Many of us use some sort of reward system in the classroom to reinforce that beautiful behavior we all desire from our students. Systems can come in many forms, e.g. Sticker charts, token economies, raffle tickets and so on. Coming up with rewards that won't break the bank, and will be fun for students can get costly if you are dipping into your own pockets to provide tangible rewards as a dangling carrot. When I started out teaching, in my desperate attempt to keep the students excited about the rewards, I spent so much money on prizes! Little did I know that I really did not need such extravagent rewards to make that carrot look so shiny!
In a classroom where we had only one computer, time on it for any student was special, even for work. When I noticed some great online educational games, I decided to reward a couple of students with computer game time. They could play any game of their choice as long as it was educational for a set amount of time. This was a huge deal, the students loved it, it was educational, and it was free! So I decided to work it better into our reward system. Below I've outlined how I use games as rewards in my classroom, with some added suggestions depending on what you have available in your classroom if you would also like to implement games as a positive reinforcement reward.
Evaluate what technology you have available in the classroom
- Internet connection will make this easier and keep it free if you have available at your school. If you do not have Internet connection, then you may need to spend a bit of money just to begin with by purchasing some games that can be played offline.
- Do you have Adobe Flash Player installed on your computer? Most games will need Flash. If you do not have Flash Player installed on your computer, then you will at least need Google Chrome Internet Browser available. Chrome has built in Flash and may be the easier option for your students to access the games. You can download Chrome HERE for free.
- iPads do not have Flash available on them, but there is a way to access the games through the iPad. You will need to download the free app 'Puffin Web Browser.' Opening this app and using its browser to access the games will make most of them work. Some games still may be too difficult to play on touch screen though; so they will need to be trialed by users to see what is iPad friendly and what can only really be played on the computer.
Have a list of websites with Educational Games bookmarked
- http://www.jjresourcecreations.com/games.html. -This is the 'Games' part of this current website. Going to this link, you will be presented with two options: one for Math Games, and the second option is for a mix of Strategy and Puzzle Games. I created this section for the very purpose of this blog post, to keep a neat and tidy area for educational games (with content I am aware is on it) to use for rewards. The games can all be played while staying on this website. I ensure to update the games every now and again to keep it fresh. I've tried to include something for a variety of grade and skill levels; but, I recommend letting students explore to see what suits them if they are old enough. For the younger ones, you will probably need to direct them to a suitable game.
http://m.coolmath-games.com/ - I LOVE this website, there are loads of games to play. Again, a variety of difficulty levels available. Students will need to explore what suits them best, but that's half the fun right? Cool Math Games also have an app available, which is a great option for tablets.
- http://www.knowledgeadventure.com/ - This website also has lots of educational games available. It has the added benefit of being able to filter by Grade Level and Subject Level to help students sort through all of the games. Being reward game time though, I personally don't stress about what 'level' or subject they choose.
- http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/web_games_menu.htm - This website is great for Pre-K and K mainly. Lots of lovely colorful games and subjects to choose from.
- https://www.turtlediary.com/ - This website is presented beautifully, is easy to navigate through, and can be filtered by grade and topic area to find games. They also have an app available. The initial download is free, but there are some in-app purchases too.
- There are also plenty of educational apps available for free that you could also add to the options list. I will probably do another blog post soon on some great educational app finds.
Decide on time and management
- How much game time will they be rewarded? I chose 15 minutes for a single reward session.
- When can students use their game time? I chose during math warm-up time and silent reading time to be the regular time tabled sessions for 'pre-booking' of game time use. However, students were able to 'cash' in their game time if they finished work early enough or for indoor recess/lunch - this would be on a first in first served basis to prevent arguments.
- How will you keep track of who has game time rewards? I made game time tokens to give students something to hold onto until they cash their game time in. I keep a record in a log book so I know who and how many students have game time anyway, this also helps just in case they lose their game token. A simple piece of paper with 'Game Time Session' written on it and laminated worked well for tokens, but you can get as creative as you like.
- How will you manage game booking time? I keep a weekly time table for our daily math warm-up times and silent reading times. Students could 'book' in their game time by cashing in their token for a particular session, then I would write their name down for that session like an appointment. Having only one computer and one iPad, I could only ever book two students at a particular time for a session. To prevent problems, I even made it to book for either the computer or the iPad. If you have more available, this opens up how many students you can book in at a time. I also recommend making a set time or announcing when to take bookings, you really don't want students constantly interrupting you to cash in their game time. Later in this post, I suggest an easier way to deal with all of this.
- How will you keep game time fair and consistent? I simply set a timer for 15 minutes, when it beeps, time up! Of course, it isn't always as simple as that. Booting problems, technical issues, other reasons may interfere with a student's experience from time to time making them feel like they didn't really get a chance to use their reward. On those occasions, after my own evaluation, I would reissue a game token (or even a half token) to make up for time lost for their session. I try to set the timer from the moment they access the game site to keep it simple and reduce complaints with things like that.
- How to deal with too many students who have game time tokens and not enough devices to keep up with fair use? If there suddenly seems to be a massive flock of students with lots of game time tokens, you may need to start ensuring that after each person uses their token, they cannot use another again until others 'in line' have had the chance to use theirs. You may need to do a visual queue on the board/wall to show who can cash in their game time next, if the person says 'no', then they go to the bottom of the list and the next person gets asked.
Decide how students can earn 'Game Time' tokens
- Raffle tickets: This is the option I use and is great if you want to keep the number of sessions limited per week. It will also prevent any problems with too many students waiting for their turn. Give students raffle tickets for good behavior, work effort, work completion. . . etc. I also give every student a raffle ticket at the end of the day if they had their name in the 'green happy zone' or positive above section (I call it my hall of fame) of my behavior chart (I'll probably do another blog post about that some time). At the end of the week, on a Friday afternoon, we have our raffle draw to see who wins game tokens that can be used next week. I've ended up using this time to also do 'bookings', and the students get to choose in the order their name is drawn (so first place gets first choice and so forth). So, this option is my personal favorite for ease of management.
- Individual charts: Students individually earn ticks, stars, stamps on a chart - once they get so many, they receive a game token. I used to do this for some of my more challenging behaviors that required a rigorous and personalized behavior management system. I would set goals for targeted behaviors in order to earn stars.
- Team Points: If you have groups and like to do group points, you could make it that the winning group at the end of the day/week will receive a game token for each member.
- Token Economy: You may already have some sort of token economy in place. You could simply set a 'price' for game time and add it to your repertoire of rewards, or you may even decide to make it the only reward.