Exploration of knowledge

An approach to gamifying classroom book-and-paper teaching, which worked well when tested in practice.
Note: My references here are to the Octalysis framework for gamification.

So, after having messed around with various approaches to gamifying teaching, I realised that I needed something simple and flexible. Something that could be used no matter what the topic was, and something that could be finished in a reasonable timeframe. At the same time, I found that a key issue was to provide students having different levels of skills with enough challenges, while avoiding the typical motivational killer of “I didn’t manage to solve all of the challenges”, and also making sure everyone practice the same skills.
My solution to these needs was the exploration of knowledge concept that I present here.

The basic idea is to provide the students with more freedom, in a structured setting (Meaningful Choice, CD 3 Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback).

This is done by presenting the content of several lessons for the student in form of a map. Every area of the map has some theory references the students must read (or it could be in form of a video), and some exercises that can be done.

Now some areas are locked with gates – those that require knowledge from previous areas. To access a locked area, the student group must gather all the relevant keys. And they gain the key from an area by completing the required number of exercises in the area.

To keep things going, there are deadlines on the map. Gates that the students must unlock at a certain time. I have put deadlines for the end of lesson 2 and 4, in my 4-lesson project.

So to sum up: The students are required to complete a minimum of exercises in each subject before the deadlines, so the teacher can rely on the students having this knowledge in the future.
At the same time, the students have a degree of freedom in their approach. Most areas should have more exercises than required to gain a key, so the students can choose which ones they prefer. The faster students – those that are not just barely meeting the deadlines – have even more options. Do they finish all the exercises in the required areas? Do they go for the key in an optional area? Or do they take on extra challenges, like a quiz or an experiment, some of them locked behind gates?

To keep the students focus on quality and understanding, every group were required to choose one exercise to prepare for presentation. At the beginning of each lesson, two groups would be selected to present for the class, after that the groups were mixed so that everyone could present their exercise to a few classmates before they went “back to work”.

I used this in physics teaching (high school level), using a mix of calculation and simulation exercises. The students had their book as well as a video – a very efficient and focused walkthrough of the theory, useful for refreshing at the beginning of a lesson.

This is the map i used for the project. The three areas on the left have no restrictions, so they are the starting areas. I hope it is understandable, even though it is in danish:

Translation: Nøgle = key, opgave = exercise, modul = lesson, afsnit = chapter.
Background by Eltair via DeviantArt.com


With this short presentation, I hope you have an understanding of the idea behind using exploration of knowledge in teaching. And if you wish to try it out in practice, you should continue reading through the notes below, to get all the details right.

Practical/teaching notes:

  • The students self-test their answers from a list of answers
  • Every group is 2-4 students
  • Every group has their own map
  • If your subject don’t use experiments, find a different type of non-standard exercise the students can unlock
  • Try the system out with a good class the first time – students that will work efficiently in groups without too much supervision.
  • The experiments are very short and simple.
  • At some points I summed up for the class what they had learned, due to a students request.

Gamification notes:

  • Exploring the map and earning keys are, of cause, CD 2: Development and Accomplishment
  • Celebration: When the students gain a key, give them a key stamp (a piece of paper to glue on the map). Also ring a bell or play a sound effect on an app.
  • The questions of the quiz’es are not visible before the group has earned access. CD 7: Curiosity.
  • Not tested: The experiments should also be unknown until access is earned.
  • The final deadline ends in a large quiz, testing knowledge in all the required areas.

Notes for making the map:

  • When designing the map, start by dividing the material into a few subject areas (5 in this map). Then find out which areas are dependent on knowledge from previous areas, and set up the key/gate system from this dependence.
  • The students should have the same amount of time available as you would use to go through the subjects in a standard teaching.
  • I recommend using the map for a project of 3-6 lessons (tested with 4).
  • The map can be produced in a number of different ways. Use Word, Publisher, Photoshop or similar software. Or print the map and glue pieces of paper with gates and text onto the map, photocopy the result.
  • Use a fancy map-like background
  • The reason there are no page numbers on the map is because the students used a digital book. If you use normal books, page numbers would be useful.
  • A single area in this map is completely optional – the key is only used to gain access to an optional quiz.
  • In this map the points needed to access quiz’es and experiments are different from the points needed for keys. But they could be the same.

Did you find this interresting? Then I am sure you will like to read about Mastery of assignments.

Or find my other blog posts on gamified teaching here: Gamification of teaching

6 thoughts on “Exploration of knowledge

  1. Thank you for a very interesting and practical post. I have a question; how do you think the students reacted to this kind of teaching compared to the “normal” way? I would love to see some bullet notes on student “impact”.


    1. Hi Tine. What I did notice from the students in this short trial was that they seemed engaged in their work. When they did gain a key, they were excited and expected some kind of stuff to happen (other than “you can now take the next challenges”) which is why I printed and cut out keys that could be glued to their map, and also found a small phone app that could play a “yehaaw!” sound bit as symbols of their achievements.
      When I asked the class about their experience, it was entirely positive. One student said that a great thing was “if you didn’t want to do an excercise you could just do a different one”.
      And as mentioned, half-way thorugh a student asked me to sum up what they should have learned by now, which was probably a good idea.
      Notice that this was a class that was very good at working on their own, I do not have experience in doing this with a class dominated by slackers.


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