Ep 053 Chris Aviles changes the rules with gamification

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Chris Aviles is the 21st Century Skills, Technology, and Innovation Coordinator for the Fair Haven school district in Fair Haven, New Jersey where he runs the renown Fair Haven Innovates program he created in 2015.

Chris gets up, heads to school and has three classes in the mornings, where they run real businesses (him and the kids). He has about an hour for lunch and to get ready for the afternoon, where he has a maker space where he is running one-hour challenges with his kids that he gets to see once every six days. He gets to spend time with every kid in the school.

He has been using game mechanics already for around six years by now and he is constantly changing things, it is about reframing failure and turning it into feedback that goes into the loop. In that sense, what he would call the biggest failure was when he created an unfair system. He uses something called achievements which are not related to schoolwork, they are “heroic” deeds done by the students. He created one for helping others, and the problem was it was not concrete enough, it was hard to measure. So then comparing who helped more, or for longer, so it became really difficult and unfair, so the kids became mad about it. He then decided to hit the reset button and apologized, let them know it was not going well and let them know how it would look like from now on. Now, helping meant that a kid was asked for help on something that they were better at than the rest. The story that inspired this is quite interesting but long to describe here, your way to it is to click play! After this students have even come in and given suggestions for the system in the class.

In video games, the player is the chosen one, everything spins around that main character but as Chris points out in school they are not even allowed go to the bathroom without asking for permission. The game trusts in the player and he decided to do similar. He’s seen how many teachers base their decisions in the most difficult student of the class, where he believes those decisions should be done thinking in the best one, so they all feel empowered (and manage the exceptions). Since he has been doing this, many great things have happened. For example, once the kids were frustrated because they had carpeted floors and chairs without wheels so moving around the classroom for their needs was particularly difficult. So they decided to get a classroom makeover, they filmed a small commercial and ended up getting a sponsorship from a furniture firm that redid the space! This would probably never had happened if they didn’t feel empowered with Chris. He’s always thinking how would he feel if it was him in this classroom. Some of his classes are actually running real businesses! They fulfill real orders, make real money and solve real problems! “If we think of education as a game we are on, maybe we can design it way better!”

His process falls back to Design Thinking. He starts with “what is it like to be a kid in my class”, to see if someone would want to be there, if the assignments use their creativity, passion and personality and he constantly gets anonymous surveys from the kids. It is about thinking if attending to his class was something you specifically pay for, who would buy it? He tries to fit in those things that need to be done and then how to make it fun! The other big part is the feedback loops, he is not afraid to iterate as fast as he can to make them better. We also had a fun discussion about changing the rules and how this can be done and when it can be risky.

Two best practices are to gamify attendance to your class and to make an achievement out of making presentations without PowerPoint! That is how his classroom started using Minecraft and many other tools. His favorite game would be anything from the Fallout series and he plays Overwatch quite a bit…

Chris would love to hear from a game designer who creates alternate reality games because he is currently obsessed with them! So perhaps Jane McGonigal would be a suggestion once again… Some books he would recommend are Michael Matera’s Explore Like a Pirate, Matthew Farber’s books as well but generally to read from different authors, as many have different approaches to gamification.

His superpower is to be relentless! He says he will outwork pretty much anybody. The random question he got was about if it is really possible to gamify any subject and how to integrate it with textbooks… What do you think? The full answer is in the episode, click play and listen up! His final advice is to put yourself in the player’s shoes, build and don’t be afraid to rebuild. Also remember to think and plan for your best student rather than the worst! That way you can be successful for sure.

If we want to connect with Chris we can find him on his social media and his web as TechedUpTeacher, so TechedUpTeacher.com, @techedupteacher on all social media and his email is Chrisaviles [at] techedupteacher [dot] com!


There are many ways to get in touch with us, you can go to my Twitter @RobAlvarezB, my Instagram, our Facebook Page, subscribe to our email list and even ask a question to future guests!

Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


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