My GeekDad colleague James Floyd Kelly and I teamed up to do our investigative report on Ben Bertoli, who teaches sixth grade math, science and language arts in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ben’s launching ClassRealm, his project to gamify education through a customizable classroom management system built on role playing themes. Here is Bertoli’s official Kickstarter description:
In simplest terms ClassRealm is a customizable web-based tool that can be used by teachers, students and parents to track student achievements, provide students with entertaining and educational adventures, as well as improve their overall academic performance.
The site has been up for 2.5 to 3 months but will be launching publicly soon. There is a companion Kickstarter project that launched Friday, May 4, to raise funds for this worthwhile educational project.
Teachers can use ClassRealm to set up specific goals and achievements for individual students or entire classes, as well as to track student data and progress. Students can earn achievements and XP by completing tests, helping other classmates, and reading extra books for class. Parents can follow their child’s many adventures online and create personalized side quests.
These are some of the key features of ClassRealm:
- Achievements will not be based on any one subject.
- Achievements apply to all subject and registrants can create their own unique achievements.
- You will be able to customize your own achievements — share them with other teachers.
- Registration of the site protects personal information. The only person who can see the registrant’s actual name is the teacher. Parents will only be able to find students via their avatar names.
- The site is geared towards a younger and older audience. It is plausible that ClassRealm will implement customizable site features so older kids might find it appealing.
- You don’t have to have avatars or level up to play. Older kids can just do quests or achievements to keep their interest.
- The income for the site includes the main components of Classrooom Basic and ClassRealm Plus. Classrooom Basic is everything XP, achievements and is free. ClassRealm Plus will have content and more characters. In ClassRealm Plus there will be a per teacher level charge.
- Another major component that empowers teachers on ClassRealm is Teacher Hub where teachers can construct and sell lesson plans.
- There will be no micropayment system implemented.
- The RPG-like structure has two available worlds you can “play” in to level up your knowledge:
- Inner Realm — XP and achievements in classroom. Inner Realm allows for some privacy in quest making and such.
- Outer Realm — online quests offers additional quests/achievements to try for outside of classroom. Pre-set stuff that will only be avail in Plus and Basic Plus allows teachers to define quests for kids — avail in outer realm.
ClassRealm’s Bertoli has told GeekDad: “I know what gets kids excited. I hate to see kids come to school defeated because material is too hard or too easy. I want to make school a place they want to be.”
Bertoli is also planning on launching a trading card game for ClassRealm Math Monsters! The gist of the game is a multiply and divide activity in which two kids lay down two cards and compare color numbers. $50 will enable you to purchase a 7 card pack of cards.
James and I sent Ben some interview questions via email about his plans to gamify the classroom and what ClassRealm will mean for students, teachers and learning.
GeekDad: How do you think classroom learning can benefit from gamification?
Bertoli: When you think about it schools are already kind of like video games. If you do well on tests and quizzes you are rewarded with letter grades. Those who earn all As, never miss school, or never get in trouble are usually rewarded in some small way. Gamification takes that aspect of education and expands upon it. Gamification pushes students to perform better in class and even outside of school. The real reward of learning something new is the knowledge you gain, but many students don’t quite grasp that concept at a young age. Gamification is a way to make learning more of a fun experience for students and can also help teachers track student data and achievements. The important part is that it promotes learning and makes education more enjoyable for students.
GeekDad: What do you hope to do with ClassRealm from the possible funding provided by Kickstarter backers?
Bertoli: We want to expand ClassRealm to the furthest reaches of the world. We would like to create a web app and web based management tool that teachers can use to make their lesson and everyday classroom procedures more efficient, not to mention fun.
ClassRealm wants to give teachers a customizable framework to use in any way they see fit. The funding from our Kickstarter will help us develop a powerful responsive web application that will be accessible from any web-based device. Beyond paying for developers and designers for the web app, we have recruited the talents of Alice Carroll, an Australian illustrator who is also a long time gamer. She will bring the ClassRealm characters to life with her wonderful character illustrations, backgrounds, and achievement badges.
Other factors such as sound effects, music, and paying for an online server come in to play. If we have money left over or we exceed our goal then we will be able to move ahead with detailed and advanced aspects of ClassRealm.
GeekDad: Have you given any thought to apps that might help a teacher track all the details involved in your project?
Bertoli: Yes, in fact that is one of the major points we want to push. Technology will obviously play a huge role in our system, so applications for teachers will be essential. We want the apps to be as user friendly as possible and be compatible with all major operating systems.
Tracking apps will include participation, attendance, assignments, tests, experience points, achievements, and levels. We are also working on other teacher tools such as a seating chart planner and a “stick pull.”
GeekDad: Will there be some sort of graphical application that will allow kids to see their character come to life, similar to the character creation wizards found in many popular games?
Bertoli: We are looking into many different artistic approaches at the moment. There is a good chance we will stick with pre-made avatars in the beginning, but completely customizable characters is definitely something we want to introduce in the future. Though a student’s character may not be drastically different than others they will still be very personal. Students will be able to customize their own character bio and add an “interests” section as well. Each character page will also have a “Success Feed” so students, parents, and teachers can see a student’s progress and victories.
GeekDad: It would be fun and interesting to offer teachers some tangible items such as patches or pins or stickers that could be used as rewards — any chance of seeing stuff like that?
Bertoli: Absolutely! I use stickers in my class to represent levels of achievements and the visual is a wonderful reminder of good deeds as well as a motivator. How far we’ll take the physical items is unknown at this time, but it’s always something teachers could add on their own.
GeekDad: Have there been any parents or teachers who have pushed back on your project, either with criticism or outright requests to stop? Have you had any students in your classroom who have had parents ask you to not include them in this kind of game?
Bertoli: Surprisingly there has been no resistance to the system since I implemented it. Parents can follow their student’s level and achievements on my classroom website and I know there are many who check every week to see their son’s or daughter’s progress. All my students know that ClassRealm is voluntary and that they can bow out at any time. I would not fight back against a parent wanting me to remove their student from the system, but thankfully it hasn’t happened thus far.
GeekDad: What would you say is the ideal age range for ClassRealm? How old is too old for this kind of activity?
I think the ideal age range for ClassRealm is roughly 3rd grade to 9th grade, so around 8 to 15. Younger audiences might not understand the concept, though it could certainly be tailored to fit their needs. It really depends on the students and the setting. Older high school students might find the concept silly and pointless, but I know it would appeal to others. Many teachers who have already implemented their own ClassRealm system based on my original article have told me that mentally and emotionally handicapped students really thrive under the system and are constantly striving to improve.
GeekDad: What kinds of ideas do you have for the future of the new website? Will there be stat tracking online or discussion boards or anything that allows teachers, kids, and parents to share and communicate about ClassRealm?
Bertoli: Communication is a major aspect that we want to push from the start. We want to adapt our site based on the feedback we get from teachers. Teachers, students, and parents will all have specific connections to one another. Our plan is to grow and create more options for all parties involved.
In the near future we want to include a lesson plan marketplace for teachers called the ClassRealm Bazaar. Teachers will be able to create and share lessons with one another. Teachers can make their lessons free or actually sell them. This way a teacher who has put tons of effort into a specific lesson can be compensated for their hard work. Over time we could have thousands and even millions of lessons for teachers to pick from. We’d also like to have a rating system so teachers can see which lessons truly work and which ones are duds. All lessons will link to the Common Core Standards.
We will be introducing a simple version of “ClassRealm Edventures” when the site launches in August, but the plan is to build on top of the Edventures system. Grades will have their own planet and each planet will have broad subject continents based on math, science, social studies, and reading. Each continent then breaks down into even more content-specific countries, like multiplication or decimals. Once a student finds the area they want to explore their character can complete quests and earn experience and achievements. All the quests are based around the focused content area. You may have to defeat a gang of werewolf ninjas using multiplication or unlock a door by answering a multiple-choice question about cells. The best part is that teachers can make their own Edventures or simply have students play through ones that are already made.
The potential is staggering. There are some sites and web apps that offer some of the aspects we want to include, but none that we’ve seen that have it all. My team really hopes we can make an impact on education as a whole, now we just need the chance.
We wish Ben the best of luck in his new endeavor. It’s encouraging to see the concepts of game rewards being applied to learning knowledge in the classroom. Check out the ClassRealm Kickstarter page and his ClassRealm site for more information. Here’s to leveling up your favorite High Elf Archmage in math, science and language arts spells in and out of the High Halls of Learning. Let the eternal quest for knowledge begin.