Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mission Possible: Playing Games with Professional Development

A few posts ago, I talked a bit about Gamification in education. I then went on to discuss an idea I had to apply this to my classroom with Galaxy Fleet. After presenting at last weekend's Iowa Edcamp, I am inclined to give you some specifics of the Professional Development model I created that uses these principles.

Mission Possible is our district's model for professional development with regards to technology in our 1:1. In creating this process, I was looking for something that was highly engaging (or as engaging as any PD can me) as well as individualized and fun. Teachers were coming into our 1:1 initiative at many levels. We had those who could not wait to get their hands on their iPads, and those that never planned to take them out of the box. I needed a system that would challenge the high flyers while bringing those indifferent to the technology into the fold.

I see learning technology to be three fold. First there has to be a time where you simply get comfortable using the device or programs. In the game, this is where teachers begin. Level 1 teachers are given the title "Noob", a distinction that they no doubt want to shed as soon as humanly possible. Upon reaching level 3 in the game, they are considered "Users". I see users as teachers who are not afraid to turn on a computer or device and use it, but may not know exactly what to do with it. They want to play with different apps, find already developed programs to use, and master them. User levels (3-6) are where most of our teachers currently sit after about a year into the program. Upon reaching level 7, we start referring to teachers as "Tech Geeks". These people are comfortable finding apps and using them. They don't need any more in-service on what is out there or how to find it. Their levels shift to how they are going to implement these strategies into their classes. They collaborate with other Tech Geeks to infuse the technology or they share their expertise with others by leading sessions on in-service days.

Those are the three Tiers of the game. The mechanics follow real basic gamification principles. To gain a level, teachers do "Missions." Missions are set to take about 15 minutes each. A level 1 mission earns the teacher 1 "Paw Point" (we are the bulldogs). Once they reach 10 paw points, they lose the noob status and become a level 2 novice, on their way to being a User. Level 2 missions are worth 2 paw points each, level 3 worth 3 and so on. Teachers are not allowed to do missions above their level, but can "farm" lower level missions for small amounts of paw points.

Here is the website for the Game. 

You will not be able to see the leaderboard, which we do post so everyone knows where they stand. At the onset of the game I made a couple of things very clear with both the teachers and the administration. First, this is NON-EVALUATIVE. At no time will an administrator come to them and ask why they are only 5th level. I am a firm believer you get from Professional Development what you put into it. The only requirement that teachers have in the game is that whenever they are given time to do missions, that they put forth their best effort. Second, the game is really on the honor system. No one is going to be standing over their shoulder watching them do missions. Again, you get out what you put in.

I can tell you that this posting of the leaderboard is a key to the game aspect of it. It engages teachers' competitive nature just like Call of Duty does with my eldest son. The guy at the top will not let others ahead of him, even though they try. Some don't want to be at the top, but they always want to be ahead of that person right above them. The level of interest has dwarfed my expectations.

As teachers move through the game they can pick up other titles along the way for completing sets or "chains" of missions. If a teacher does a set of 5 missions on twitter, we give them the title "Twenius" on the leaderboard. This allows others to see who are experts on programs they might be interested in. They can seek them out instead of the tech department.

I encourage you to develop your own game based on this model. I am not selling the idea, I am giving it. Use it, make it yours. In doing so, I can give some advice. Keep it light; keep it fun. Name the missions with cute names like "Mickey Mouse is Pissed" for copy write, or "How do I put my face on Jennifer Lopez's body" for paint programs. Put effort into selling it to admin before the teachers. Time is always the biggest issue. Some teachers will do missions at night while sitting in bed, but most will only have time to do them when given it by admin. Be sure you have their support before selling it to the teachers. Celebrate successes. We always tweet out when someone raises a level. We have given prizes like earbuds to everyone who hits 5th level, or stylus's to the first 5 who hit 7th level.

Crowdsource the making of the missions to your teachers. Upon reaching level 7, teachers are beginning to help in making the actual missions, or ratifying earlier missions to make them better. I do not have the time or expertise to make missions for apps in all the different disciplines in my school. I let others do the work for me. I can post more on this later, but it is a big part of what makes Mission Possible actually possible.

As for the back end to this, I did it in Google forms and spreadsheets. Why? They were free and I kind of knew how to use them. If a programmer reads this and wants to write a database that keeps better track of these things, please do and share it with me. If you are interested in seeing the data side of this, please let me know and I can post something on that later.

That is an overall look at the game. I have presented this at a couple of conferences and can tell you that the idea is spreading like the clap at Woodstock. Grant Wood AEA is trying to develop something, I have had talks with the Des Moines School District, as well as Dubuque AEA and several smaller districts.

Let me know if there is any way I can help in these or other endeavors with this idea.



  1. I love this idea! As a tech facilitator and gamer myself, I would love to incorporate your ideas with for our professional development and our 1:1 Chromebooks/Google Apps for Edu implementation. I would like to ask your permission to use some of your content and modify it to develop our Chromebook program! It would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Linda,
      Shoot me an email and I would be happy to give you a look at the background of this. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you out.

  2. I read your article in September/October 2013 Learning and Leading with Technology. I am an Instructional Technology Specialist and I am trying to move our professional development in a new direction. I am very interested in learning more about how you determine what would make up each tier. I have gone to my teachers and poised the question: What is the bear basics of what every teacher should know about technology in our school district? Could you provide some guidance on how your team determined what should be in each tier.

    1. Angela,

      I am excited to hear that you enjoyed the article and are interested in my model. If you are serious about going further with incorporating gamification into your professional development, I will try to help in any way I can. It has worked very well for my district and many around the nation have contacted me to try to adapt similar games for their systems.

      I can make myself available to help with your implementation. Since this article has been published, I have been getting many requests for my time. I would be happy to work with your team in trying to put a driving force behind your teachers' professional development. The concepts of gamification, crowdsourcing, and social media are very important aspects of the model that I feel need to be embedded with fidelity. Some have suggested that I visit their districts to help for a few days in a consulting capacity. If you are interested in something like that, please let me know.

      As for the tiers, I based them on novice abilities (learning to use the device), user needs (finding and searching apps), and master teaching abilities (implementing tech into their classes). This was one of the nuances that adds dimension to the game by giving it a layer deeper than just levels.

      Thank you so much for the reply. Please let me know if I can help in any other way.

  3. I too read the article in Leading and Learning with Technology and have been exploring your site. I am very interested in implementing such a PD at our school but have some questions for you. 1) what did you create your "missions" with? Which software did you find easiest to use? How did you come up with your tiers/levels and what would be in each level? What are the questions you have people ask at the end of each mission? How has it been received by the staff? I applaud you and your administration for implementing such a great comprehensive PD plan at your school, I just wonder how you found the time to get it up and running!

    1. Keri,

      Thanks for the interest in my model. Let me see if I can answer some of your questions.

      1) I created the missions with google drive (sites, and spreadsheet mostly). I did this because they were free, familiar to me, and easy to use. The videos I captured with
      2) The tiers I had decided at the beginning to follow somewhat of a blooms taxonomy/ learning cycle approach. I started with letting them explore new aspects of programs they felt comfortable with, the user levels introduced them to MANY new technologies, and the Tech Geek levels asked them to apply what they learned.
      3) The surveys consist of two questions. The first was something about what they learned to show that they actually watched the video and the second asked them to reflect on how they could use it in their classroom.
      4) The staff has been overwhelmingly supportive of this experiment. They enjoy doing it, find satisfaction in their place on the leaderboard, and love the individuality of it. It is differentiated and unique to every staff member.

      Time is always an issue. My team (me and our librarian) did most of levels 1-4 in about three weeks. Then we just built it as we went and are still building it. In fact, this year we are getting other teachers to help, (the crowdsourcing is kicking in).

      I am getting so many of these requests that I am offering to visit places as a consultant that would like to adopt the model and help them with the set up of the system. I have presented this at many local conferences and the response has been very favorable. Everyone wants to jump on the gamification train! If you have some small funds available, I would be happy to pitch it to your people as well. I am giving the model away for free, but am offering to help in its set up. Having gone through the process for a couple of years I may have some insight that may help you if you are interested. I am not sure of the scale of your game, but there are some nuances that you can put into it that may make things go smoother.




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