​​​​​​​Add an element of fun to get your students interested in classroom standards! Join us in conversation with Autumn Sutton of the University of North Georgia and Brandon Murry of Fayette County Public Schools to learn how to gamify learning in your classroom.

Autumn Sutton and Brandon Murry in Classroom Conversations

Add an element of fun to get your students interested in classroom standards! Join us in conversation with Autumn Sutton of the University of North Georgia and Brandon Murry of Fayette County Public Schools to learn how to gamify learning in your classroom.



Ashley Mengwasser: Hi, educators. I am Ashley Mengwasser, and this is Classroom Conversations from team players Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Classroom Conversations is the platform for Georgia's teachers, a place for you to share and learn. Consider us a bonus level for teachers earning all the points from grateful students, smiling upon you in your classrooms. What if you knew how to step up your game in the classroom with gamification to engage students with a tool for standards aligned learning that keeps them eager and on task? Step with me into a virtual space where teacher-verse meets gamer-verse. Player one in today's game is 13 year educator, Autumn Sutton. Autumn has assumed several fascinating career avatars in her life, ultimately finding the intersection of computer science and education. Autumn has taught high school and middle school but is pressing start on a new position at the University of North Georgia that will support teachers training in cybersecurity and computer science. Player two is 10-year educator Brandon Murry. Brandon currently teaches intro to computer science and animation pathway classes for Fayette County's McIntosh High School. Brandon had started programming young at the early age of 10, by age 13 it was 3D animation. He's animated, yet casually cool, perfect for a computer science teacher. I love his occasional, "What-evs." Brandon and Autumn met through Cyber Star Day, a cybersecurity training game for students. Autumn says she and Brandon are yin and yang. You're about to see what I mean by that. Welcome Autumn and Brandon.

Brandon Murry: Awesome, hey.

Autumn Sutton: You made us sound so cool. I think that was the best intro ever.

Ashley Mengwasser: You are cool. Thank you, Autumn. This is a gaming episode, so we need to make sure that we introduce you properly and with gusto. I'm glad you like it. How are you today?

Brandon Murry: Yeah, we're doing good.

Ashley Mengwasser: Doing good?

Brandon Murry: It's great to be here. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Ashley Mengwasser: You two know each other. Autumn, you've told me that you and Brandon live parallel lives. Can you tell me what you mean by that?

Autumn Sutton: Well, obviously the most obvious is we were both computer science educators, but we met one another at University of North Georgia.

Brandon Murry: The Gen Cyber camp.

Autumn Sutton: Yeah, it's a professional development. A lot of people don't realize in the summer, they think teachers are just at the beach, but no.

Ashley Mengwasser: The Gen Cyber it's called.

Autumn Sutton: Gen Cyber is a professional development camp that is funded by the NSA. University of North Georgia is one of our military national federally institutions and it's the military college in Georgia and every summer through this grant have put on professional developments for teachers and for students to learn more about cybersecurity. That's where Brandon and I met one another and then we had the opportunity to work together as teacher leaders and actually teach an endorsement class to teachers who were new to computer science. We've worked together in the past and we've kind of figured out our strengths and weaknesses and we are like a perfect yin yang, because we know how to help each other out.

Brandon Murry: We hit it off really nice in that first year. I got to hear about Autumn. Autumn, you've played a lot of basketball. I mean you got gaming kind of built into your DNA.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's built into her core.

Brandon Murry: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yours too.

Autumn Sutton: Then Brandon helped me, because I was actually an English major. Brandon helped me because I'm a career switcher who came into education and then through a bunch of crazy things that happened, ended up just evolving into computer science because I was a techie English teacher.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: But Brandon actually has computer science training. Brandon-

Ashley Mengwasser: He's actually trained.

Brandon Murry: Nerd.

Autumn Sutton: He's actually trained.

Brandon Murry: I took a couple of classes.

Autumn Sutton: But we just hit it off really well. But I was actually a teacher leader and there was a part that I didn't quite grasp and Brandon hopped in and he would eat lunch with me and he helped me with it. I think the people at UNG was like, "There's something going on." Then they were like, "Let's have them teach a class together," and we...

Brandon Murry: We were high-fiving and hugging by the first week. Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: What was it about Autumn, Brandon, that drew you together in your meet cute?

Brandon Murry: Big personalities.

Ashley Mengwasser: Uh-huh.

Brandon Murry: It just likes to have fun, you know?

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Brandon Murry: Really, that's kind of what gamification is.

Ashley Mengwasser: Is.

Brandon Murry: It's just not surprising that we ended up here, because we love to have fun and bring a really special energy to our classrooms. Thanks again for having us.

Autumn Sutton: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. Tell me more about CyberStart, the actual training platform piece of it.

Brandon Murry: The whole idea behind gamification is that you take some sort of educational content or standards, but you wrap it within some sort of game-ish framework. You have a player or an avatar that you score points. What CyberStart is, is it's got a series of like you call them bases, but you can think of them as levels, or worlds and some sort of scenario where you're trying to beat the bad guy. As you complete these missions, your character is scoring higher and higher points. What's really cool about it, is that these students who score high enough, they actually become eligible for scholarships and cash money prizes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow. They have some skin in the game, so to speak.

Brandon Murry: Oh, yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, very nice.

Brandon Murry: You've had how many of your students have gone on to get a scholarship?

Autumn Sutton: Well, we had, I think over the past two years we've had 15 students earn a $500 cash prize. Then off of the top of my head, I know we've had at least probably 30 who qualified for the scholarship. The scholarship is through the SANS Institute and basically it's like an on-demand cybersecurity training, that students in high school if they take advantage of it, can actually be certified cyber professionals before they even graduate from high school.

Ashley Mengwasser: Before they even go to college. Oh, that's amazing.

Autumn Sutton: I mean there's so many different cybersecurity certifications you can get, just like there's so many different higher institution universities you can choose.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: But the SANS Institute is one of the most, well-respected. For the kids who take advantage of it, they're just setting their lives up for success and it's turning into a national security.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: It makes us feel... Every teacher goes into the business because you want to not only help students, but you want to make the world a better place. It sounds like a cliche, but it's true. When these kids learn about cybersecurity, they are literally protecting our country.

Ashley Mengwasser: Protecting us. Oh.

Autumn Sutton: Yes, because if you listen to anything on the news, you see that a lot of the attacks from our adversaries have been cyber-based.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: We've already experienced them on a small scale.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's our world.

Autumn Sutton: Can you imagine if we ever go into a war?

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: How serious it could be if our electrical grid was hacked into or our banking institutions or our food chain, anything?

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: Oh, my goodness. It would be a disaster.

Brandon Murry: Okay, this stuff is so dry. When you get into the command line and looking at networks. I mean, most of these kids are just going to tune out if you are trying to present this very academically, mathematically even. Bring them into a game, say, "Hey, you got to go beat this bad guy." Suddenly all these concepts that are kind of dry and boring, they come alive.

Autumn Sutton: Very dry.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Brandon Murry: These students, they get engaged off the bat and it's shocking. I mean, I was shocked when we brought this into the classroom and suddenly I got kids who are yeah, now they're interested in cybersecurity.

Ashley Mengwasser: Excellent.

Brandon Murry: I don't know how else we were going to hook them and so-

Ashley Mengwasser: You've given us the significant piece of this. These are going to be our young sentinels out here protecting us in a way. We're going to dive deeper into gamification in the classroom, but I want to hear more about you guys personally. If you could just give me your player stats and a couple of points, what your background is, Brandon, that led you here today to teach in computer science.

Brandon Murry: Yeah, I played video games growing up, but always into math and computer science and ended up trying to do animation special effects, but didn't really work out post 2008, not the best job market. Went into teaching, had to do math, because you kind of have to pick a certain subject, but kind of stuck with computer science.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Brandon Murry: That had always been a background and took the classes, moved out to Georgia from Las Vegas.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, really?

Brandon Murry: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: You lived in a gaming world, and you came here.

Brandon Murry: Yeah. But when you live in Vegas, you do not play those games. Okay, I'm a math teacher.

Ashley Mengwasser: Good point.

Brandon Murry: Don't do the math. Just miraculously ended up teaching animation, teaching computer science, getting involved in cybersecurity, seeing that whole world that I didn't really know much of, and so-

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, you gravitated there since the ages of 10 and 13.

Brandon Murry: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: I think that was your soul crying out for your calling there.

Brandon Murry: Oh, I'm living the dream right now, I would say.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love it. What about you Autumn? You've had some very interesting careers before we got here today. Tell us about that.

Autumn Sutton: You know, the funny thing about it is now in hindsight, there's a saying, "Hindsight's 2020," each one of those things in my past have let me have the background I have now, which is perfectly suited for what I'm doing.

Ashley Mengwasser: For this.

Autumn Sutton: But I could have never mapped it out on my own.

Ashley Mengwasser: Of course.

Autumn Sutton: It was organic, but I was actually an English major in college, and I played college basketball, but I wanted to go into journalism. One of my careers is I did, I worked in broadcast television for almost 10 years and it was a wonderful experience. But when I was in high school, we didn't have computer science, what we think of now. Computer science in the '90s when I was in high school...

Brandon Murry: Typing.

Autumn Sutton: I went to Gwinnett County. It was literally typing, right?

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, that's right.

Autumn Sutton: The only other classes that were kind of techie that they had, and I took them, was we had a darkroom photography class. I went to Norcross High School in the '90s. We had darkroom photography and we had the broadcast journalism class.

Brandon Murry: Mm-hmm.

Autumn Sutton: We put on the announcements, and I had a great teacher, Mike Emery, who's still in the education field now, but he made us rotate and you had to learn. I wanted to just be the anchor, but he forced us to learn how to do the board and all those things. Then it segued into after I was a college coach, I worked in broadcast journalism, and I was able to work in small markets and I ended up being a producer in the Atlanta market. But climbing my way through television, I have been a photographer, I used to work the live trucks with the masks and I used to have to edit tape to tape. Then I learned linear and I had to run the tapes. I mean, if you work in television, there's so many things you have to do. I had to learn how to do all of them, because I didn't have a journalism background. To get in whatever job they were willing to give me, I had to just dive in and do it. When I became a teacher, I ended up teaching the broadcasting class and my principal was like, "She's kind of techie."

Ashley Mengwasser: Techie broadcasting.

Autumn Sutton: When they needed someone, right, to teach computer science because of my techie background from journalism, they were like, "Will you do it?"

Ashley Mengwasser: They chose you.

Autumn Sutton: The funny thing is television helped me because teaching computer science without a computer science background is frightening.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: That's what so many teachers are having to go through across the state is because people who are trained in computer science usually go into the industry because it's so high paying. You have math teachers and science teachers.

Ashley Mengwasser: Business teachers.

Autumn Sutton: Yes, business computer science teachers, the people who used to just teach the accounting and the spreadsheets are now asked to teach programming. We just have to tip our hats to these teachers, because teachers are the type who will jump into the pool and learn how to swim it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Give it a go.

Autumn Sutton: They will because we love our students so much and we know if we don't do it, who else is going to do it? That's kind of what happened to me, it was like, "I'll try."

Ashley Mengwasser: You'll try.

Autumn Sutton: I did, and it's worked out.

Ashley Mengwasser: Now you're using your broadcasting background and your coaching background to parlay into what you do now and you're going to be coaching teachers at UNG. That's a wonderful story. I feel like you've come full circle, Autumn. There are some common idioms that we may not recognize come from gaming. Like the phrase one up is a gaming term, meaning to gain an extra life. There's definitely taking an advantage over someone when you gain an extra life for sure. What are your favorite games, gamer expressions? Tell me a little bit about that as individuals.

Autumn Sutton: I can say, if I had to have a gamer saying there's a song called Level Up.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: Have you all heard the song?

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a great song.

Autumn Sutton: It's like level up, level up, level up, level up, level up. My daughters and I, we have dance parties to it. But it's a term that when you really think of, it's a good term to say to your kids of like, "Okay, let's take it to the next level. Let's go, let's go.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. That's by Sierra.

Autumn Sutton: It's by Sierra, there you go. You're right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Atlanta's own. Yes, I know it well.

Autumn Sutton: But when you think about it as a teacher, that's a good thing to say, "All right."

Ashley Mengwasser: Level up.

Autumn Sutton: "You mastered that test, now let's level up. Let's see if we can make your game have a second level."

Ashley Mengwasser: That's right.

Autumn Sutton: "Let's see if we can make it have a two-player game instead it's just a one player game," or can we take it from 2D to 3D?

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: If they're constantly leveling up, they don't realize it, but they're building their computer science skills.

Ashley Mengwasser: I want because you guys are just so gaming capable, which I don't think all of us usually know that we have that potential until we're taught how to do it, like you're teaching your students and teachers, how do you gamify your life? Can you give me one example of a way that you make life a bit of a game in your world?

Autumn Sutton: You want me to go? Okay, so Brandon, when you were saying the parallels of our life, here's another parallel. Brandon has four kids.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: I have two.

Ashley Mengwasser: He shudders.

Autumn Sutton: All of our kids are under the eight. My oldest is eight. I have a 6-year-old and 8-year-old. What's your oldest?

Ashley Mengwasser: Nine.

Autumn Sutton: Okay. Brandon and I are in the same parenting life right now. Your parenting life goes through seasons. It's funny that you say this, because I have to use gaming to help with homework. I have to use gaming. If you have a child in elementary, you know what sight words are. Sight words are learning words that the English language is hard to learn because there are certain sounds that just don't make sense. We don't think of it because we've been reading for so long, we forget what it felt like learning the English language. But when you have small children and you're teaching them how to read and you're teaching them sentence structure and you're teaching them math, the good thing about being a teacher is it helps remind you how it felt to learn a new language. Computer science is a language. In fact, a lot of people don't realize, but in the state of Georgia, students can get a foreign language credit for taking computer science classes.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's amazing.

Autumn Sutton: Some kids do take advantage of it. It depends on what college you're going to attend why some kids don't. But to graduate, you can use your computer science course for a foreign language, because it's respected as a foreign language. In our home, if I just tell my kids we're having to through rote memory, learn our sight words, they don't want to do it. But if I make sight work bingo or we make sight work flashy-

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, yeah.

Autumn Sutton: Oh, then it's like, "Oh yeah, let's play."

Ashley Mengwasser: Different story.

Autumn Sutton: It's the same way with our kids in the classroom. You have to make them think it's fun.

Ashley Mengwasser: Let's play. Make them think, let's play when they're learning.

Autumn Sutton: Yeah. Let's play.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, I love that.

Autumn Sutton: When you think about when we were kids, I remember the teachers would play hangman on the board.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, yeah.

Autumn Sutton: We were learning how to spell, and we didn't realize it. We just thought it was a fun game.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: Or I remember my grandmother taught us how to play spades and I would have to keep score. That was helping my math skill.

Ashley Mengwasser: Mm-hmm.

Autumn Sutton: It's digital and so it seems new, but when you really think about how we even learned back in the '80s and '70s, we were doing this too.

Ashley Mengwasser: We were using games.

Autumn Sutton: We sure were.

Ashley Mengwasser: You guys are such characters. I really want to hear about our topic at hand, which is gamification in the classroom. Let's move on to that. What does gamification mean? What doesn't it mean? I'm sure there are some misconceptions here.

Autumn Sutton: I think there's another term that I learned in the last five years that goes hand in hand with gamification and it's ed tech. I learned ed tech from actually a recent Georgia Tech grad who majored in computer engineering. I asked her, I said, "What do you want to do with this?" She was working at computer science camp and she said, "I want to go into ed tech." I said, "What's ed tech?" She was like, "Ed tech is making games to help kids want to learn."

Ashley Mengwasser: Mm-hmm.

Autumn Sutton: When I say they go hand in hand, it can be something elaborate or can be something very simple, but all it is, is taking a concept and putting it in such a way where the kids feel like they're completing a task. A lot of times education in the past, the model that we learned in was just repetition, repetition, repetition and repetition still works. It works in sports, it works in fine arts, whether you play instrument, you dance, repetition is the key, right? But instead of let's say practicing your math facts and just writing them down over and over, if a kid feels like "Of I get five math facts and I get to the end of this level and then I get to play for a couple of minutes," then they'll do their math facts.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: There was a student who created Gimkit, right? Wasn't that created by a student? There's a game that teachers use all over called Gimkit. There's one called Kahoot. There's one called Quizlet.

Brandon Murry: Kahoot.

Autumn Sutton: These are just basic rote memory, reviewing for your SAT terms, reviewing for whatever. But there was a student who took it and he made it into if you get so many right, you power up and you get more whatever. There's one that's snowball. They can run around and it's like this little land and they can throw snowballs each other and the kids play in class together. The more snowballs you have, you can really win. But in order to get more snowballs, you have to get the answers correct. He's using the game...

Ashley Mengwasser: To incentivize the outcomes in effect.

Autumn Sutton: Yes. That's a really simple way of doing it. We do it differently a little bit in computer science, but to think that a student, a teenager knew what would motivate his classmates, and now that's one of the most commonly used ed techs that teachers use across the country.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's amazing. That's amazing. Anything to add here Brandon?

Brandon Murry: Yeah, I don't know that there's one definition of gamification. There's lots of ideas that you can borrow from gaming, getting points, leader boards, competition, avatar. It's just varying degrees of gamification and just different models, different looks at it. What you're describing over there, I don't know, is playing the game as the reward is that necessarily gamification? Gamification isn't just playing a video game, but-

Autumn Sutton: You can create too.

Brandon Murry: But it can also, maybe that's a part of it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Brandon Murry: Just these varying degrees of gamification, they're all useful in the right context.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Brandon Murry: It can get out of hand too. I mean, in computer science we do scratch. I don't know, when students are making games, does that count as gamification? Maybe not right, but definitely in scratch. Sometimes they'll get off task and they'll just go play games.

Autumn Sutton: But you know, and I think... I'm sorry to cut you off.

Brandon Murry: You're good.

Autumn Sutton: But first, with scratch what scratches is MIT created.

Brandon Murry: Lot based.

Autumn Sutton: It's a way to learn programming, but instead of having to write the syntax. Think about syntaxes when you write a paper and you have to know when to put your punctuation.

Ashley Mengwasser: The order of the words.

Autumn Sutton: Mm-hmm and with the right punctuation, the right spelling. Imagine if an English professor was like, "Just go with the flow and don't worry about the syntax and just put your feelings," you'd be more creative. What MIT did years ago, and it was a great start with gamification and computer science is they said, "We're going to make it where it's just drag and drop. You don't have to know the syntax, you just know basically the constructs." Does that make sense?

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: He says scratch.

Brandon Murry: There's little characters on the screen.

Autumn Sutton: Yeah, sound effects, avatars.

Brandon Murry: But I mean look, you are building a game and in order to do that you have to learn and understand computer science.

Autumn Sutton: Right.

Brandon Murry: I think that's a wonderful, another take on gamification.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. I like that you say this warning it can get out of hand. It can, because I think that might be one of the misconceptions of gaming. It's not gaming to game. It's not gaming for distraction.

Brandon Murry: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: It is gaming to meet a learning objective.

Brandon Murry: Right.

Ashley Mengwasser: I think that's an interesting point. That has to go hand in hand with the learning outcome that you're striving for or the standard.

Brandon Murry: Sure.

Ashley Mengwasser: We'll talk about that.

Autumn Sutton: Well, and I want to say that I have to give while we're on this topic, there's a tool that I have to give shout out with because when I first started teaching computer science, I didn't know idea what I was doing. Lego, Minecraft and CS First created by Google were the two that taught me how to not let it get out of hand.

Ashley Mengwasser: There you go.

Autumn Sutton: Basically, if I had to draw an analogy with English, since I taught English, when we all had to learn Romeo and Juliet, you really don't care about the Capulets and the Montagues. Who cares? That shouldn't be on the test. What you care about is as an English teacher, this is a perfect tool to teach dramatic irony.

Ashley Mengwasser: Mm-hmm.

Autumn Sutton: This is a perfect tool to teach foreshadowing. This is a perfect tool to teach a tragic character and all these different concepts that are literary terms. Kids misunderstand and they think, I just have to memorize who's Montague and who's Capulet.

Ashley Mengwasser: Who did what. Yes.

Autumn Sutton: That's not why we teach it. We teach it because it's a piece of text that has so many different examples in it that we can teach all this figurative language. If that's what my English... He's looking at me like I'm crazy. This is the math teacher looking at the English teacher.

Brandon Murry: No, I got it, I got it. No I got it. No.

Autumn Sutton: But in computer science, the reason it gets out of control is if a teacher is like, "Well, they told me gamification. Let's play games in class." No, that's not what we're saying. It gets out of control. I think going to what Brandon is saying, is if someone says, "Just go play."

Brandon Murry: Right.

Autumn Sutton: That's going to get out of control. But if we say in computer science, you have to learn sequences, you have to learn loops or iteration and you have to learn conditional statements. That means a fork in the road. If this happens, go to the left.

Brandon Murry: Mm-hmm. If-then.

Autumn Sutton: If-then statements, if this happens, go to the right. Okay. With CS First, for example, they scaffold about 10 games that the kids make. In the first game, it's teaching them how to use loops. It's like a race car game. Every time the person clicks this, the cars go faster. Then the next game it teaches it's loops and it's a conditional.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's building. It's building.

Autumn Sutton: It's building a scaffolding on it.

Ashley Mengwasser: I like it.

Autumn Sutton: That's how you can use gamification to still have a task at hand.

Ashley Mengwasser: Very smart.

Autumn Sutton: But just rolling out the PS5 and saying, "All right, let's get at it."

Ashley Mengwasser: Not a good idea. Not a good idea.

Autumn Sutton: No, that's not gamification.

Ashley Mengwasser: Do you think games can provide initial instruction or are they better as tools for practice in drilling? What do you think Brandon?

Brandon Murry: Yeah. I think it depends on the topic. It depends on the material and it depends on the creativity of the game. Right?

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Brandon Murry: Play. The idea of play. Children play because they're like that's how they experience and explore the types of stuff they might have to do as an adult. Animals play, they're learning skills, up skill and leveling up for when they grow older. For us, we make play sometimes an end in itself. Games we go sit on the Xbox and that's the point of the game. Getting gamification to work in the classroom is to take the end and make the goal, the education, the learning.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. Exactly. Can I get you guys to one of you to tell me what you think about this? Do you find that game-based learning engages all your students equally? Or do you also have to differentiate like you do with other traditional forms of teaching?

Brandon Murry: Definitely CyberStart. As great as CyberStart has been for learning the cybersecurity curriculum to your original point, it is not the best place to start with these concepts.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay.

Brandon Murry: There are some prerequisite things that you kind of have to get across. I noticed in the field manual, they started to kind of address that. The field manual is the book, the textbook that goes alongside of it. In the case of that game, yeah, you don't necessarily want to start there. You have to come back and maybe teach a concept and show them where they're going to have to go to be able to do this.

Ashley Mengwasser: From there.

Brandon Murry: But once they have the prerequisite skills, then they can fly. But not everyone always wants to keep going super hard at it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: I think the advantage of CyberStart specifically is in cybersecurity, it's hard to apply skills. We have a generation that they've had a device in their hands since they're like, sorry, bad parenting, but since they're two.

Ashley Mengwasser: Forever, yeah.

Brandon Murry: Right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Since birth, they came out with one.

Autumn Sutton: Right. They want to apply. They don't want to consume, they want to either project based learning, they want to make something or they want to apply it. The challenge with cybersecurity is we can't let them hack into the great book. We can't let them hack into the school's network. We can't create these little cyber that sounds funny.

Brandon Murry: That sounds like a fun game.

Autumn Sutton: Right. We can't say, "Hey, this is how hackers do this. Now let's go try it."

Brandon Murry: Check it out.

Autumn Sutton: Hack into the principal's email. We can't do that. The beauty of CyberStart is it gave a safe controlled environment where the kids could take these cybersecurity concepts and apply them in a way that's safe and even has built-in virtual machines. What a virtual machine is, think about when a pilot learns how to fly. Well, you're not going to take a pilot the first couple trips.

Ashley Mengwasser: And put them in an airplane.

Autumn Sutton: Right. They have a virtual simulator. Right?

Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly.

Autumn Sutton: In the same kind of concept of keeping it in a safe controlled environment, CyberStart is like a safe controlled environment to let the kids apply cybersecurity skills. Because before cyber start, when I was teaching cybersecurity, it was just boring. Outside of a couple of YouTube videos I could show them, it was just vocab and it was boring and it was dry. When they could do CyberStart and they could apply it, that make them light up.

Brandon Murry: Well, let's be real.

Ashley Mengwasser: It came to life.

Brandon Murry: We're talking about CyberStart's so specific to the idea of cybersecurity. No, not every student gets fully engaged, logs in and wants to see that to its final conclusion.

Ashley Mengwasser: To that subject matter. Right.

Brandon Murry: Yes, we get better engagement, they are interested. But like any game, I mean, I cannot sit at home and play Super Mario for hours all day every day. It's not going to happen. I'm going to get bored of that game.

Ashley Mengwasser: Mm-hmm.

Brandon Murry: In the same way, some educational games, maybe it doesn't continue to speak to the student that they don't need to engage and keep playing it forever.

Ashley Mengwasser: But it works in that moment. Works in that moment.

Brandon Murry: It works and in our class.

Autumn Sutton: But, when you said differentiation earlier, CyberStart does have a section that's programming and then they have another section that's more like social engineering. This differentiated a little bit, but it made me think of another colleague that we both know named John Lilly is really strong. He's at the Alliance Academy in Forsyth County. Then there's another teacher in Forsyth County named PK Graff. I've learned from both of them that they do eSports. eSports is a growing extracurricular activity in Georgia public schools. There's even, you can get a letter.

Brandon Murry: Yeah. You got coaches. Paid coaches for these parts.

Autumn Sutton: Because it's recognized by the-

Ashley Mengwasser: Look at that.

Autumn Sutton: Yeah. Both of these gentlemen, you can either do it under GHSA, which is the same governing body as like our football chapter.

Ashley Mengwasser: The other sports, yeah.

Autumn Sutton: Right. Or you can do outside ones. I think John and PK, I think they both do them in groups that are outside, because it's a little bit less pressure.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: But in talking to them, I never understood how even with their eSports teams, they have to learn about strategy, and they have to learn about how the game's motivation works and how the points system works to come up with a strategy and to know which people on their team. If you have a gymnastics team, you have to know who's best at the vault and who's best at the floor. You put people who are best at each skill.

Ashley Mengwasser: In those skills and those positions. Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: Yeah, and so even though it's not directly what we think of computer science, when we think of someone sitting at a desk and programming, but that's still life skills and problem solving and collaborating and working with people that they do in an extracurricular activity that's eSports. That's actually playing a game, but they're playing it with strategy with an end goal in mind.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: That's a different way where if they don't like CyberStart, well then you could be on the eSports team, or you can make a game.

Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. There are other options that could engage all the students.

Autumn Sutton: Mm-hmm.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, great. I would like to do this as a little bit of a give and take exercise. If you guys could just shout out as bullet points.

Brandon Murry: I'm good. Good at shouting.

Ashley Mengwasser: What benefits have you observed from gamification in the classroom? Just shout out a few benefits back and forth.

Autumn Sutton: Motivation.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that's good.

Brandon Murry: Engagement. Excitement of creativity.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's good.

Autumn Sutton: I would say respect.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh.

Autumn Sutton: Maybe they have a newfound respect for people who are in gaming or who make games.

Ashley Mengwasser: Interesting.

Brandon Murry: Learning.

Ashley Mengwasser: Learning.

Brandon Murry: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Outcomes.

Brandon Murry: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. Those are some good benefits.

Autumn Sutton: Or could just career, I don't know if what's the correct word... There's so many careers, animation programming.

Brandon Murry: Yeah, interest.

Autumn Sutton: There's so many careers in the game design industry that they didn't realize.

Ashley Mengwasser: Sparking interest in related careers.

Autumn Sutton: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. How do you assess the effectiveness of gamification? Do you have a rubric? Is there another way to evaluate progress?

Autumn Sutton: One thing I did last year, like he was saying, some units are just more dry than others. There's one unit in the AP class and out also in the intro class, where they have to learn about computer networks. I don't know, is there a unit that's more dry than that? It is dry. What I did with the kids is you always have to bring in candy. I would go and buy the big bag of the pinata candy and we would start each class and we would do our gaming with our vocab words, just like the Quizlet or Kahoot at the beginning of the class. Whichever kids were the top three, knowing their vocab, you get candy. We would just do that every day. This is in teaching role, it's your warmup, it's your bell ringer or whatever you want to call it. But I mean the kids were excited. They would come in the door during... Now this is the unit everyone hates.

Ashley Mengwasser: But.

Autumn Sutton: But when I brought some candy in and they knew as soon as that bell rang, you better be on Kahoot, because if you don't get in time, you're not going to get the chance of candy.

Brandon Murry: Yeah. Kahoot. That's good.

Autumn Sutton: I mean, these are boring vocab words, like stuff that they have no prior knowledge. I can't hack into the network and show them. I mean, it really is a challenge to teach as a teacher. I just had to go old school with the candy. But the gaming and the competition made it fun.

Brandon Murry: Gets kids locked-

Ashley Mengwasser: The competition helped them progress with the learning because the spirit of it.

Autumn Sutton: Then the progress would get to the point where they would say, "Oh, we know this one, let's move on to the next one."

Ashley Mengwasser: Next.

Autumn Sutton: It's more formative. I wouldn't say it's like an official where I keep data, but the kids will give you formative feedback. Most teachers know that formative assessments are really more important than summative, because formative assessments, you can actually go back and punt the ball and say, "Okay, we need to revisit this or we can move on."

Ashley Mengwasser: Mm-hmm.

Autumn Sutton: I feel like quick ticket out the door, quick bell ringer, things that teachers don't have to put that much effort in because we're already so overwhelmed with so much on our plate. But if you're talking about formative assessments, gamification is on every level, K through 12, it works I think.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's the way to go. How do you choose games that align with the course standards? Are you choosing gamified lessons from a certain place? Are you just finding inspiration yourself and choosing them?

Brandon Murry: My big one, the big game that I use is Minecraft. I didn't know anything about this, but I teach animation and I teach computer science, and I found out that they have what's called Minecraft Education Edition. Without knowing anything about it, I'm just like, "Hey, kids, do you want to try to figure out how to hack on Minecraft?" The whole room blew up and it's go time. Yeah, on that one, you looked around, you saw what do the kids know, what did they like? Oh, man, did that thing take off like a rocket? We do some really cool stuff in Minecraft, modding it, creating new characters, new enemies, new behaviors, new animations, programming it. They have computer science assignments in that. The kids end up making modding Minecraft into their own game with their own story. That has been just wildly successful for me, not without its own problems, but yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Of course.

Brandon Murry: Yes.

Autumn Sutton: Then for me, when I taught middle school, I leaned a lot on the EdTech and the EdTech firms, they do a great job. Most of them will put the ISTE standards or the CSTA. There's some standards that are universal so it's not necessarily the Georgia standards.

Brandon Murry: CSTA, ISTE.

Autumn Sutton: But if you look at them, they align with the Georgia standards, you kind of find the corresponding one. But then when I got to the high school level, the high school kids are more into project based learning, so they want to create something. What I started doing is at the end of each unit, we would always have a multiple choice test, but we also have a project. With the project. This is where differentiation would come in, whatever the concept we were learning in that unit, they had to basically, I didn't call it ed tech, but they had to make some type of programming construct that would support that. Most of them would do ed tech. Even for the AP exam, they have to create a program. We use code.org. Code.org has this thing called app lab. My students almost all made apps that were kind of game-ish where it was like my athletes, they would make something that if you wanted to know stats about who won the Super Bowl from 1942, and they would build an app and it would have that data in there. Or if it was someone who, I hate to make it a female male, but my females who were into fashion, or who were into clothing, or into music, they would make apps that were more about pop culture or clothes, but they're still using the same ed tech. But it was amazing how-

Ashley Mengwasser: Mm-hmm. Applied how they are interested.

Autumn Sutton: Yeah, but they're still using the same concepts, using the same tools, but they were able to, because they're creating their own thing, master in a way that their own personalities.

Brandon Murry: Check their own personalities.

Autumn Sutton: Yes, use their own interests, which I think is beautiful. I would say I can't take so much credit, it's more the ed tech has set it up for us that if you teach those core concepts and you make sure and have a rubric or a checklist of you have to at least have this, this, this and this.

Ashley Mengwasser: Must contain these components, otherwise run with it.

Autumn Sutton: Yeah, but the kids will go further.

Brandon Murry: And they'll make it their own.

Autumn Sutton: You give them this, they make it better every time. Very rarely do you have a kid who does the minimum, because they get into it and they just want to make it better.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's so engaging.

Autumn Sutton: It's competitive, and they see their friends and they'll walk around the room and say, "Oh, how'd you do that? Oh, I want to do that." It's awesome.

Ashley Mengwasser: I imagine that energy is palpable in the room.

Autumn Sutton: It is. Our rooms are always... Is your classroom loud?

Brandon Murry: Huh?

Autumn Sutton: Yeah. I feel like our classrooms are loud here.

Brandon Murry: I can't hear. My hearing is gone.

Ashley Mengwasser: He's deaf. I got it. I got it. I understood. Hearing is compromised.

Autumn Sutton: But I feel like it's one of those things where you have to let them work in a collaborative group. We grew up where it was like, "Sit in your seat, stay in your rows." That's not if you go into any gaming firm, that's not how they work.

Ashley Mengwasser: No.

Autumn Sutton: They let people come in groups and you have different people who have different strengths and they come together and you have the person who's more-

Ashley Mengwasser: It's flowing. It's flowing.

Autumn Sutton: Yes. You have to let the kids get up out of their seats and help each other and teach each other. Sometimes they know more than us. Let them teach. Sometimes I'll say, "How did you do that?"

Brandon Murry: Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: They'll teach me a lot of times.

Ashley Mengwasser: Sometimes that is what learning looks like.

Brandon Murry: Absolutely.

Autumn Sutton: Messy.

Ashley Mengwasser: You guys have shown us that today. Let's end with this. In gaming speak, the boss is that final contender, the villain that you have to beat in every level. What is the biggest obstacle from each of your vantage points that teachers have to overcome before they can launch some gaming practices in their classrooms? What is that obstacle for teachers?

Brandon Murry: For me, in Minecraft, there's a classroom management component because they can go off task. I had to figure out what classroom management needed, what I needed to keep things under control. In our Minecraft world, we're all in the same world and they're building over here and he's over here, and then maybe they're trying to kill each other. My role as the God Emperor Murry of the Minecraft world is to punish the sinners who are messing around. I actually created some code and it's called Murrgatory, where I would put a tag on their character name, called it said, "Tag, they're a sinner." Then if messed up again, I would put them in Murrgatory and literally a box would form around them.

Autumn Sutton: The penalty box.

Brandon Murry: The box just had my smiling face on it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, scary.

Brandon Murry: Literally trapped in this glowing smiling Murry box that they can't hack out of. They lose all their items and they're in Murrgatory until I decide that gone over there, "Hey, come on dude, get on task."

Ashley Mengwasser: Get on task.

Brandon Murry: "Your team needs you to do this part. Okay, so do not let this happen again."

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Brandon Murry: Then I would burn the Murrgatory down and they would die and respond. Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: From the mind of Brandon Murry. I enjoyed that very much. Autumn, what obstacle do you think teachers need to overcome?

Autumn Sutton: I think it's similar to Brandon's, where we talk about classroom management, but I would say mine is more with your instructional calendar and your timeline. Just like with every game, there's always, you have to complete that level in a certain allotted time. Unfortunately, with teachers, you still have to stick to your instructional calendar. I would say if you're going to try gamification in class, you have to teach with an end in mind. Know what week you have to end that unit and work backwards and really, really stick to, "Okay, we can only spend two or three days on this," or, "We can only spend this week on that." Because what will happen is your kids will be so engaged and they'll be having so much fun, and they'll say, "One more day, oh, we're not going to be done one more day." As a teacher, it just warms your heart and you're like, "Oh my goodness. They like my lesson and I just want to... Okay, one more day you guys," and then you'll look up and it's like, "Final exams are next week, and oh my goodness, right"

Ashley Mengwasser: We know.

Brandon Murry: What are we doing?

Ashley Mengwasser: Got to catch up. You got to catch up.

Autumn Sutton: I think that once I became a computer science teacher and I failed at that a couple of times, I really, really made an instructional calendar that was dynamic, because in pre-planning, it's always, you have this beautiful instructional calendar that's perfect, and you know exactly what weeks are going to fall where, and then stuff happens. There's an assembly, there's a fire drill, there's state testing.

Ashley Mengwasser: Things come up.

Autumn Sutton: Things come up. It has to be dynamic. You have to keep revisiting and you have to stick to it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, stick-to-it ness.

Autumn Sutton: Because the kids are going to love it, and maybe you need to create an afterschool club, or maybe let them come in on Saturdays or whatever. Because when you do see them engaged, you don't want to squash it.

Brandon Murry: Mm-hmm. Yep.

Autumn Sutton: But at the same time, you don't want to lose your job.

Ashley Mengwasser: You want to let it flourish.

Autumn Sutton: Right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Autumn Sutton: You want to hit those standards too so you don't lose your job. Stick to your instructional calendar. Make one.

Brandon Murry: Make a plan.

Autumn Sutton: Keep looking at it. Keep every Sunday night when you're getting your stuff ready for the week, look at your timetable, make sure you're on time to get through each unit before the end of the semester.

Ashley Mengwasser: Great. Great feedback. Autumn, Brandon, thank you for being here. Player one, player two, who do you think won this? Won this battle?

Brandon Murry: This is a-

Autumn Sutton: We're like a duel.

Ashley Mengwasser: This is like a collaborative. Yeah.

Brandon Murry: No, no. Yeah, no, no. This is a co-op game.

Autumn Sutton: There we go.

Brandon Murry: Let's be clear, all right?

Autumn Sutton: Yeah. Yeah.

Brandon Murry: We're a team. Let's see it.

Ashley Mengwasser: There we go. Actually reaching for high-fives, I love it. Thank you so much for coming.

Autumn Sutton: Thank you for having us.

Ashley Mengwasser: Loved having you. To play along in the game reverse, let me end by saying, "GG. Good game," in the chat. I'm about to go AFK away from keyboard, although for me, I guess it's AFM, because the console in my world is a microphone. You enter the game with the best possible FOV, field of view. Know that this is our perception. You're a great teacher. Your host and her avatar are now signing off, but I have more lives in the way of episodes. Come back next week for another stimulating level of Classroom Conversations. Goodbye for now. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.