Can Gamification Lead to More Effective and Productive Study Teams?

Over the past several months, I have been exploring that question as a member of the CPM Teacher Research Corps.  As I have implemented my Teamwork Challenge “game” in my classes this year, I have observed better teamwork and more math learning than ever before.

This is how it works. For each unit in math, teams are issued a scorecard with two teamwork objectives to measure each day. Taking only two goals at a time was important as to not overwhelm students with too many things to measure (aside from all the math they are expected to explore), and there are many weeks in the term in which to attend to the many teamwork goals and dynamics we value.  At first, the two objectives were teacher selected, such as “be seated and ready when the bell rings,” “stay together,” or “play your role.” I felt that it was important to select goals that were observable and measurable for the team – and at the same time, highly valued in the teaching, learning, and support of good team dynamics. Each day, each student can earn a point in each category toward their team scorecard for their participation and attention to each goal. For an approximately 2-week cycle, teams are to be mindful of the two selected goals, work hard at them, and assess themselves at the end of each lesson day. As often as possible, I help the teams debrief and assess their goal work at lesson’s end. Over each cycle, my hope is that they learn and value the goals, and they become habit-forming as a natural, integral part of what they do to support learning objectives in any study team.

After using teacher-defined goals for the first three cycles, I felt my students were ready to take the next step! For Cycle 4, I announced Goal 1 – “Read all directions aloud and follow them.” I chose this goal because I had been observing teams skipping over important information by not reading thoroughly and missing out on definitions, explanations, and instructions. This goal was designed to slow them down to read more carefully and stay together, and it would be observable and measurable each day for the teams. After announcing my goal for them, I asked the teams to discuss and decide on their own Goal 2. Teams got right to it and started brainstorming ideas! As I met with each team to see what they decided, I was pleased to see that they chose really meaningful goals for themselves and offered reasons for their choices. Some teams chose goals that we had worked on in other cycles because they liked how they guided their teamwork; others selected new goals to suit their new team, teammates, and values. Student-selected goals included:

  • Ask Questions
  • Stay together
  • Contribute to the team conversation daily
  • Stay on task
  • Help others when needed
  • Be good listeners
  • Make everyone happy
  • Same answers and work
  • Finish work on time
  • All participate and help each other
  • No interacting with other teams (keep conversation in the team)
  • Have all utensils ready before class
  • Good team communication
  • Use time wisely
  • Include everyone
  • Make sure to help those who are struggling

As I had opportunities to debrief with each team about their goal work at the close of each lesson in this new cycle, the conversations were very encouraging and revealed ownership!

The gamification part of the process works like this:  The hypothesis of my research is to determine if making the process of working your best as a team seem game-like will motivate teams into reaching higher levels of team activity. Also, I wondered if the “game” would foster appreciation of individual contributions and self-enforcing behaviors within a whole class. Over a term, I have observed individuals move from team to team with better teamwork skills, demonstrate increased willingness to bring their skills as a teammate,  become more open to self-reflection, and do better at learning the math. I think the goal choices (listed above) support the latter.

As my students learn more math and practice being better teammates, I will continue to study the dynamics and observe outcomes related to this investigation. It seems to be the case that as study team dynamics improve through gamification, the more everyone involved learns!

I have established the following “game-related” protocol:

  • I announce team standings based on the 2-week scoresheet totals. I have observed that classmates cheer each other on, winners show pride in this accomplishment, and individuals look forward to a new cycle and new opportunities.
  • I have an award system for top teams in a cycle. These are easy awards to offer and from which students can select (Homework Pass, Swap-a-Seat, Mystery Points, Score-Switch, Bring it to the Board, Two-Minute Tap Out, Call Me Karen, Teacher Tattle, Whiteboard Welcome, and sometimes candy). Students enjoy earning and selecting these simple rewards with connections to class and sometimes their grade. From a quick survey I took, kids like the bonus points, but some especially like candy prizes :).
  • Students bid farewell to their teammates and write on students’ graffiti pages.
  • New teams are established, and a new team-building activity is implemented.
  • The next game cycle begins with new teammates and new goals.

Leave a Reply