Mario Kart is one of my favourite racing games. And recently it has made me think about the implications of what’s happening in my classroom.
To succeed in Mario Kart, not only do you have to drive fast and stay ahead of the pack, you also need to know how to use power-ups. Power-ups are picked up by driving into the power-up blocks. When you drive over one of these blocks, the game will assign you with a power-up. However, Mario Kart likes to work on a handicap system. Basically the further you are ahead in the race, the power-ups you get never boost your speed. So if you’re coming first, you are only ever given banana peels and turtle shells as power-ups. You leave banana peels on the track so others slip on them or you throw the turtle shell at whoever gets in front of you. You are not given power-ups to get you further ahead. If you’re further behind in the race, the game will give you a range of power-ups like:
-star (gives you a huge speed boost and you’ll take out anyone you touch)
-thunderbolt (zaps everyone else in the race and makes them small so you can run over them)
And if you’re really behind, you get Bullet Bill, Bullet Bill turns you into a bullet and you rip through the track at super fast speed, blasting everyone that gets in your way. Bullet Bill is designed to give anyone coming last with a fighting chance at the race. Basically the power-ups gives everyone an even chance of winning all the way through the race.
So what does Mario Kart have to do with my classroom?
For anyone that has been following my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been implementing gamification with my year 10 science class. (Click here for more details) We wrapped up the first gamified unit of work recently. While I was evaluating the effectiveness of gamification, I noticed the leaderboard. The winning team had over 400 points and the last team had 30 points. (Points were awarded for completing and submitting class and homework tasks). So what happened to the team with 30 points? This team wasn’t doing nothing. They weren’t being lazy. I regularly helped them in class and saw them do their work. They just didn’t hand it in.
While I haven’t asked them why they haven’t handed it in (yet), if I was them I would say to myself ‘Why bother? It’s not like our team will ever catch up.’ It is like when you are so far behind in a car racing game that you re-start the race because there’s no point of continuing. In most classrooms, there’s some kids who are behind for some reason (went overseas for a lengthy period, have poor reading skills, etc). For many of these kids, it’s like being very behind in a racing game. Everyone is on their 5th lap while they’re still on their 1st lap. They want to re-start the race and have another go. But they can’t. How can schools and teachers give them power-ups like in Mario Kart. I want to give those kids Bullet Bill so they will still be engaged in the game. But how? And what about the kids who are always a few laps ahead of everyone else? Are teachers keeping the game challenging enough for them?