Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Biology 9 .... Gamification of DNA Genetics Unit

Gamification means applying certain gaming elements to the teaching and learning process. It appears at the Horizon Report 2013 as one of the technologies that will have a strong impact in higher education in the near future. Graded's Innovate 2013 Conference hosted some gamification sessions and our Biology 9 teacher, Ms. Beck, was excited with the concept therefore deciding to apply it in her DNA Genetics Unit.

Two elements of gaming that are very important and actually mix together involve "storytelling" and "challenge".  In a game, a fantasy aspect is key to transport the player to another world where a challenge will take place. Below, you will see the storytelling and the challenge for the DNA Genetics Unit. It involves groups of students trying to unlock the secrets of DNA, which takes us to other elements of gaming which are "cooperation" and "competition". The competition element in the DNA unit involves cooperation within groups to come up with the first DNA model. This process actually mimicked the real life challenge among different scientific groups around the world when the DNA structure was actually unveiled by Watson and Crick, who won the Nobel Prize. The students watched a movie about the real world DNA scientific competition at the end of the Unit.

At the video in the end of this post you can hear Ms Beck describing the whole gamification process in the DNA Unit. While at the beginning the teacher reports a concern about the competition element, as the unit progressed, the students were described as being on task and engaged. Students who were not so much into science before became more interested. The idea was to use gamification to encourage students to move along the material and activities in a more independent way.  In order to encourage such independence, the challenge was combined with another important element of gaming which is a "reward system". That involved the use of bagdes and a leaderboard. The badges were created by the teacher and assigned to students as they achieved levels, built vocabulary, found facts, created concept maps, etc. So they were associated with achievement in terms of covering the material/activities. Below you can see the badges that were assigned through Edmodo.

A similar principle was applied to the use of a "coin leaderboard", which indicated the top 20 students with more "coins" collected. The coins were actually physical "bingo"coins that students would get as they completed tasks and levels. The leaderboad is therefore not based on who is smarter, but based on an incentive to cover the material and activities (collect coins). Students could then exchange some coins for "prizes" such as taking a 5 minute break, going to the snack bar, etc. The teacher reports how students became engaged with the whole "coin"gathering. She described the class as being more focused on providing individualized attention than on being teacher directed. So students worked at their own pace and there was more differentiation. The overall feedback from Ms beck is very positive, and while she will not use gamification for all her Units, the DNA Unit seemed very appropriate for this approach. Enjoy Ms. Beck's full description and feedback at the video below!

The ideas about gamification in this post came from the following sources, which you can check for more information:

Kapp, K.M. The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. 2012. John Wiley & Sons. Pfeiffer.

"The Rules of Gamification". Razorfish Outlook Report. <http://razorfishoutlook.razorfish.com/articles/gamification.aspx>

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