Gamified Macbeth PBL – a reflection

My last PBL project was rather ambitious. Having been excited by the discussions of gamification in the edmodo group ‘education gamification’ and the recent introduction of badges in edmodo, I decided to gamify my Macbeth project. The approach I took required pretty complex design elements that tested my patience and my intellect. Just thinking about creating a gamified quest for my final project of this year is stressing me out. I am in awe of game designers – I am convinced they must work in teams. There is so much planning, careful logic, creativity and strategy required to build something that will both engage the learners and support/enhance learning. It does my head in thinking about it – it really does.

So here’s a super quick overview of what I did with my Macbeth Design Project including resources. You may or may not want to use my project design and resources. I think I’d use it again but I’d make sure I timed things better – this project was disrupted by the inevitable extracurricula activities that happen in a school. I missed out on really ‘hooking’ my students with the project. I never had a lesson to explicitly explain the gaming strategy – things like XP, ranks, badges, missions, inventory.  It really was a trial. I have surveyed my students after the project and initial results show that the students liked this project and thought the XP etc was a good addition. I look forward to getting further feedback from them and from you guys … what’s wrong with this learning design? How might it be problematic in the future?

(Prior to the 4 weeks outlined below my students had watched Polanski’s Macbeth, listened to a short story version of the play and completed fairly basic activities on plot and characters.)

 Lesson one: My ‘hook’ lesson involved interactive tasks about the concept ‘power’ and Shakespeare’s theatre. See my post about it here.

 Lesson two: I took the students to the library where we have an IWB. I posed our Driving Question ‘What makes an individual powerful?’ and had them all write a 2-3 sentence hypothesis in response to it. This was posted onto edmodo (my students are 1-1. Students without their netbooks used a friend’s) and we looked at the responses together displayed on the IWB. We discussed the varied responses and considered reasons for the different hypotheses. I then allocated students to groups. As outlined in an earlier post here I had designed the groups both on gender and ability level.

 Lesson three: I planned to introduce the students to the game design of the project and give them the code for their first mission. I made a video to introduce this to the students. You can watch it here. Unfortunately all of the boys from the class were out at a ‘Man of Honour’ workshop. I embedded the video into edmodo but I doubt many of them watched it which was a shame as it affected the intended impact of the video.

 Lessons four – completion of project: For the remainder of the project students worked in their allocated groups to complete the six missions posted on edmodo as assignments. Each mission earned students group and individual XP. Individual XP could also be earned for goal-setting and reflections on learning. Goals and reflections were posted to edmodo. During the lessons I would allocate XP via edmodo, simple replying to a student post with the amount of XP and reason for awarding XP. Once a week I would add up the group and individual XP and post the leader board to the edmodo group. Students could also receive individual XP for demonstrating positive online behaviours within their small edmodo group or within the larger class edmodo group.

A copy of the missions and inventory can be found here.

As you can see in the game launch video I also awarded badges when students mastered a skill set to complete a mission and/or attained a new rank via an accumulation of Team XP. Each rank was associated with the characters in the play Macbeth.  Whilst I did award a number of badges to teams, by the end of the project most teams had not achieved all ranks. This is something I will think about in the future. The fact that the badges in edmodo are private to the student may impact on their success. Perhaps it would be better if a notification is sent to the class group when a badge is awarded students may be more inclined to desire a specific badge. I also think that my failure to show the game design video to the whole class meant many students did not understand the badges, XP and ranks system.

The inventory never came in to effect – apart from one lesson where a team of boys found a loop-hole in my calculations and realized that they only needed to earn 500XP which could then be traded in for more XP to purchase good ad infinitum. Lucklily they pointed out my game design flaw and I remedied it swiftly. No student ever traded a XP as part of this project.


There were a series of flaws in both the design and application of this project. Whilst students were engaged and for the most part completed the missions, I realise that the missions were in fact dull and uninspiring. They simply were a fancy worksheet task. Only a couple of times were students interested in being ‘creative’ in their presentation of learning. Most often students rushed through the work in order to complete the mission and earn XP. The work was for the most part shallow. The focus on the driving question was lost.

The quality of the final products – the promotional poster – was quite good. All students except for one completed the task and submitted it by the due date. I was happy with this but feel I would have had the same result without the gamified PBL approach. My students’ posters were of the same standard as students in other classes that completed the same poster-design task posted above. I was pleased that the other teachers in my faculty reported high student engagement with the task – the did not use gaming elements.

I feel that I let my students down by not including more teacher-led activities – especially the teaching of specific skills and modeling the process of constructing a promotional poster. I don’t believe that my approach reflects the principles of either PBL or GBL. I think it needs a bit of work. My heart was focused on the glitter and not on the learning.

 Next project: straight PBL where students create DQ and final product and audience. Sweet.


6 thoughts on “Gamified Macbeth PBL – a reflection

  1. A great, honest reflection Bianca. I think gamification has a lot of merit but I agree that it has to be balanced with explicit teaching time and higher order challenges so that the glitz is truly rooted in the learning. I am sure that knowing you that the two halves of education – engagement AND learning – will gel next time you experiment with gamification.

    • Thanks Paula!!
      Yeah, I think because it was my first time with the game design stuff I got caught up in the mechanics. I’m actually REALLY excited by the quest based learning stuff that’s going on in the edmodo ‘education gamification’ group. Hyle Daley is amazing – he’s an English teacher and is turning his classroom into one great big narrative that the students immerse themselves into each lesson – most activities happen online (I think). It’s pretty insane. I’m kinda thinking I’d like to do that next year with a Year 7 class … problem is we’re not 1-1 so I’d have to book them in to a computer lab every second lesson.
      I’m tempted to create a QBL unit for Year 9 next term … maybe.
      I am excited about the straight PBL project I’m doing now with my Year 10 however as it has heaps of opportunity for student voice and choice. Already having a great time with them. Might post about it now actually, haha.
      Thanks again for you kind words!!

  2. Nice idea! Thank you for sharing the details—I’m keen on this type of approach to education and have learned much from classroom testing, including my share of deflated balloons. 😉

    Something to consider: badges and level ups (and even XP, unless they are tied to measurable, concrete skills) are overrated in game design as motivators. Perks are fun, sure. But you can define a “win” or a “success” in a game in much broader and more meaningful terms—and ideally, tie it directly to your core goal (in this case, to deepen understanding of the play’s central theme). Intristic motivation.

    Not easy to do. But, I would start with your question: What makes a person powerful? Then, think in terms of how you would 1 define and 2 measure “power” (influence? votes of confidence? getting other people to do things they don’t want to do? organizing the masses to do something great—like a flash mob?) and turn one of those into “missions” and a “win.”

    Just a top-of-head thought: One way to turn the design-a-poster contest into a game would be to build in a way to measure the success of the poster to influence peoples’ thinking or behavior (its “power”). For example, suppose posters had to ask people to do something they aren’t comfortable doing (and I don’t mean murder of course ;-)—maybe bowing down in deference each time they pass by the poster. How many people do the thing? Which messages and strategies are most effective?

    Dunno. Maybe too sophisticated. Simple is usually better. Just thinking aloud here—which is what a good blog post makes us do. 🙂

  3. I should add: If you can find a used copy somewhere, I wrote a book of Shakespeare games/creative activities called Yes You Can! Teach Shakespeare (Scholastic)—now out of print, unfortunately. For use with almost any play, with a few samples pulled from common plays. Also, I helped develop The Play’s the Thing (Aristoplay/Talicor), a Shakespeare board game with a rummy mechanic and multiple levels for lit or drama—the goal being to intro the basic plots/characters/quotes. That, too, went out of print after a nice run but might still be found at someone’s garage sale. Which is to say, it might be time to create some fresh materials!

  4. I love that there are so many different ways to ‘skin a cat’. I’m teaching Macbeth now to a really challenging class and, while I’ve tried lots of different things, the game approach never even occurred to me. Duh!!

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