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Counting Coins: Token Economies at Work


Here’s a list of some of the more popular games that I’ve had the pleasure of playing: Mario 64, Baldur’s Gate, Warcraft 3, Dokapon Kingdom, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The genre of these games range from action role playing games to real time strategies to family fun games to fantasy adventures. And what do they all have in common? Gold (some blue and red coins too, if we’re talking about Mario 64). Why, as players in these games, are we drawn to gold? By design, the game has us collect gold so that we can spend it for weapons, potions, equipment, and other advantages that help us ultimately beat the game.

But you don’t need gold for this concept to apply. Most games have a store system where players can spend all of that hard-won currency, which we’ll refer to as tokens. This store system principle is in so many games and in ways that you might not expect. When you level up in Diablo III, you’re spending that experience you’ve earned in the same way to level up your character the way that you want to, constantly giving the player options to fine-tune his or her strategy to beat the game.

maxresdefaultSo what does this mean for teachers? It means that you can hand out tokens to reinforce good behavior, improvement from one test to the next, or for completing classwork or homework neatly and timely. Ormrod (2011) defines a token economy as a technique to allow students to “purchase” a variety of other reinforcers (p. 303). The options of reinforcers are completely under the teacher’s control. I have encountered several cheap, effective reinforcers that your students may appreciate more than you might think. Here’s a list to get your own shop started:

1. Small snacks: crackers, candy, you name it (as long as the kid isn’t allergic)

2. Large snacks: brownies, sandwiches

3. Allowance to listen to music during individual assignments/testing

4. Terrific Kid Card: Send the student home with a card he can show his parent/guardian listing his achievements in the class.

These are just a few examples. While implementing a token economy is valuable to manage behavior, its real worth is found in the soft skills that it helps students develop. Two of the major soft skills it helps are accountability and self-regulation. Students can learn accountability through being responsible for tracking their own tokens (or even keeping track of cheap, physical tokens you give them) until they have enough to purchase whatever reinforcers you have on sale.

Second, implementing an economy like this teaches self-regulation, or “the control and monitoring of our own behavior” (Ormrod, 2011, p. 342). The Store you have in place is only open on the students’ time-when they’ve met the expectations you’ve already established for class. This means that you could simply require students to finish their work or act a certain way for the opportunity to spend the tokens they’ve earned during the year. This practice can teach students to pay attention to their own progress during class and time management, because they will want to accomplish their work within the time given and the quality you expect in order to buy reinforcers from your Store.

These are just a few examples of how token economies can work in a classroom. I invite all teachers interested in implementing this technique to use these ideas for tokens and reinforcers, come up with their own, or combine them with their own students and see the effect it has in the classroom.


Ormrod, J. E. (2011). Educational psychology: Developing learners. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Learning Strategies: It’s Super Effective!

Another thing that games teach us is to use the right technique, element, tool, weapon, or strategy for the job. In Pokemon, why do we use water-type techniques against fire-type pokemon and avoid using them on grass-type pokemon? Because it’s super effective! This same kind of mentality can and should be applied inside of the classroom.hqdefault

Students are encouraged almost every day by their teachers to study right or to study harder; however, many students may still lack the correct study skills to succeed in a specific classroom where a specific teacher is trying to teach to a specific standard or objective. Often enough, these learning skills can be more practical and transferrable than the actual content.

Learning skills can be divided into different categories. Ormrod (2011) divides them into overt and covert learning strategies. She defines overt learning strategies as strategies that are “readily apparent” and observable by the teacher and covert learning strategies as “only mental activity” and thus not directly observable like overt learning strategies. Many times, these strategies overlap to assist one another in teaching students. For example, a strategy that Dr. Ormrod suggests to improve writing is creating summaries while one of her covert strategies is to regularly monitor one’s own learning.

I recently did an experiment for a project in one of my classrooms, dividing my classmates into three separate groups while an expert performed a simple kata (a set of specific, chronological motions in a martial arts style). I instructed each group to use a different learning strategy-taking notes on what they saw, summarizing what they saw, or actively shadowing what they saw. The groups were immediately given time to practice for two minutes before demonstrating what they learned to the classroom, and the vast majority practiced by moving their physical bodies in an attempt to reproduce our expert’s maneuvers. These college students were practiced in adopting the most appropriate or effective learning strategy and using it to accomplish their goal (reproducing the martial arts motions).

Imagine the difficulty that they would have had if their practice time had been limited to only reviewing their notes or summaries while the physically practicing group could continue to use the strategy found to be most effective.

Students have developed varying strategies through their academic careers before stepping into each teacher’s classroom, and they are limited by the strategies that they currently have and their ability to distinguish between effective versus ineffective strategies. As teachers, it’s important to recognize that our students don’t walk around with strategy guides in their back pockets with the best way to tackle every new concept, assignment, project, or test that we throw at them. Therefore, it’s important to understand what they do bring to the table and what techniques we bring to the table to help them be super effective in our classroom and classrooms that follow.

A Challenger Appears! Meet Kurt

Hello ClassRealm friends and followers!profilepic_beach

My name is Kurt Wright and I am the new kid on the block around the Realm. I will be starting to post regular entries about Education and Gaming and how the two don’t really have to be all that different if done correctly.

I discovered ClassRealm when one of my current teachers in Education Psychology included a link on Gamification of the classroom, which turned out to be Ben’s Explanation of ClassRealm at Kotaku. This article piqued my interest in ClassRealm, but finding the blog and reading through the posts got me hooked. From the basic application of positive reinforcement to allowing students to create fictional characters to represent them in the classroom, Ben had me sold on ClassRealm before I even contacted him and begged to get involved.

But before I ask you to trust me and my thoughts and opinions about gaming and education, maybe you’d like to know a little more about me!

My educational background is the backbone of my opinions on gaming and learning. I received my Bachelor’s of Arts in English before currently returning to school to pursue my Masters of Science in Education. Currently, I am in my first semester of graduate school, when the students are still focused on learning theory before applying theory to the internship year, which I will be beginning this Fall.

My interest in gaming extends to video games, board games, and roleplaying games. I believe that there are merits including reinforcement techniques, critical thinking practice, and creative exploration in each of these types of gaming. I have a strong nostalgia for old RPGs like Legend of the Dragoon and Chrono Cross, but my interests most recently focus on board games. When I talk about board games, I am not referring to many that people may recognize, such as Monopoly, Chess, or Shoots and Ladders. While these games have their merits, some more obscure (for the average American) games include Carcassonne, Pandemic, and The Forbidden Island. These games practice critical thinking and team building skills transferrable to more situations than just the classroom.

I plan to synthesize the information I glean from my college classrooms and additional readings with my experience with video, board, and roleplaying games to discuss gaming in terms of educational psychology and vice versa. I look forward to publishing my first official post (not counting this one) in just a couple of days!

New Challengers Approach!

Ah. Smell that? It’s the smell of a new school year wafting on the summer breeze. Now that I’m done making you guess smells I feel it’s only fair to give you a new ClassRealm update. As I am a teacher first and blogger second I will try my darndest to update you fine folks who read this blog (all seven of you) on a regular basis. As I mentioned, a new school year is upon us and with new school years come new students. As a young teacher without many years of experience I haven’t dealt with every kind of student yet, but let me tell you – this year’s class is WAY different from last year’s.

Here’s the good part. They love ClassRealm. I introduced them to the system during the second week of school and they are having a blast. The one aspect that really seems to be driving their frenzy for XP and achievements is the new team mentality I have instilled in my paper system. Last year ts was every student’s dream to beat the others and become top dog. This year it’s all about reaching the goal together and sharing in the journey. Student’s literally applaud others for gaining levels and earning achievements. Fantastic stuff!

The two students I have dubbed “Level Trackers” keep a close eye on the combined level of the classroom and are constantly updating the other students on their advancements. Though XP was a big deal last year, it has taken an even more commanding lead with this particular class. Achievements are more like surprises this time around, which is actually a nice change.

Last year my students latched on to the writing achievement and piled on story after story. I was sure this would be the case again, but the achievement of choice this year appears to be the “Book Worm”. Students are reading constantly! It’s wonderful. Today one of my students asked if she could take home some of the ClassRealm Book Overview sheets to fill out over the holiday weekend and I told her to pick some up on her way out. But she couldn’t. Because the stack I had left there had been used up. Best. Problem. Ever.


Check back soon for more ClassRealm updates!

Bertoli out.