Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Science 2.0: November 2013, Using Web Tools to Support Learning

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Science 2.0: November 2013, Using Web Tools to Support Learning

Article excerpt

Gamify AP Biology

Last month we introduced the basics of applying game mechanics to the classroom. This month, we interview Paul Andersen, a biology teacher at Bozeman High School and 2011 Montana Teacher of the Year. Andersen has produced hundreds of video screencasts for his "flipped" classes (see "On the web") and recently reinvented his Advanced Placement Biology course using game mechanics.

"I noticed how much time students spent mastering video games," he says. "They were intrinsically motivated and viewed each failure as a step to success. That's learning. I wanted to use some of the most effective elements of game design to improve my own class." His approach uses a unique learning cycle approach, levels, leader boards, and a variety of computer applications to engage students with the course content.

Leveling up

Andersen created a series of 55 levels for his students to complete throughout the course. Each module is built using his QuIVERS approach (see "On the web"). He states, "I created this as a mash-up between blended learning and the learning cycle. Each level consists of a question, investigation, video, elaborative reading, review, and summary quiz." Students earn points and "level up" (increase their grade) as they successfully complete levels. Students select an avatar (fake name) at the beginning of the year and then track their progress with this name on a class leader board. Andersen also fosters a sense of community within each section of the course by using the leader board to foster a low-stakes competition among course sections--the class period with the most "points" occasionally receives candy or other small perks.


A central feature of most video games is that you're given multiple lives. You can explore, take risks, and try new things within the game environment without fear of ending the game if you fail, or "die." Andersen also gives his students the chance to learn from failure. "Students shouldn't move forward when they don't understand the material," he says, "and they shouldn't be held back when they do."

The use of levels creates a mastery system so that individuals or small groups of students can work through course materials at their own pace. His system of quizzes and review sessions within each level regulate student movement through the content.


Andersen uses Moodle and Google Docs extensively to organize his course and share information. …

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