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Level Up: Designing Games That Go Light Years Beyond Jeopardy and Kahoot

Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Franklin 7/8

Explore and create: Deep-dive Creation lab
Preregistration Required
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Teacher, Presenter, Author
EMC² Learning
John Meehan is a teacher, instructional coach, and a noted national speaker in the fields of classroom gamification and student engagement. He is the author of two books: EDrenaline Rush (2019) and Fully Engaged (2021) – the latter of which he co authored with Michael Matera. In July of 2020, Book Authority ranked Edrenaline Rush among the top 10 titles on their "100 Best Teaching Books of All Time.” In March of 2021, John and Michael co-founded, an online members community that provides hundreds of gamified classroom resources and on-demand PD to thousands of educators all around the world.

Session description

Gamification is hot! But far too many edtech products merely offer shallow, brightly colored multiple choice "games" that are really no more than 21st century Scantron exams. We can do better! Learn the sweet science behind what makes a great game, and start engaging with playful pedagogy.

Purpose & objective

The express purpose of this interactive session is to provide attendees with a deeper look at how (and why) they can design stronger, more effective, and more engaging games for their classrooms. Far too many "gamified" classroom tools and edtech websites reduce higher order thinking to a brightly colored parade of lower-level questions hidden behind a sea of shallow bells and whistles. The end result? Noisy, fast-paced classrooms that *appear* engaging -- but quickly reveal a troubling trend where players are more motivated by hacking their way onto flashy leaderboards than by actually learning the right answer. What's worse: as many well-meaning educators continue to dedicate significant teaching time to these low-level engagement strategies, students become habitualized to a classroom environment that rewards speed over critical thinking and outcome over creative output.

This session seeks to correct these troubling trends to show attendees a better way to play by learning how to design playful, purposeful lesson plans where students fuse content knowledge with creativity to achieve incredible levels of performance. In turn, this session will help teachers cut through the clutter when employing these same design principles to craft highly interactive student-centered lessons of their own.

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As mentioned on the previous page, this session will blend "big picture" research with "hands-on" activities designed to help teachers see practical applied solutions of each relevant tenet of game-inspired instructional design. The Deep Dive Creation Lab affords us a respectable 90 minutes in which to balance these dual objectives.

Our intent is to dedicate the first 10-15 minutes of the session introducing attendees to the essential "why" that lays the foundation for this fundamental shift to a more playful pedagogical approach. And from there, we plan to dedicate the remaining time to a sort of mock classroom experience, thereby allowing session attendees the opportunity to shift into the role of students in a sample classroom so as to give them the chance to experience "how" and "what" these same core principles might look like as they play out in across a series of sample activities. In working as a full-time educational consultant and instructional coach, we have found the highest degrees of success consistently come from taking this more andragogical approach to adult PD: start with why, show the how, and give teachers time to experience the what before providing them with appropriate time between each activity to debrief and consider how a particular technique can best be modified or applied for use in their own classrooms.

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Supporting research

This session will draw heavily on the work contained in all three of our books -

Explore Like a Pirate: Gamification and Game-Inspired Course Design to Engage, Enrich and Elevate Your Learners (2015)

EDrenaline Rush: Game-Changing Student Engagement Inspired by Theme Parks, Mud Runs, and Escape Rooms (2019)

Fully Engaged: Playful Pedagogy for Real Results (2021)

In addition, we'll be drawing multiple examples and citing relevant research from the work of numerous education pioneers and researchers including Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Bluma Zeigarnik, Josef Pieper, David Bohm, Paulo Freire ("Pedagogy of the Oppressed"), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ("Flow"), Sean Achor ("The Happiness Advantage"), and Carol Dweck ("Mindset").

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Session specifications

Games for learning & gamification
Grade level:
Skill level:
Coaches, Teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices:
Devices useful
Attendee device specification:
Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Mac, PC, Chromebook
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials:
Session attendees are encouraged to take notes on their devices, but will not need to download or install any site-specific applications for this session.
Subject area:
Language arts, STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards:
For Educators:
  • Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
  • Explore and apply instructional design principles to create innovative digital learning environments that engage and support learning.