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The Gamification of Twenty First Century Skills

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

How can we teach our students critical 21st century skills in a meaningful way? Through a partnership between Education Perfect and Science Alive Charitable Trust, Science Alive Mātauranga provides free to access STEAM learning across Aotearoa. A crown jewel of the resource is their skill development module Gamechangers: In our Footsteps, showcasing rich learning through an adventure-based journey.

Collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking – known as “21st century skills” – are fundamental to STEAM learning. In the workplace, these transferable skills enable employees to adapt and innovate in the face of fast-moving technological and societal changes. But 21st century skills are traditionally not “subjects” that can be taught, yet the Gamechangers programme brings these skills to the forefront of the classroom allowing explicit development of these important dispositions.

As the educational needs of students change, we must work towards incorporating alternative educational methods to meet these changes. Shifting the focus from STEAM content to STEAM skills naturally promotes moving away from the traditional chalk-and-talk rote-learning style of teaching. Instead, we must start working with students and giving them autonomy to develop, test and refine their own skills. An effective way to engage students in this mahi is through “gamification” - the application of gaming elements to learning.

Resources produced through Science Alive Mātauranga have shown that gamification can be an ideal method for engaging tamariki in STEAM learning. Hosted on the Education Perfect platform, the Gamechangers: In our Footsteps module is designed to empower young people to self-reflect and develop their own 21st century skills. Through a pick a path adventure, students navigate a map reflecting our natural taiao and meet real-life Gamechangers across the STEAM industries along the way.

Exploration as a vehicle for learning

The adventure centres the student as the lead character, ‘T’ the Tuatara, on a quest to hone a range of skills. Set in a fictional land reminiscent of Aotearoa’s natural environment, the story of the ancestors is shared by the village kaumatua.

“Long ago, this land was connected by six powerful forces (mauri ahurei), skills that worked together to ensure all could thrive and create amazing things. One day, a sinister pōkēao (dark mist) crept over the land. The mauri ahurei were shattered and what once connected us all was spread across the land. The legend says, six kaitiaki were entrusted to guard the mauri ahurei, hidden from view. It is said that if someone locates these kaitiaki and hones these skills, the forces can be reunited. And so we wait... for someone with true mana to restore the pou whenua and reconnect the mauri ahurei once more”.

With a simple narrative, Gamechangers has identified six key competencies for rangatahi to learn. Each of the kaitiaki protects one of six skills that represents: problem-solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and character. Each skill is broken down into three sub-skills, resulting in 18 lessons within the map.

To learn and develop these skills, students go on a journey to meet 18 “game changers” from across Aotearoa New Zealand. They are real-life STEAM professionals from the past and present who are leaders in their field, such as Joan Wiffen, expert paleontologist and Peter Beck, founder and CEO of RocketLab. Each tohunga shares their ‘origin story’ and a set of resources and reflection tasks for students to practice one of the skills, for example, designing and testing solutions or thinking outside the box. Some tasks are completed individually while others are done in groups in a classroom or online setting.

Bringing it all together

An important aspect of the Gamechangers: In our Footsteps module is the incorporation of mātauranga Māori throughout the content. The concept of hononga (connection) forms the essence of the storyline and identifies how these 21st century skills can be implemented together.

By visiting all the gamechangers and honing their new skills, students are rewarded by ultimately reuniting the mauri ahurei and restoring the pou whenua.

The gamification of this story motivates students to complete the learning tasks, while allowing them to explore at their own pace and revisit the areas, skills or storylines that interest them most. Studies show giving students control over their learning can greatly increase engagement and understanding.

To find out more about Gamechangers: In our Footsteps, visit: Science Alive Mātauranga

Gamifying your classroom or outreach activity

Not sure how to implement gaming elements into your classroom or outreach programme? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Create an engaging story: Just as Science Alive Mātauranga shows, context is key. Having an engaging story or scenario means students will be learning without even realising it as they are busy having fun!

  2. Set up instructions: Students learn best when they are given clear instructions or rules.

  3. Work in groups: Students are more engaged when learning together. Group play can also encourage important skills like collaboration and communication.

  4. Consider accessibility: Whether it is a physical game or online, you will need to design your game carefully so everyone can participate. Who is the target audience? What will they need to play? What can you do to minimize any barriers so everyone has the same opportunities to engage?

  5. Make it rewarding: A game isn’t complete without a satisfying win. Progress rewards or a ‘prize’ at the end can keep students motivated and give them a sense of achievement which reinforces their desire to learn.


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