Ministry of Science – 21C Gamification

Remember the days when you used to imagine you were a firefighter? Ever noticed that it seems okay to take a risk in a game and fail than it does to take a risk at school and make a mistake?


Well, throughout the last few weeks in the Zone, we have not been working in our classrooms; we have been working in The Ministry of Science (MoS). The MoS is an  imaginary system of laboratories that employs Specimen Processors, Lab Technicians, Chemists, Biologists, doctors and Professors… all of whom are actually Stage 3 students. The teachers have morphed into Professors themselves and sit on the MoS Board of Directors.

After donning their lab coats, MoS employees complete tasks from the MoS Matrix (combines the areas of science with an adaptation of Blooms) in order to earn DNA. This DNA is crucial for staying employed at the MoS – slip below the required amount and your are demoted or fired. On the other hand, if you earn extra DNA you may apply to the Board of Directors for a promotion. In addition to earning DNA, employees must purchase imaginary equipment that they require to perform their duties (ie. pipets). Employees are taxed each week and they have the opportunity to improve their work life with ‘chance’ cards. One student commented “It’s just like the real ‘Game of Life!'”

Today was especially fun. A couple of ‘specimen processors’ were ready to move up to the next level, ‘Lab Technician’. They stood up in front of the other employees and the board and convinced us all that they were ready to be promoted. Students told us about how many DNA they have earned, the quality of the tasks they had submitted so far, their independent learning skills and ability to stay on task. we were so impressed that they were all promoted.

Here’s an interesting aspect – employees earn more DNA according to their employment level. Lab Technicians earn more than Specimen Processors for the same task, just like in the workforce. Employees also earn more DNA or the quality of their task. We use a rubric that employees self-assess with and then they submit that to the board for marking.

Next week we will begin the ‘Explosion’ sessions. These are director-led workshops that employees sign-up to. They involve fizzing, microscopes, liquid nitrogen, etc… The students… I mean, the employees are terribly excited.

A funny story – one of our secondary science teachers was approached by a Stage 2 student in his lab coat yesterday only to be told “Hey, you can’t wear that! You don’t teach Stage 3!”




It’s often hard to assure stakeholders that the quality of student writing will be even higher with the use of online publishing. Many questions arise- how will they ever check their own spelling when spell-check does it for them? How can students be allowed to publish to the world when conventions are not necessarily correct?  What if people comment on their work?
Even as I write these questions, I realise how ridiculous they sound. The answer to all of these questions is ‘so what?’. It is, however, crucial that educators instill a sense of the importance of quality in their students.

The notion of quality belongs on a continuum, especially in regards to written work. An excellent activity to do with students is one in which students brainstorm a variety of text types on individual posters- from text messages to shopping lists to postcards. Hand out the posters to students an allow them to order themselves, discussing as they go. Once the continuum has been decided, attach posters in a line around the edge of the room (or word-process and display on a screen). These can be adjusted at anytime. This continuum also should be referred to each time a new text type is discussed- where would this text type belong on our continuum? Why? What does this mean in regards to quality?

When addressing formal text types, I’ve noticed that I rarely allow my students adequate time to familiarise themselves with examples through play. This semester, I’ve followed an acronym to remind myself of some crucial steps.

E- example
A- analyze
R- rubric
E- experiment
I- implement
C- check

Example- students are provided with 2 examples of the text type being studied; one that’s excellent and one that’s not-so-excellent. Individually, students highlight (or mark) features they notice on the not-so-excellent example.

Analyze- students then discuss and name the features they noticed in small groups. Students do the same with the excellent example. They then discuss why the second example is better than the first.

Rubric- using a rubric skeleton, students decide what a ‘c’ grade piece of writing should look like (in regards to structure, conventions, vocabulary, paragraphs, etc.) in small groups. Students should use the previous examples to help them. They can then plot out ‘a’ grade expectations and follow this up with the other columns. (NB if this is the first time students have created their own rubric, it’s advisable to begin by having the fields created for students to order and then students can also add information if they want.

Experiment with rubric- students then test out their rubric by using it to mark examples provided by the ARC (assessment resource centre) website and adjust if necessary. You may decide at this point to agree on a class rubric but this is not entirely necessary.

Experiment with text type (with rubric)- provide students with text types that have aspects of structure missing (ie. The introduction). Students attempt to write an introduction to fit the body and conclusion of the text. They check it with their rubric and discuss. Allow students to do this with as many parts of the text as time affords.

Implement- this is the part that we often spend the most time on and yet we rarely prepare students for this thoroughly. We just get them to churn out as many different versions of that text type as we can. I’m challenging that process. I’d rather my students only produce a couple of texts whilst fully understanding what is expected. 
Before asking students to write an entire piece of text, ensure that what you are asking of them is interesting, valuable and relevant. By this stage, students should almost be begging to write a full piece. Allow them to use their rubric for first attempts and then gradually encourage them to use their memory.

Check- students should use their rubric to check and assess their text. Ensure that you also give rich feedback… Our feedback is really important to our students.

My students have found this process tricky. They are so used to being told what is good quality and what is not. However, now that they have persevered through the process, they are so much more confident. Our next class will be discussing how we will publish our texts to the world and students will know that the quality of their writing really is world-class!


Whatever it is that makes you smile… it’ll probably make your students smile, too.  Smiling requires no resources, IT connections, extra support or wifi and yet, it’s something we often forget to bring into the classroom. I’d say that it’s the most important.

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.  ~Mother Teresa

After watching a TED talk on the hidden power of smiling by Ron Gutman, I was inspired. Actually, I was shocked to learn that smiling relieves stress, boosts your immune system, lowers blood pressure, releases endorphins, makes you live longer and makes you appear more attractive (we all need some of that 😉 ).

Thus, I thought I’d throw in a couple of resources to get you and your students smiling:

1. In Mathematics – Funny charts – Some of these aren’t appropriate for students but it’s easy enough to use a screen capture tool for the funny charts. Wouldn’t your students just love to create their own! Also, check out

2. In English, there are few funny tools that you can use. Only competent spellers will find ‘spelling fails’ funny. Also, have a look at – it often has funny comics about all things grammar, spelling and punctuation. Again, monitor for appropriateness.

There are also random quizzes on The Oatmeal such as; How to check if your family are trying to eat you.






Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which we have the potential to turn a life around. ~Leo F Buscaqlia  


Have you seen the BBC Talking Animals clips on Youtube? My students ask to view these on nearly a daily basis.

Other great clips to check out on Youtube are any advertisements made by T Mobile. They are very clever. What a fabulous deign and tech task to work out how some of the ads are constructed (search = Angry Birds T Mobile).

3. Science – I bet you’re thinking that there’s nothing funny about science! WRONG! Have you seen Mythbusters lately? Hilarious. Also, google-search science bloopers and laugh away.

4. Society studies – One of the funniest aspects of human social behaviour is body language. Alan Pease is an Aussie expert in body language. His website – gives great tips for analysing BL and he has some funny Youtube clips as well.

5. History – Much of the funny stuff about history happens because it seems out of context. Check out www. for some comparative hilarity.

6. Geography – Excellent books such as; Molvania ( show an excellent take on The Lonely Planet guides. Have students create their own about a  made-up country. I love for a fun look at the number one thing each country in the world is good at.

7. The Arts – Really…? Do I need to even go there? So much humour in drama, music and visual art!

Naturally, the list goes on.

So… smile with your students… daily!

I did just by creating this post!