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Bartlett, K. A., & Anderson, J. L. (2019). Gaming to Learn: Bringing Escape Rooms to the Classroom. In Handbook of Research on Innovative Digital Practices to Engage Learners (pp. 1-27). IGI Global.

Chen, Stephanie. (2016). https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-02-23-classroom-gaming-what-it-isn-t-what-it-is-and-how-to-do-it-right       

Chess, S., & Booth, P. (2014). Lessons down a rabbit hole: Alternate reality gaming in the classroom. New Media & Society, 16(6), 1002-1017.

Nand, K., Baghaei, N., Casey, J., Barmada, B., Mehdipour, F., & Liang, H. N. (2019). Engaging children with educational content via Gamification. Smart Learning Environments, 6(1), 6.

Poll, D. (1973). Gaming in the Language Arts. Elementary English, 50(4), 535-548. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41388007

Stadsklev, R. (1970). A Comparative Study of Simulation Gaming and Lecture-Discussion Method. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED065405

other STF links

Electrifying! (Feature)

STEM in the Early Childhood Classroom (ECEnet)

Students Love Projects (ETnet)

Electives in the Middle School (MIDnet)


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To Game or Not to Game…

The autumn sun now rising high over the horizon, it is just three hours past daybreak on the 7th of October. The empress Berenguela prepares to lead battle from her overlook high above the valley in the kingdom of Valstúden. Strains from the music of the Batalla Boss rise from the encamped Clans gathered below. Every member of each of the Clans—from hunters to healers to mages— eagerly awaits the long-anticipated battle. To the victors come glorious prizes, and it is this thought that pushes aside the contemplation of the carnage of battle soon to envelop them.
The prizes and the glory!

Well, okay. I might be fictionalizing just a little. It is, after all, just another early Friday morning in Spanish 4, and students are reviewing vocabulary and grammatical structures. However, when the review is encased in story, aided by computer graphics and sounds, and promises rewards that the students truly value, they become engaged with the story. They have a bit of fun and review all at the same time. The prizes that they claim will advance them in the story and on to higher levels with additional powers and privileges that they will use in class throughout the year. I am, in effect, talking about gaming the classroom.

gaming charactersI know. I KNOW. The educational pendulum is always in motion and teachers have enough to do to stay up on national and state standards as well as addressing social and emotional needs of students. Classroom management is critical to doing all of that successfully, and now let’s throw in gaming. Just. One. More. Thing. It seems that there is always some new thing adding more of a burden to already-overworked teachers.

Wait! Hear me out. As a skeptic, I tried it, fairly convinced it wouldn’t work. I was wrong.

I’ll spare you the list of my teaching and administrative experience. Suffice it to say, I have taught most grade levels from early childhood through high school during my career working in public, urban, rural, Catholic, and Lutheran education. As any teacher with years under the belt, I experienced a number of struggles and triumphs in managing my classroom. As an administrator, I struggled with how to best equip my teachers to become effective classroom managers. I have seen the pendulum swings and the ever-emerging classroom management strategies, and I have tried to avoid any of those swings that I determined to be unnecessary.

gaming charactersI began working at the secondary level in a public school that used the Lee Canter approach to management known as “assertive discipline.” A strong graduate-level course in management coupled with the school’s campus-wide adoption and support of the program helped me to hone my ability to manage student behavior and maximize class time for instruction and learning. The skills I gained worked well in urban, rural, and suburban classrooms across demographics, and I became a confident teacher that enjoyed good classroom control with a tried and true process. Other systems and approaches have emerged since that time, but I am an assertive discipline manager, and I have been told that I do it well.

Several years ago I listened to Lutheran innovators discuss the benefits of gaming in the classroom. I dismissed them and the subject entirely. After all, I played review games with my students, and I remember playing games in my classes back in …ahem…well, when I was in school a while ago. Games could prove challenging to my management approach if not done thoughtfully, and so I used them carefully. Games in the classroom were just one tool of many in my kit for varying instructional approach. Period.

Yet, something nagged at me. The expressions ‘gamification’ or ‘gaming the classroom’ didn’t quite seem what I was familiar with so I decided to do some research. What I discovered would alter my classroom so much that it threatened my tried and true classroom management approach.

gaming charactersAs I began researching the subject of gaming in the classroom, I discovered Classcraft, a program that grew out of a Canadian physics teacher’s work to engage students and manage behavior by creating a gaming atmosphere in each class, every day of the school year. I was intrigued, but intimidated, by the idea of changing everything that I knew that worked in order to engage students as well as relying on technology more than I had before. I was equally interested and curious because I could see the potential for storytelling in the classroom, which would allow for a deeper literacy approach in my content area.

Games don’t necessarily increase what students learn, but successful, intentional implementation of gaming in the classroom can increase student interest and engagement, which improves the opportunity for learning to occur. I participated in the webinars and training that Classcraft offers on their website to see if I would feel comfortable and competent to make such a drastic change to my practice. I met with my principal—a respected and thoughtful man—whom I trusted to help me make my decision. I was worried about classroom management and giving up my beloved rules, policies, and procedures that had served me so well through the years. Nonetheless, I implemented Classcraft and prepared for the changes.

I learned in that first year that students buy in very quickly to a gaming classroom environment designed with them in mind and that is consistently implemented. Games are fun, and, while the content of the game is important, it matters what you do with the content to engage and interest and to just plain have a good time. I didn’t have to change what I taught or how I taught it. I could overlay Classcraft on my classroom—at no cost to me financially—and do what I had always done but in such a way that students engaged with enthusiasm. The technology knowledge curve was nonexistent, and I could implement the program with just my desktop, classroom projector, and screen. I was able to have my classroom management cake and eat it too—with a nice layer of frosting.

class tool iconsStudents who knew me well asked about my rules, policies, and procedures in terms of how they would work in the game and how I would administer the consequences. They understood my need for order and consistency. My reply became, “When we’re in the game, the rules of the game apply.” It was a wonderfully freeing moment when I was able to trust the gaming environment to help me manage the room.

Stories must be powerful tools if He chose to use them over lectures and practice workbooks.After just one year of gaming my classroom, I know that it is a great approach to instruction, but also that it takes commitment to ongoing learning and development by the teacher. I particularly like that gaming can involve storytelling, which can both captivate and instruct. It is worth considering that Christ used stories to teach (Mark 4:2), and that stories must be powerful tools if He chose to use them over lectures and practice workbooks.

It takes some work to implement a gaming approach and a willingness to tweak and improve along the way. But it is fun! I encourage you to consider gaming your classroom. There are different ways to game, and there are resources to help you understand how it can work for you and how you can begin. I started with a simple Google search and found a plethora of academic research as well as practical websites to help me understand and implement gaming that worked for me.

More than 40 years of research exists on the use of games in the classroom. The pendulum hasn’t swung much in this area. What emerges from the research is the understanding that games don’t necessarily increase what students learn, but successful, intentional implementation of gaming in the classroom can increase student interest and engagement, which improves the opportunity for learning to occur.

With apologies to Shakespeare, allow me to end with a thought inspired by Scene 2 of Hamlet to encourage you to consider gaming your classroom:

Wherein to catch the attention of the student, the game’s the thing!

Dr. Kimberly Lavado currently works with Lutheran and public education students at Concordia University Chicago. She has served for over 25 years as a teacher at all levels in Lutheran, Catholic, and public schools in the Southeast and in Illinois and as a Lutheran school principal as well.

Photos from ClassCraft.