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Pros and Cons of Gamification in the Early Years of STEM Education

Gamification Pros and Cons in the Classroom - TeacherCast Guest Blog

We all know that STEM education is a crucial part of the K-12 curriculum, but unfortunately, many students are still not heading to high school and college prepared to pursue a STEM field once leaving the education system. Though U.S. students have made some gains in math proficiency since 1990, according to the National Science Foundation, the average scores for all students was just over proficient for 4th graders, and just under proficient for 8th graders in 2013. According to the National Math + Science Initiative, the United States is trailing in math and science globally, ranking 27th and 20th of 34 countries, respectively. Additionally, they report that the U.S. may lack 3 million high skilled workers by 2018. One of the major roadblocks in encouraging students to become STEM innovators is engaging them in what can be challenging material. Gamification is one tool many educators use to engage students in the early years of STEM education, which can be an effective way to get students excited about math and science. But what is gamification, and what are the pros and cons of using this technique in the classroom?

What is Gamification?

Video games have long been a source of frustration for parents, as they tend to distract kids from focusing on homework and other educational activities. Harnessing that focus by using games to teach kids is the basis for gamification. Gamification is nothing new—in the 90s, programs like Math Blaster or the Oregon Trail had some educational value while keeping kids engaged. However, these programs were never a serious part of educational curriculum, and they were used in a different way than they are today. Now, software is being developed specifically as part of the common core curriculum, to teach math, programming, reading and other subjects. Aside from software, teachers are using their own creativity to come up with gamification techniques for everything from assessments to homework.

Gamification in Education

There are so many programs and techniques available for bringing gamification into the classroom that it’s impossible to go over them in one place. However, here are just some of the software resources and methods teachers are using to incorporate gamification in the classroom:

Knowre & Other Software Programs

Computer software has come a long way, and there are many great choices available to help students learn new skills. A math game that personalizes the experience based on students’ strengths and weaknesses, Knowre was designed to help teachers engage all their students, whether they’re fast learners, or need some extra help. The software allows teachers to see where students may need additional help, and the game itself will adapt to the students’ needs, using cues from their answers to make adjustments, much like artificial intelligence systems do.

Gamifying Feedback & Assessment

Not all gamification uses computer software. Some creative teachers like Lee Sheldon have used their own imagination to gamify grading and feedback. Sheldon’s approach motivates instead of discourages by giving students “experience points” for assignments, which then go toward their letter grades. This not only allows students to see exactly how their grades are determined and gives them a sense of satisfaction when they earn points.

Friendly Competition

Kids can motivate one another by engaging in gamified assessments that are based on a tournament format. Teachers have used this to encourage friendly competition and equalize the playing field for different personalities. Both introverted and extroverted students have the opportunity to show off their knowledge, and students work hard to learn the material so they can come out on top.

The Pros and Cons of Gamification

Of course, there’s no perfect teaching system, and gamification does have its pros and cons.

Pros:

Kids learn to engage with technology and STEM

With our increasing dependency on technology, using video games to teach skills like programming can give kids a competitive edge. Overall engagement and motivation are often some of the biggest benefits of gamification.

Increased creativity

Many assessment methods are solely focused on data, and don’t take into consideration the value of creativity and soft skills. Gamification can help bring these to the classroom.

Cons:

No solid proof that gamification builds skills

Currently, there have been few studies on the effects of gamification in the classroom. Those that have been conducted show that improved game scored don’t necessarily correlate with skill building in children with low levels of working memory.

Can be expensive

Some teachers use DIY gamification methods, but software and technology tools can be too costly for many schools.

Not a Quick Fix

Gamification can be a great tool for some classrooms, but it won’t provide a quick fix to the STEM crisis, and it can’t replace many of the other methods teachers rely on. However, adding gamification as a supplemental tool can be a great way to get students excited about STEM and willing to learn.


Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. When she's not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

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