This project was based on research and reading around the idea of failing while playing computer games. The original idea came from reading an article and watching a talk by Nicole Lazzaro (2004) where she discussed ‘four keys to fun’ and the idea of ‘Fiero’ the concept of an ‘Epic Win’. This tied in with the research of Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler who stated: “The times when we are struggling and making mistakes are the best times for brain growth.” We wondered if this gamification theory could be transferred into the classroom. Could we create and develop learners that could survive the brink of epic failure, but still emerge triumphant and experience ‘fiero’?
We looked at how to create the epic failures seen in computer games. How could we create a situation where 80% of the time, the player experiences failure (fails to complete a mission, solve a problem, or simply runs out of time)? This gamification theory showed us how a well-developed game could develop mental toughness, resilience, or a growth mindset. We focused on games where the player failed in a spectacular, noisy, and entertaining way, such as Buckaroo, Jenga and Kerplunk, but where failures are laughed at and shared as ‘happy embarrassment.’ We used them to see if we could help develop a growth mindset in our classroom.
The main aim of this project, to transfer the gamification theory of an epic fail into classroom games, was on the whole successful. The learners engaged well with the games provided and all took part in the end of week tasks. The class dojo videos and lessons fitted in nicely with the concepts we were discussing around brain development and promoting a growth mindset. The sample group were observed closely, and other learners naturally became part of this group because of their behaviours or attitude to tasks. This was not an issue as the whole class were all taking part in the same activities. The pre and post mindset questionnaires showed a significant shift in some learners’ attitudes towards their mindset. We used generic questionnaires for the purpose of this research, but in future we would tailor the questions to make them more suitable to the age and stage of the learners.
We conducted the project over a 6-week timescale, and it was completed on time. Had we increased the timeframe, we believe this would have had a greater impact on the mindset of more of the learners. However, this short scale study still provided enough evidence that the aim of the project was achieved, and that the method of delivery had worked.
Absences of members of the sample group made gathering observations difficult at times. However, because the sample group naturally expanded, there was still enough evidence to comment on the impact of the project. Also, the original timing of the project was to run from October to November. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the project had to be pushed back to January to February of the following year. This did not have any adverse effects on the data gathered or the success of the project, but it did mean that the original questionnaires had been completed some time before the project began.
The project was run to plan for the most part. The only change was in the sample group due to absence and an interest in observing other learners.
The main impact of this project has been the insight the learners now have into how their brain works and the language they use when discussing mindset. They have gone from having little knowledge about their brain, to now being able to discuss what is happening when they are faced with a challenge. They also face these challenges with a more relaxed attitude because they have experienced the idea of epic fails and realise that there is fun to be had in making mistakes.
At the beginning of the project the learners were less likely to take risks. For example, at the start of the project the learners were given the task of building the highest wall possible using 50 wooden blocks. One learner from the sample group simply built a wall using stacks of 5 blocks. They were reminded that the task was to build the highest wall possible, but they were not interested in changing their design. This approach continued into week 2 and 3 with this learner. They would select easier tasks to complete or occasionally go straight to harder challenges but then become frustrated when they found them too tricky. After working on the Power of Yet unit, this learner understood more about their brain and how to approach a challenge.
In the mindset pre project questionnaire, this learner answered, ‘strongly disagree’ to the question ‘I like learning something new when it challenges me and makes me think hard’ and ‘I like tasks, activities, and projects that I will learn from even if I make a lot of mistakes.’ In the post project questionnaire, these had changed to agree and strongly agree respectively. Overall, the results for these two questions were similar in the pre and post project questionnaire, with both showing approximately a 20% fixed mindset result.
A notable insight from the questionnaire came from the question ‘You can learn new things, but you cannot change your basic amount of intelligence.’ In the pre project questionnaire, 61% indicated that they thought intelligence was fixed. In the post project questionnaire this figure dropped to 20%.
This project was mainly classroom based, but the findings have been shared with other colleagues who see the benefits of conducting similar projects with their learners. The main indicator of success has been a change in attitude from the learners. They have become more resilient when completing problem solving tasks, they are happier to seek and give advice on challenges and they can talk more articulately about what is happening in their brain. Following on from the project, the learners made a display to show how, if they had a growth mindset, they found it easier to get out of a dip in learning or attitude. They used the analogy of a rollercoaster to show this. Looking at the language of learning and growth mindset is on the School Improvement Plan, and it is hoped that this research project will guide future discussions around the topic.
The language used to talk about how the learners felt when they made a mistake was also an indicator of success. The website Mentimeter gathered information on the phrases used by the learners, common or repeated phrases were shown bigger and bolder in the word cloud. Pre project, the most common words were negative adjectives such as annoyed, angry and frustrated, but post project these adjectives became more positive with confident and happy being the most used. The post project word cloud also indicated more growth mindset language like, never giving up and keep trying.
This project has also led us to consider the element of risk included in the activities provided for children in class. This has been a consideration in the past. We have now had the opportunity to critically observe a group of learners over time and look closely at how their body language, vocabulary and attitudes changed as the project developed. This has led us to understand how important the teacher’s language also is, having seen the learners copy this when trying to solve problems or talk about challenges.
Evidence collated for this project has been included in this Sway document. This includes the mindset survey results before and after the project, the word clouds created before and after the project, and examples of some of the observations taken on the sample group of children during the project.
Feedback from colleagues has been very positive, as has feedback from parents. Other members of staff working with the learners have also noticed a positive shift in mindset. The project has been discussed at staff meetings dedicated to the language of learning and growth mindset. Colleagues thought the project would be simple to recreate for their own learners and are keen to see if they have similar success. One comment was to look at the mindset questionnaire as this might not be suitable for younger learners to complete. It was suggested that this could be altered to include Boardmaker symbols. The learner could have a statement read to them and they could answer with a happy or sad face for agree or disagree.
The learners are keen to continue working on their ‘The Big Dip’ display. The STEM activities will continue, but perhaps not on a weekly basis, though the learners are keen to repeat some of the tasks now that they have an improved growth mindset. The learners will continue to share their work in this area across the school and colleagues will be invited to observe lessons where developing a growth mindset is a focus. The games have now been added to the class resource trolley and the learners are still enjoying engaging with them. There is a lot more laughter now when mistakes are made. The negative atmosphere and embarrassment, when making mistakes in the classroom, seems to have disappeared and has been replaced with a togetherness and a sense of fun.