When Scott Killen interviewed for a job at Bell Creek Intermediate, he impressed those he spoke with by telling them how he engages with his students.
Killen, who had long worked in the Wilmington City School District, adopted a new methodology about six years ago along with another teacher he was working with.
They found the idea online from a man who calls himself Master Heebs. That method involved gaming, but probably not what you are thinking.
The fifth-grade teacher used his love of medieval times and fantasy to incorporate a Dungeons and Dragons-style game that exists throughout his classroom. The theory is called Gamification. Students work in groups of four to complete Quests (assignments), engage in battles with other teams, collect gold – both personally and as a team, win their Boss Battles (tests and quizzes) and ultimately, learn.
“The point is to capture the students' attention without them knowing that’s what you’re doing,” Killen said. “It involves strategy, collaboration, group work and communication.”
The whole thing starts in a new world. This year’s world is named Areus Imperium. Killen said he created it very similar to the Nine Realms used in Marvel Universe and linked it to Thor and the newest Spiderman movie to get the buy-in from the students at the outset.
In December, students were in the Dark Forest working with Leonardo Da Vinci and would soon be moving on to meet with Sir Isaac Newton.
Killen said in the groups of four, students rotate as captains with a new one each week. Killen only talks to the captains of each group during Quests, so knowing how to communicate with one another as well as with an adult is an important part of the game.
But really, everything the students accomplish can be turned into something of value as they learn the work they complete matters – even the little things.
In a recent battle, students wagered gold points to see who knew vocabulary words. Two at a time, students would approach the front and listen to definitions read by Killen. Each student had a “sword,” and once Killen said “go,” they would turn and use their sword – a rolled-up towel – to hit the correct word on the board. The quickest won the gold for their team.
Each battle is different and the game evolves. Killen said he had to take a step back when he moved to Bell Creek. At Wilmington, working with another teacher, he had an actual game board that was about as large as his desk in scale, but he’s had to adapt to a new classroom and instead uses a whiteboard the students will re-design soon.
The fun of the game, though, is in the adaptation.
“I like it because it’s different than the normalcy of just standing in front of the class,” Killen said. “They are engaged without realizing how much (knowledge) they are taking in.”
Killen finds himself – as well as some other teachers in the building – engaged, too. “I’m always thinking about it. I’m always adapting it. I’m thinking about what I can add or change for the next one,” he said.
Killen added that teachers around the building have been asking him how he learned about Gamification and what goes into it. Many seem interested in learning more. The end game, though, is getting kids to learn the material.
“It’s an instant improvement,” Killen said. “Once the kids get hooked in, you can see the improvement. Even though it’s a science class we are really paying attention to the reading and writing aspects of this, too. The end goal is to see the improvement when it comes to the state tests.”