Sunday, January 17, 2016

Gamifying Our STEM Lab. Leveling Up With Challenges, Digital Badges, Display Pages & More!

*Update: Since this post I have added more challenges and badges to include Sphero, MaKeyMaKey, Scratch and more. There are now over 60 challenges and badges for your students! Please share any challenges and badges you make. I would love to add them. Check back again, I am adding more challenges and badges all the time. Check out the crowdsourced Gamification padlet at the end of this post too!


Our STEM Lab/Makerspace is a HUGE hit with our students. Since I oversee the lab and take the classes in I get bombarded by kids all day asking if it is their day to go to the STEM Lab. They are building, discovering, exploring, designing, problem solving, and having a blast doing it. However, as the kids continued to explore the STEM Lab we began to notice that they had moved past the exploration phase and wanted a bit more direction and challenge. We realized that we needed to up our game a bit to take our lab to the next level so we decided to gamify our STEM Lab with challenges and badges! It took some prep but once the challenge cards and badges were created we were ready to roll. We are happy to share our tips, tricks and resources so that you can gamify your STEM or STEAM Lab too.


How You Can Gamify Your STEM/STEAM Lab

1. Make challenge cards. 
I looked online for ready-made challenges and used the instruction booklets that came with our kits to create challenge cards for our students. As we add to our STEM lab and work to making our lab a true STEAM lab we will continue to add challenge cards and create badges to match. You can view our challenge cards and challenge card template here. Feel free to make a copy to use and/or start creating your own. 



2. Create your own or find ready-made digital badges.
I used Google Draw to create our badges. After following this tutorial Creating a Badge with Google Draw by Alice Keeler it was easy to create our own template and make our own badges. You can upload all of our STEM Lab badges for ideas and inspiration or use them in your own lab.
littleBits Art Bot Badge

Looking to find more badge resources? Cate Tolnai is who inspired me to explore badges, she shares lots of resources on Twitter and on her blog. Also check out 5 Awesome Resources for Badges in the Classroom by Kasey Bell

3. Identify a way to keep track of earnings.
In our lab we go pretty low tech with a simple STEM Lab Student Check Off Sheet. Each student has their own check off sheet which is kept in a file under their teacher's name. While in the lab the students let us know when they have earned a badge and they get it initialed by me or their teacher. 

If you want to go totally digital check out Creating Badges with Google Sheets by Alice Keeler. This awesome post shows you how to create (in draw), then organize and assign digital badges with Google Sheets.

4. Display those shiny new badges!
Now that our students have started earning their badges they need a place to display them. The fourth and fifth graders are creating a Google Site as their digital portfolio so one page is dedicated to displaying their badges. The 2nd and 3rd graders will use this My Badges Google Doc assigned through Google Classroom to display their badges. 


Example of "My Badges" page on a Google Site

What our Gamification & Badge System is NOT


So far our badge system has worked out really well in our STEM Lab. Our kids are excited about the badges and look forward to displaying them on their Google site or badge page. We are still working out the kinks and will continue to create challenges and badges as we grow our STEM Lab. However it is important to note what our challenges and badges are NOT.

  • It is NOT a competition. There is no public display of which badges are earned by whom. The Google Sites and Docs can be shared of course but only if the students share them. Students who work together on projects all earn the badge. We go over this together and teamwork is encouraged.
  • It is NOT a requirement. Students do not have to earn badges. It is completely optional for students to work towards badges. I will be creating "inventor" badges soon for students who just want to create something new but also would like a badge (check the badges folder and challenge cards for updates).
  • It is NOT used for assessment. Our challenges and badges are a fun way to encourage students to create and discover in the lab. The badges give students something to "take" with them after their time in the lab. It can be tough for a kid to work hard on an awesome marble run then have to dismantle it when it's time to clean up!
  • Our Makerspace is NOT gamified. When the kids are just making and creating there are no directions or badges to earn (other than an "I am A Maker" badge) just tools, resources and their own imagination.

More Resources


Gamification is definitely on the rise and badges are just one way to bring it into your classroom. There are tons of resources out there to help you get started with gamification. Here are a few I've found. Please share more in the comments!
Also check out this crowdsourced padlet FULL of Gamification resources!

The Sun Terrace STEM Lab/Makerspace opened up in October, 2015 and it is an engaging, fun, hands-on learning space. The lab was originally Wendy Townlin's idea and with the support of our incredible principal Kris Martin-Meyer, four of us, Wendy, Amanda YoungClaire Simón and I put our heads together, researched, reflected then began building. Follow us @SunTerrace1 to see our STEM Lab and Makerspace projects!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Insert a GIF into a Google Doc or Slide

I was asked by a teacher at my site to help her students "jazz" up their Google Slides presentations on biomes. While reading up on the cool ways to use Google Slides I found out that you can insert a GIF into a slide! I didn't know you could do that so I tried on a Google Doc and it worked there too! You may already know how to do this but if not here's how.

1. Record your GIF or find one that you want to use. 

Alice Keeler has an extremely helpful blog post called How to Use Snagit to Create Animated GIFs . That is how I learned to make them and found out how easy it is! Remember, they must be under 20 seconds and that's harder than you think it might be.

2.  Grab the link to the GIF URL. 

  • If it is in your drive click on the .gif file then click on the "link" icon to copy your link.

  • If you are getting your GIF from a site like Giphy.com you will need to click "advanced" and copy the GIF download URL. 



3. Go back to your Google Doc or Slide.  
  • Click "insert" then scroll down to "image"
  • Insert image "By URL"
  • Paste GIF URL 

Easy peasy! You now have an animated GIF in your Google Doc or Slide!

Ideas for using this handy little trick:
  • Add even MORE pizazz to your hyperdoc with an animated GIF. Check out Tips for Creating Your Own Hyperdoc by Lisa Highfill 
  • Multiply yourself by inserting an animated "how to" GIF directly into a Google Doc or slide to give students directions.
  • Give students one line to a story, have them make a GIF to tell their part then put them all together in one slides presentation.
  • Make your own presentation pop with a funny GIF on the opening slide.
  • Use any of these 8 Interactive Google Slides Activities for Classroom Excitement by Matt Miller and an animated GIF!
  • Insert animated GIFs into your blog post, like I did here =)
Do you use GIFs in your Google Docs or Slides? Share your awesome ideas in the comments below.