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 toward 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!


  1. I had trouble with the Makey Makey simple circuit. We couldn't figure out how out how to get the bulb to light up. Is it possibly to post a picture so we can see how you did it?

  2. sphero nice device for children
    watch & subscribe

  3. Hi! I just stumbled across your blog today and it's awesome! I am building the STEM lab at my school from the ground up (this is our first year), and I would love to know more about how you structure student time in the lab-- do you have a set time each week, like with special area (art, music, PE, etc) classes? Or is it varied based on grade level need? Thanks in advance for your help-- feel free to DM me on Twitter (@megan_mehta) or email: :)

  4. thanks all together for sharing this blog..