Gamified Homework: Earn to Learn

Although the basic idea behind Takeaway Homework is perfectly serviceable, teachers at Community College and A-level are more-likely to want to use homework as a way of getting students to practice exam-style questions.

It is, of course, possible to tweak the Takeaway system to, say, require students to complete a single homework task each week, as with this example Takeaway Menu for crime and deviance (there’s also a blank template if you want to create your own questions) that starts with something relatively simple (“Mild”) and builds towards something more-difficult (“Extra Hot”). This is useful if you want to:

  • ease students into exam-type questions, starting small and easy and gradually increasing in length and difficulty.
  • encourage students to practice a variety of different types of exam question.
  • An alternative here, however, is to take this basic idea a step further by introducing an element of gamification (game-like) into the equation. This involves using some of the mechanics of games – rewards, progression towards a specified goal, individual and group competitiveness and the like – to spice things up a little.


    Single Frame Board

    In “Earn to Learn” the objective is to earn the most money by completing homework tasks. These are purchased from lists of differing difficulty (and reward) using Imaginary Cash (IC).

    A quick look at a game board demonstrates how this works:

    1. The Board has 6 option lists with questions on each being worth, in this instance, 2, 4, 8,10, 20 and 30 marks.

    2. Students purchase homework questions using the IC they have earned by successfully answering questions.

    3. At the start of the game, when no student has earned any money, all of the 2-mark questions are free to purchase. Students can do as many of these questions as they like (or the teacher allows – you may want to put an initial limit on how many free questions can be answered) in order to build-up a store of IC.

    4. IC is achieved through translating the marks students score for the questions they answer into IC. For example:

  • A student starts by doing 3 free questions and scores 5 marks in total. They now have 5 IC to spend on their next round of homework.
  • For the next round they decide to do one 8-mark and two 4-mark questions (spending all their 5 IC in the process), for which they receive 10 marks in total (or 10 IC to spend in the next round).
  • 5. Students can answer any questions they like, in any order, as long as they have the money to pay for them, with a couple of qualifications:

    a. You might want to ban students who hold IC from attempting 2-mark questions after the initial money-earning round.

    b. Students must answer at least one question from every list on the Board.

    6. Play continues until the teacher declares an end to the homework for a particular topic. If you want to award small prizes that’s entirely up to you, but these could include prizes for the student:

  • who ends the homework session with the most IC.
  • who answers the most questions.
  • who scores the highest combined marks for each list on the Board.
  • Editing

    The “Earn to Learn” Board is in PowerPoint format so you can easily edit:

    a. The questions: the ones I’ve included are a selection of Culture and Identity questions taken from past AQA exams and if you want to use your own you can edit them accordingly. You can, of course, add questions for different topics, such as Families and Households, Mass Media, etc. to create different Boards.

    b. The cost / rewards for questions in each list. You may, for example, want to change the marks for each list to reflect the question values of different exam boards.

    I’ve also created two types of Presentation:

    1. A single frame Board containing 6 question lists. This can be useful if you want to save the Presentation as a single-page pdf file (just use the PowerPoint “Export” option) to display or give to your students.

    2. A two-frame Board with 3 question lists on each. [Gamified_learn2earn2_culture.pptx] This type allows you to include more questions on each list, because there are only 3 lists on each frame.

    Two-Frame Board

    Pluses. And Minuses…

    One advantage to gamifying homework in this way is that it encourages students to do more than the “bare minimum”: the more work they do, the more “money” they earn and this can, if you wish, make for some active competition (although it’s not necessary to award prizes etc. if that’s not something you normally do in your classroom). Virtue, after all, can be its own reward.

    Or Something.

    A second advantage is that it makes the marks students get for each piece of completed work a little more meaningful in the overall context of their studies. In broad terms, each piece of work they do is significant in that it contributes to an overall objective (earning as much “money” as they can) and the more marks they achieve on every piece of homework they do, the more they have to spend on the next piece of work. There’s also an incentive to complete work regularly and consistently because the higher mark / higher monetary value and reward homework only becomes available once a student has accumulated sufficient cash by completing a number of smaller-mark questions.

    All things being equal, gamifying homework in this way should not only result in more work being done, it also encourages students to regularly practice a variety of different exam-type questions throughout the duration of their course.

    While I think there are clear positives to gamifying homework, before you decide to embark on this course of action you need to be aware of some potential drawbacks in three main areas:

    1. Preparation: For each homework Board on every Module you cover you will have to prepare many more questions than you’d usually prepare when all students answer the same questions. You will also need to transfer these to the Boards themselves, which can take time. Once you’ve created a Board, however, future Boards for future classes will probably only require slight tweaks in terms of the questions you prepare.

    2. Marking: Where students are likely to answer more questions than they might normally answer for homework these all have to be marked and I probably don’t have to tell you this may significantly increase your workload.

    But I will, anyway. Just in case there’s any doubt.

    3. Record-keeping: This is likely to be a little more-extensive than your usual record-keeping because you will need to track a wider range of questions in addition to tracking student marks and the IC they have available to spend at any time. This can be mitigated to some extent by using something like an Excel Spreadsheet to record all the necessary data for each student. Again, once you’ve set-up a template for this, recording and tracking data for future classes will not require anywhere near as much work…

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