking, “Can I be done?”

Tim: Yeah. Yeah.

Kyle: To me, that is a painful question to hear because the implication of it is my lesson, my project that I worked so hard to craft and I expect I’m going to dole this out and then have everybody awed by my brilliance and innovation, and they’re not going along with that.

Tim: It’s not happening.

Kyle: But they’re looking at that as a chore that they need to get through to get to do what they want to do.

Tim: Right.

Kyle: So that’s where I started to go with that 20% time. I said, “Okay, you put up with what I’m teaching you, and then one out of five weeks you can pursue your passion projects.” And I came up with this form for them to fill out their planning doc and everything. It was the biggest professional failure I have had in my entire life.

Tim: Interesting. Okay.

Kyle: Because what I learned from that was one out of five weeks is not enough time to establish a routine. It’s just enough time for them to get started and then have to put it away, and then a month later, I have to reteach this. I’m keeping them accustomed to being guided by me most of the time, so then when they finally are let free to do what they want, some kids go nuts with that lack of boundaries and some kids just are spinning their wheels. They can’t generate those ideas. They haven’t had that support at being productive, self-directed learners.

Tim: Yeah.

Kyle: So after that blew up in my face, I spent winter break reflecting and I decided to go all in on it, and so I came up with some Google slides as templates. It’s basically a choice board. Let’s call a spade a spade. I gave them a doc that said, okay, these are the curricular goals that I’ve got from the district. These are the things that I’m responsible for teaching you, but it doesn’t really matter if you do this in January or you do this in March. As long as you hit these targets, I don’t care exactly which week we do it.

That’s one of the things that drives me nuts whenever I read about like learning loss and I hear that students are 10 days behind where they’re supposed to be in math. As an adult, I don’t care if I learned something 10 days earlier or later. The sequencing stuff didn’t matter so much to me about that. And so I said, “As long as we’re hitting these goals, as long as we’re getting where we need to be, you can go at your own pace. You can do them in the order that you want,” and all of that sort of stuff. And I created little icons. Honestly, I took a number of icons from places when I didn’t have time to create my own. I took some from, which is fantastic. They have lots of free resources you can use, but digital badges were just a great way for kids to keep track of their progress and make sure… and for me to quickly check in and I can be like, “Okay, you’ve earned your painting, your marker, your clay badge. You can’t keep earning the clay badge. You got to earn another one.”

It’s that quick check for progress that made the whole system of them doing their own thing far more manageable. And honestly, once I dove fully into that, I haven’t looked back. It has been fantastic. Kids are happier. They’re more invested in their projects. I’m seeing far greater success and it’s made my job actually a lot more interesting because when we talk about the setup, it took me probably like a year to create all of the docs and stuff that I wanted to do, and then every summer I revise it, update it, change the theme a little bit, but really once I got it up and running, it made every day easier because it front loads all that work. Then, most of my time I’m spending just walking around talking to students about what they’re doing.

AP Studio Art is probably very much like this. I know my college art classes were like this where the professor, the teacher is just walking around, responding to what you’re doing and giving you feedback and things to think about and things to try out. And I like that. I like that I’m having individual conversations instead of just telling everybody, “Okay, remember, outline in Sharpie before you paint with watercolor.”

Tim: Yeah. Let me ask you about that, because as you were talking, I’m thinking about differentiation and you kind of circled back to that, where everybody is doing their own thing. You’re responding to that as a teacher. I think that’s a really cool way to help kids find the challenges that they need, but can you talk a little bit more about what you see your role as as the teacher? Both big picture and small scale, what are you trying to do for your students?

Kyle: Big picture, what I really want to do is just make sure that students are finding their route to success. Was it two weeks ago you had somebody on, or it was a re-broadcast of the episode talking about redefining smart and what we think of as smart. Your guest, and I’m terrible with names-

Tim: That was Ulcca Joshi Hansen.

Kyle: Yes. She’s presenting at NOW Conference, right?

Tim: Yes, she’s going to be one of our featured presenters this summer.

Kyle: Yeah. She was talking about how everybody has something to offer and our goal is to sort of find their roots to success. I remember I had a student just before I started the transition to choice-based model, he had fine motor issues. I did a photo lesson and I remember the parent reaching out to me saying, “Oh, he loved that lesson so much. That was the first time he ever felt successful in the classroom because he couldn’t paint and draw the way that other people could, but with this tool, he could.” That was one of many a-ha moments where I was just like, “Okay, there’s something in him that he can’t get out and can’t express the way that he wants because of the structure of asking students to work with certain materials.” In a lot of lessons, the materials you’re using don’t matter as much as the concept behind them and how things are being applied.

My big goal is to make sure that every student is being valued and respected for what they have to bring to it. I can’t tell you, and I’m sure you probably have had this same experience, you meet so many adults and they’re like, “I’m not an artist. I was never good at art.” I was told I was never good at art. Art was my worst subject in school before I went to art school. But I don’t want that. I want my students to realize that there are a lot of ways to be successful in the arts, in creative fields because nothing against math and science, but creative problem solving is an essential skill.

Tim: Yes.

Kyle: That is one of the big 21st century skills that our students are going to need, and in my particular district, and I’m sure a lot of districts, there are a number of students who by junior high, they’re going off on different tracks where maybe they’re not pursuing the arts. For a certain number of students, I will be their only art teacher, and so I always think about what’s going to serve them well throughout their lives? I’m on the curriculum committee and we were having these discussions about, “Well, what are our long-term learning goals?” I can’t sit here with a straight face and say, “If you don’t know how to use a vanishing point effectively, you are going to fail in anything you do in life.”

Tim: Right.

Kyle: It’s a skill that I think is worth teaching, but any individual skill that I’m teaching is not as important as the methodology of creative problem solving, of looking at what are my goals and figuring out how can I get to those goals? And so that’s kind of the emphasis of my classroom.

Tim: Okay. So brings up… every time you talk, I have like four more questions in my head, but I wanted to talk about some of those logistics. We’ve talked about learning targets and curricular goals and how we get to those things, and I know that everybody listening to this is thinking about how you ensure that kids are learning the techniques that they’re supposed to, the concepts that they’re supposed to. If we really nail down on things, how do you ensure that the kids are getting where they need to go? And then I guess part two of that is just thinking about the classroom management side of things, how do you ensure that kids are doing the work that they’re supposed to do and following whatever rules you set forth? How does gamification affect all of these goals and all of the things that we concern ourselves with as teachers? How is that affected by gamification?

Kyle: Okay, so just to break it down and get a little bit more concrete, I’ve said that basically I give kids a choice board, but it’s kind of a choice board on steroids. I mean, it’s got more than that. I talk about digital badges and kids earn digital badges. So I have a little digital badge board on there and in Google slides on the iPad, I’ve got… you know how on slides you can recolor an image?

Tim: Yeah.

Kyle: I’ve got the icon of each badge. It’s desaturated to recolor it. So I’ve got the desaturated image on top of the colorized version of it, so we just delete the desaturated image and boom, it’s colorized.

Tim: Okay.

Kyle: It’s actually very simple to implement there, and my students figured that out super quickly. They’re like, “Oh, I can just cheat.” I don’t even give them the badges. I tell them to give themselves the badges because the next thing on their slides, each slide has the requirements to earn the badge. The requirements to earn the badge are basically the learning targets, criteria for success, objectives. I don’t know what we’re calling it these days, but you know what I’m saying?

Tim: Yeah.

Kyle: The curricular goals that we have, my badge requirements are based on my district curriculum. And so I’m making sure that they’re hitting those learning targets in order to earn a badge. And right next to the learning targets, I have a space for them to put a photo of their work that hits those targets, so at the same time they’re building a portfolio of their work. My recordkeeping becomes much easier because everything’s embedded in one doc. From the student’s perspective, they actually have an easy time because underneath my learning targets, I have a sample project that would hit those targets. I have a photograph of it.

And I’m really heavy on this at level one because students are building that foundation. It’s that scaffolding. So I’m making sure at level one, everything… students can see what would success look like, and those sample projects are actually linked to a video that shows step-by-step how that project was done. So then students have the objectives so they know what they have to do and they know what I can look like, but they also can read between the lines and see, “Well, where’s the difference between the sample project and what’s really required?” And so they know where they’ve got that little bit of flexibility.

And then after a certain number of badges are earned, they share the doc with me. It pops up in my inbox and then I look it over, and if I agree that they’ve completed them to the level of quality that I expect of them, then I say, “Great, you leveled up,” which means they’ve unlocked new challenges or in practical terms, I copy and paste the level two slides into their slide deck.

Tim: Okay. Yeah.

Kyle: I have a Google slide deck that has levels one through four. So it’s got like, I don’t know, 50, 70 different slides. I just copy and paste batches of those into their slide decks. I make a template version that’s just level one and I force a copy to all my students at the beginning of the school year, and then they go from there and I just, like I say… it would be too much for me to manage having them submit their work for every single project they complete because some students are completing a project every day. Kindergarten, first grade, they are finishing one or two projects in a class period. Not always the greatest, but they’re finishing them quickly.

But I say after five badges or whatever it’s going to be, then you check in. Then I’m reviewing not just one project in isolation, but I’m reviewing half a dozen projects and seeing a little bit better sense of where they are and where they’re going and what the trajectory is of their learning. So I actually found that I’m getting a better sense for where students are with this portfolio review method than when I was looking at everybody’s copy of my sample.

And then you were talking about classroom management, what does that look like? That’s the management of their learning and their portfolios and the grading and assessment and all that. Materials management, that’s much more just handled by the students. I start off the year talking about where everything is in the classroom, where to find stuff, and the first project that we do is a little bit more guided because I want students to get used to the portfolio system. So I’ll start the year with a project I know they can earn in one day and we’re explicitly talking about those materials, but after that, it’s largely just up to the students.

In my classroom, I have supply tables. I have bins labeled with all the different materials. When students do ask me, “Can I use this? Can I use this?” My general response is just, “If I don’t have to hear about it.” I just tell students, “If you can do it independently or with help from friends, you’re welcome to use these things. If I have to step in, then we’re going to have a problem.” I’ll step in if you’re doing something unsafe, you know?

Tim: Right.

Kyle: If you’re running with scissors, I’m taking those scissors away, all that sort of stuff, but they generally recognize that it’s a privilege to get to choose their materials and all of that sort of stuff, and that comes with a responsibility. I don’t have a lot of issues because for all you can say about me, I’m very reasonable and looking for a way to give them what they want, and so they generally don’t give me a hard time with that.

The other thing that can be very helpful with management, and I talk about this a little bit in my presentation for the NOW Conference, is using a class health meter, just a little signifier to them like, “It’s a little loud, this is not a really healthy creative environment for us.” Or, “Oh, someone’s helping someone out. That increases our health. As a class, we’re doing well.”

Tim: No, that’s really cool, and I appreciate you bringing up your NOW Conference presentation because then I don’t even need a segue. We just go right in. We can tell that you’re an excellent podcaster in your own right, setting me up that. Let me just say I appreciate it, but can you tell us about your NOW Conference presentation? For people who are interested in this concept, want to learn more. can you talk about what you’re going to include in there and what people can expect to hear from you in your video presentation?

Kyle: Okay. So, I did a video presentation and it’s funny. This has been my obsession for so long. I did the video presentation right after I was contacted to do this and I keep looking for ways to embed more and more and more. I started off with a video talking about the big ideas behind this and why these things work and some video clips of what it looks like in my classroom to give that better sense of concretely, what does this stuff look like? But as an art teacher, I always go to these conferences and I am looking for something that I can use in my classroom immediately.

And so I treated my NOW Conference presentation in some ways like my classroom. I gave a ton of different resources and links to different resources. It’s a hyper doc, so in one slide I’ve got the video that goes through everything that I talked about, and then I have templates so if you want to see my slide decks that I give to my classes, I’ve got three different versions of those things, because I change the theme from year-to-year. I created an a la carte version for students who wanted stuff to do during break. Especially during COVID times, students wanted something to occupy their time while they couldn’t leave the house, so I created a doc I called The Art Idea Lab that just threw together like 20 different lesson videos and stuff like that.

I’ve got the templates for the games. I don’t think we even talked about every Friday in my classroom now is game day where-

Tim: I feel like we’ve mentioned Double Dare three or four times over the two podcasts and never really talked about it in-depth.

Kyle: Yeah. Every Friday, I just make it a game day. A blacklight, some buzzers and some questions embedded on a Google site can make all the difference in the world. Kids were walking in like, “Wow, this is so cool,” and that’s just gratifying to hear from kids, but I gave the templates that I used for my questions, for my physical challenges and my scoreboard, which took me way longer than I would like to admit. I was going through stuff relearning how to code in JavaScript before I realized, “Oh, just create a Google Slide deck as different score totals.”

I’ve got a lot of different resources that you can copy from different slides in there. In addition, we started off this podcast and we’re going to come full circle with the Arts Madness tournament reference. When you were nice enough to have me on at the start of the Arts Madness tournament, I had a few art teachers who reached out saying like, “Oh, this sounds really cool. I heard about it on Art Ed Radio. I want to join this time,” and then I had some who said, “I want to do my own version of this. Can you give me your forms, the Google forms to do this, to set this up and run it with a different collection of artists?” I put that up there, too, just the files that you could use for that.

Tim: Nice. That will be awesome. That’ll be great for everybody to check out, and like you said, those resources are always appreciated, and like you said, so many people go to conferences just hoping for things that they can take back immediately to their own classroom, and that’s something we’re trying to do so I appreciate you contributing to that. But yeah, I think we can go ahead and wrap it up there. Kyle, thank you for coming back on the show. It was great to talk to you again.

Kyle: Thank you very much. Always appreciate it.

Tim: All right. Thank you to Kyle for coming on, discussing how he gamifies his classroom. Really good conversation. I’m super interested in a lot of the stuff that he’s doing, and I think he makes it really fun for his students and just finding that balance between giving kids some choices, giving them autonomy, but also making sure that they have the structure they need and the tools they need to kind of meet the objectives, meet the goals, figure out exactly how they can do this work inside of the curriculum that needs to be taught, and I think there’s a lot to learn there.

If you’re interested in exploring more, we’ll link to a few resources. Kyle shares a lot on social media and his website for the Who ARTed podcast is just a plethora of information on art history, different artworks, a great way to share some things with kids. So we’ll definitely make sure that you can check that out. And like I said, at the beginning, make sure that you sign up for the Now Conference this summer at the end of July if you want to learn more from Kyle, learn more from another 30 incredible art teachers. You can find all the information for the NOW Conference on the AOEU website. We hope to see you there this summer.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode and we’ll be back next week with another new show.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.