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7 Posts authored by: tnzuber

Untitled-1.pngGenCon Adventures, part II


[Part I]

Before I left for GenCon, I asked the community here if they had any questions. I received two. Here is what I learned.


Question One: LMS (asked by julesfischy)


TEXT: I want to know what tools teachers are using to support them and gaming in the classroom. Are digital components compatible with their learning management system (LMS) or are they using a system or tool separate from their LMS?

No one I spoke with had a system of explicit integration. The answers typically fell into one of two camps. In the first camp were the people who talked about how they used tools from their LMS to support gaming. In the far larger second camp were the people who discussed how used games to gather information about their students.

“If you can’t assess the game when you’re done, you shouldn’t play it.” ~Sean Malloy


Ideally, the mechanics of a game will be the skills a teacher wants their students to learn (e.g., a virtual stock market game in a finance class). The next tier down are the games with arbitrary mechanics that require analysis to answer questions. Both of these game types will capture more information than teachers need. Teachers should avoid all games that use an arbitrary mechanic just to answer questions (e.g., jeopardy).


To really leverage games, teachers need also to set learning goals that align the games with their overall classroom goals and standards. Teachers may treat games like projects and grade each stage. Or, teachers may photograph and screenshot student work and write short narratives that document each student’s growth and learning.


Teachers can then log the grades and narratives in their LMS.


Question Two: Science Games (asked by glen_w)


TEXT: This summer, I purchased Eco Fluxx. This interesting card game includes many of the ecological relationships found on Earth. The game changes each time it is played. I’d be interested in similar games that have accurate science and are fun to play.

For this question, the presenters I spoke with provided me with links, game titles, and other resources to share with you. I hope this list is helpful!

ECOnauts (environmental science, online)

Swarm! The Honey Bee Game (bees, board)

Portal and Portal 2 (physics, online/console)

Splendor (probability functions, resource management, board)

EdGamer Science Games (misc, online)

BrainPop! (misc, online)

Project Neuron (misc, online and board)

Explore Learning (simulations, online)

PhET Simulations (simulations, online)

While at GenCon, I also collected ideas from others for board and card games that could work in a classroom. I mentioned Pandemic and Timeline in the original thread, but have listed them here as well to be complete.

Pandemic (cooperative board game in which players work together to stop a pandemic)

Pandemic Contagion (competitive card game in which players play as a disease trying to wipe out humanity)

Timeline (sorting card game; for science check out their animal facts and discoveries sets)



Evolution (board game that models evolution and competition among species for limited food resources)

Robot Turtles (board game that teaches basic coding; ages 4 and up)

Compounded (board game that involves building chemical compounds)

Untitled-1.pngGames, Learning, and GenCon


Earlier this year, I attended a workshop devoted to incorporating games into the classroom. The presenter, a very enthusiastic gentleman, spent the entire time discussing various online tools and showed some examples of how he’d used them. I left the session with a list of websites to check out and little else.


This is, I’ve learned, a typical session. The problem is that this is not what I needed. I know how to look up tools online; Google and I are great friends when it comes to searching. What I need are guidelines, best practices, and ideas.


Then I attended GenCon.


GenCon ( is a four-day analog gaming (e.g., tabletop, board games, and card games) convention held over the first weekend in August each year. The convention is the largest analog gaming convention in North America and had a unique attendance this year of 61,423 people. That is a lot of people descending on Indianapolis, IN for four days each year to network with other gamers, writers, and enthusiasts.


Self-described as “the best four days in gaming,” GenCon actually kicks off with a special fifth day that only educators, librarians, retailers, and members of the press may attend. This “Trade Day” ( offers a full slate of seminars and workshops devoted to education and how retailers can support educators. The day ends with a special demo session during which retailers show off the games they think educators could use, explain the rules, and give the educators an opportunity to try the games out.


Unlike the workshop I attended earlier this year, the three sessions I attended at GenCon emphasized how to select games for your classroom and the best ways to implement them. This post will give a quick breakdown of the three sessions I attended. Then, next week, I will post the responses I received regarding LMS use and science games.

Session One: Finding a Place for Gaming, Modifying Curriculum
Kathleen Mercury (@mmmmmmmercury) and Tina Vo (


I slipped into the first session of my day a couple minutes late. Each seat in the room was filled, so I found a chair along the back wall with several others who had arrived too late to snag a spot at a table. Mercury and Vo were passionate and moved quickly through a presentation that focused on designing educational games that are fun and engaging, without sacrificing learning. Vo is a Ph.D student at the University of Nebraska and brought experience working with Project Neuron (, a group that designs curricular materials for middle and high school science. Mercury is a classroom teacher who, in addition to her regular classes, teaches a course on game design.


This session emphasized the importance of making games meaningful and provided both a rubric for teachers to use when considering a game and guidelines for making a game more meaningful for students and the classroom. I highly recommend checking out their slide presentation and resources here:


According to Mercury and Vo, a meaningful game is

  • Epistemically-based
    • Students must think logically, have foresight, and/or design
  • Content-based
    • The game helps reach a learning objective.
    • The game adds a different point-of-view or new insight.


That said, just because a game is meaningful doesn’t mean teachers can’t misuse it by using the game as a time-filler or by not integrating the game with the curriculum. They advised that teachers discuss each game and its purpose with students.


  • Before playing the game, teachers should explain how the game models or simulates reality and how it fits into the curriculum. The explanation should explicitly align each element of the game with the real world or classroom.
  • After playing the game, teachers should discuss with students how well the game modeled reality, what was or wasn’t accurate, and ways to adapt the game and make it more accurate or fitting for the classroom.


Mercury recommended getting feedback from students using WINQ questions.


WINQ Feedback Questions

  1. What worked?
  2. What needs to be improved?
  3. What new ideas do you have?
  4. What questions do you have?


Again, go check out Mercury’s website. She has a lot more resources and ideas up there to share, including the rubric I mentioned before:

Session Two: Roleplaying in the Classroom
Sean Malloy (


Sean Malloy is a math and music teacher at the Stuart County Day School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls school. He also runs their Model UN team. When the session started, Malloy asked everyone to think of their favorite historical figure. Then he had us turn to the person beside us and hold a short conversation in character. In the discussion that followed, Malloy highlighted the need for parameters: a clear set of rules and a goal/objective.


Then he asked us to think of our favorite author, turn back to our partner(s) and hold a quick book discussion—in character—of Romeo and Juliet. This activity ran more smoothly, but in the discussion that followed the audience suggested additional parameters, such as limiting the authors to those no longer living, giving prep time, and narrowing the discussion to a particular area of or question about the play. The rules made the game and increased engagement.


Malloy suggested looking to the rules for Fiasco and Once Upon a Time for inspiration for quicker games and to the Model U.N. for longer, more intensive games. That emphasis on parameters, however, was secondary to the main idea: the power of roleplay in the classroom. Malloy argued that when teachers engage students in roleplay, they improve engagement and deeper thinking.

“Give someone an alternate personality and they’re in it with you for the duration.”

According to Malloy, roleplay increases engagement because it gives students a safe platform for discussion and gives them the opportunity to be creative.


When students take on another persona, they can express ideas without worrying that their classmates will think those ideas are their own. The students are safe behind the masks of their characters. When students feel safe from negative reactions, they are more likely to contribute to a discussion.


Roleplay also gives students a character to build and explore. Even when the character in question in a real person, the student decides which parts of the person’s life to research and how to embody the person and express his or her point-of-view. If students make up their own characters, perhaps creating fictional people who belong to a nonfictional organization or occupation, they have free reign figuring out who their character is. Then, they also have the additional analysis step when roleplaying of deciding how those various factors affect their actions. For example, someone with a family might approach a situation differently than someone who did not.


One of the most important things, Malloy said, is to make sure every character has a name. For example, a student isn’t a nameless anatomy student in the 1800s debating the ethics of the resurrectionists; he is Matthew Barker, son of a surgeon who wants to outshine his father’s accomplishments.

“Every time we take an action in a classroom, we’re hoping the students, in reaction, will do what we want.”

Malloy asserted that roleplay has the power to engage students and encourage them to deeper levels of research and understanding. Roleplay, he argued, requires and encourages focus, problem-solving, risk-taking, abstracting, listening, planning, and empathy.


When we discussed Romeo and Juliet in our groups, we could not simply say what we thought of the play. Instead, we had to think—what would my author say about Romeo and Juliet? What would they even notice? We must consider that other point-of-view and use it as a lens to examine the text.


For the exercise I chose an author I’d loved as a kid and still enjoy: Sherwood Smith. I remembered an essay she’d written about settings and decided that she would pay attention to how the play creates a sense of place. Then I had to think through Romeo and Juliet for things she would have noticed and liked related to that. After that, I had to share this point-of-view with my group members and react to what they pointed out, still using my Sherwood Smith persona. That’s a lot of quick analysis for a five minute exercise.


Malloy pointed out that a teacher could assign roles to students, allowing the teacher to effectively pre-select the opinions in the room and shape the debate. He recommended giving students time to research or create their characters and shared a story of one of his students. The student was neither poor nor exceptional, but became very passionate about the character she received for a semester—a Hawaiian congressman. By the end of the semester, she was an expert on this man. She kept track of his voting record and even had a photo of him in her locker. Creating a character, writing as him in her essays, and portraying him in class debates excited this student in ways other class activities had not.

Where to use roleplay

While roleplay is an easy fit within literature and history courses, Malloy asserted that math and science worked just as easily. He suggested having students portray famous mathematicians and discuss the best way to solve a problem. A student portraying Pythagoras (or a group of students portraying his followers) might have to think through some interesting problem-solving. Or ask the students to portray scientists and ask them to evaluate innovations or form think tanks to create proposals competing for government contracts.

Session Three: Playful Learning, part 2: What Games are the Best Tools for your Classroom?
Zack Gilbert (@EdGamer)


Zach Gilbert is a sixth grade social studies teacher and the host of the EdGamer podcast ( In these podcasts Gilbert discusses using games in learning and engages with experts on relevant topics. This session did provide some organizing principles and rules, but focused more heavily on adapting specific games. I did not attend part 1 during which Gilbert discussed the research behind gamification, its use in various fields, and the justification for using games to facilitate and support learning. The slide decks for both presentations are on Gilbert’s site (


The two key points Gilbert emphasized before sharing three good games for the classroom were the 7 principles and his three rules.

The 7 Essential Principles of Innovative Learning

  1. Learners at the center.
  2. The social nature of learning.
  3. Emotions are integral to learning.
  4. Recognize individual differences.
  5. Stretching all students.
  6. Assessment for learning.
  7. Building horizontal connections.


Gilbert’s three rules for selecting games for use in your classroom are the following:

  1. Use games you enjoy.
  2. Play and know the game before you play it with your students.
  3. Have students help (e.g., making suggestions for games or blending games and learning, reviewing games, giving a game demo for classmates).


I recommend looking through his slide deck for how he has incorporated Civilization, Timeline, and Kahoot into his classroom. In addition to his website (, Gilbert shared his Symbaloo ( as resources.

In Conclusion…

So, those are my session notes. Next week I’ll post the answers I received regarding the questions you asked.


In the meantime, however, what are some ways you’ve used games in your classrooms?


Do you think you’ll incorporate any of these ideas into your practice? If so, how so?

Check out Part II of my GenCon Adventures Here!


Notes on Nitro: Legacy Badges

Posted by tnzuber Jul 31, 2015


When the Teachers Engaged community transitioned to Nitro, our current gaming platform, all of the points you all had earned in the old system disappeared. While we definitely appreciate the lack of grumbling that followed the reset, we want to recognize everyone who has been making this community awesome since the beginning. That is why we awarded “Legacy” badges. Everyone who earned even just one point on the old system has received one of the below badges. You can find your Legacy badge by visiting your profile and viewing your list of completed Missions and Badges.


Thank you, everyone. We can’t have a community like this without people like you.




Arriving in Philadelphia felt like visiting an old friend. I attended grad school in the city and looked forward to spending the next four days on streets I knew. I joke that downtown Philly is the one city area where I can't get lost.

Driving into the downtown area, I was excited to find out what ISTE would be like this year and to learn what kind of gamification a conference centered around the power of technology would provide.


After I picked up my badge from ISTE Central and dropped off my tickets for the yearly prize drawings, I finally downloaded the mobile app and checked out the mobile game.


This year ISTE has two main games running. One is the kind of game I've discussed before--the expo hall card. The other, the mobile game, is more interesting.



The mobile game, which requires participants have the app, relies on codes and some actions. Conference participants collect codes by attending sessions, connecting with other participants, going on a tour, and entering certain drawings. Points also accumulate when participants take feedback surveys after a session or engage in back channel communication, such as by posting "in the stream." The stream is a messaging system embedded in each session's information page in the app.

Each of these actions are authentic and interesting ways to participate in the conference. Engaging in the back channel during the keynote (Soledad O'Brien who did an excellent job, by the way) enhanced my experience. I enjoyed learning what my peers found compelling. Also, by adding an incentive to the surveys, the game ensures that more presenters get feedback.

However, the game isn't a complete success. Besides some of the badges being difficult to earn (I have yet to figure out how to make my tweets count for points), the game is only accessible to those with smart phones. Anyone without is locked out of play. The no-smart-phone population might be small, but that doesn't mean they should be locked out of playing. When we design games and gamification, we should always think through access issues like this.

If you're here at ISTE and playing the game, please share your thoughts in the comments!


In the 2014 Intel Teach Live Birthday Bash, Michael S. Tamayo introduced This website shares a series of courses that teach coding in plain English appropriate for most age levels. With a series of short commands, anyone can create a beautiful snowflake.


The simple created the sophisticated.



This same principle applies to the missions we on the Engage leadership team create in Nitro. Each mission in Nitro comprises discrete actions from a limited list of possibilities.


When we enter the Nitro gamification dashboard, we have a tab that lists out all of the actions we can use to build missions.


These are actions that you, the users, do on the website. When we use one of these actions in a mission, we are telling Nitro that it is important and needs to be tracked.


Some of the actions we can use are:




These allow us to track when you create a blog post and when you look at a blog post.


You’ll notice that we cannot track length or quality. We don’t know if you spent half an hour poring over a blog entry or if you opened and almost immediately closed it.


The only limitations we can set are at the mission level. The limited function of actions makes being thoughtful with mission creation even more important.


When we open up a mission, we see the following screen:




This is from one of our newly released Mentor level badges. The purpose of the mission is to encourage full engagement with blogging on the Intel Engage platform.


The actions are used to create rules that you must complete before earning the badge. Each rule has a trigger, which is one of the actions, and a goal. The goal is the number of times the action must be completed to satisfy the rule.


The Metadata line is one of the ways we can limit and tailor missions. For example, if we wanted, we could adjust this so that you had to view blog posts shared in a specific community. Those viewed outside of it would not get counted. We can also limit missions by only allowing them to be earned a certain number of times or only within a certain date range.


For the Blog Master mission, the trigger action is BlogPostEvent-VIEWED. The goal is at least 100 times. This means you must look at 100 or more blog articles on the Intel Engage platform to satisfy this rule.


Of course, this is not the only requirement for the mission. Among other requirements, the mission also has rules that say you must create 30 blog posts—which is something that can only be done within a group you’ve created or with special permission from our team—and receive 100 comments on your blog posts.


While we cannot control for quality, by adding a rule for recognition, we are suggesting strongly that creating high quality posts will be advantageous in completing the mission. A good and useful post is likely to garner more comments, likes, and shares than a rushed or useless one.


When we create a mission, we start with what we want the missions to do. At the mentor level, we wanted to create missions that represented the increased level of engagement and quality we expect from mentors in the community. We also wanted to spotlight ways mentors help and encourage other members in the community.


Then we went to our possible actions and discussed ways we could use and combine them to create missions that would help us meet our goals for mentors.


After we release each mission, we watch to see how you all complete them. If a mission starts to encourage spamming actions, rather than engagement, we tinker with the mission to increase the difficulty or limit its use.

I realize this post is a bit longer than usual, but if you’re still following along, I have the following challenge for you. I’ve listed below some of the actions we are able to use to create missions. Using them, can you create a mission for the community?

Note: If an action ends with a dash,  you can add a specific type of content afterward. So, for example, not just likes, but likes on blog posts. If you want to restrict your action to a specific area in the community or to a post that is already on the site, then make a note that you'd need metadata.

ActionWhat it does
CommentEvent-COMMENT-Tracks every time you leave a comment
CommentEvent-COMMENTED-Tracks every time someone leaves a comment on content you created
FollowEvent-FOLLOWTracks every time you follow someone
FollowEvent-FOLLOWEDTracks every time someone follows you
LikeEvent-LIKE-Tracks every time you like something
LikeEventi-LIKED-Tracks every time someone likes content you created
UserEvent-LOGGED_INTracks every time you log into the site
ShareEvent-SHARE-Tracks every time you share content with someone else on the site
ThreadEvent-ADDEDTracks every time you create a discussion thread


A recent conference gamified their exhibition hall where vendors set up tables to discuss their work and sell their books and other products. Participants received a grid identifying 16 tables in the hall. If they got a stamp from 10 of their 16 tables, they could enter to win an iPad.

The game ensured participants explored the full hall and visited tables they might otherwise skip.

At least, it was supposed to.

Gamification incents specific behaviors by tying them to challenges and rewards. Gamification differs from games because the objective is those behaviors, rather than collecting the rewards. Sometimes, though, the game takes over.

I love browsing the books in exhibition halls, but I skipped past all of them in favor of collecting my stamps. I played the game, but I did not engage with the hall.

Was the problem the game’s design or me? A bit of both.

The grid only required that I locate tables, not that I spend time at each. However, I chose to focus on the game rather than the hall. I knowingly followed the rules while ignoring the (unstated) true objective.

The conference could have designed the gamification better, but I could have also been a better player.

So here are a couple questions and a challenge for you to tackle in the comments:

(1) How can we suss out the real objective of gamified systems? What do you think the true objectives of the Nitro system in the Engage Community are?

(2) How could I have been a better player in the exhibition hall?

And the challenge:

Describe how the conference could have designed the gamification for the exhibition hall better.

Untitled-1.pngCongratulations to everyone who has been completing missions over the past week or so and scaling levels. This kind of engagement is exactly what we wanted to see when we started using the Nitro Gamification Module. Of course, we're still in the early days yet, so we have hit a few stumbling blocks. Thank you for being patient as we smooth the system out.


We've already made a few changes.


First, we've made the You're On Track missions slightly more difficult and have limited them so you can only earn them once per day. Other badges, like Frequent Flyer, have been temporarily deactivated while we figure out how to work in the 30 day limit. Basically, you guys were too good at these repeated missions. As we get a better idea of how you all work with the gaming module, we'll be making more of these minor adjustments to keep the system balanced.


Note: mlperry13 posted more information about the repeatable missions here.


We've also been making some changes in how the systems tracks your progress toward the mission requirements so that you can earn your badges. For example, we recently fixed up the Tag, You're It mission. If you have a badge you think you've earned, but still have received, let us know and we'll look into what's going on in the background.


Our last update is this blog. Three to five times each month, I'll be sharing updates, behind-the-scenes peeks, commentary, and other news related to gamification in the Intel Teachers Engage community. If you have any questions or topics you'd like me to tackle, please leave a comment below or send me a private message.


And, if you haven’t yet, why not drop by this thread and share your ideas for future missions and badges. Each comment you leave here, there, or elsewhere on the site will help you collect more points and continue moving up the levels to Master.

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