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Lesson 3.2: What Video Games Can Teach Us about Grading? – Discussion
Posted by Kyle Pearce on December 15, 2020 at 2:47 pmWhat new takeaways do you have?
What questions are you still wondering?
Share your thinking below…”
Jon Lind replied 1 month, 2 weeks ago 18 Members · 22 Replies 
22 Replies

I love this. I began teaching Math(s) this year and, because of the nature of the school year, I was not expected to grade in the established way…so I didn’t. A few years ago I studied Dynamic Systems Theory with Kurt Fischer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Your model of linear v nonlinear comes close to DST. However, I must say that the Candyland like path model does not appeal to me because of its linearity. Might a student show mastery of goal 4 without demonstrating the same level in goal 3? We need to think of learning as 3 dimensional…a web…lots of ways to climb the hill…some dead ends along the way… Before school resumes in January I must try to create a reporting mechanism that meets my needs.
 This reply was modified 2 years, 1 month ago by Sean Breen.

Great perspective and you’re right – learning definitely isn’t linear. In mathematics, there are times where achieving one goal is pretty depended on another, however there are many instances where that isn’t the case. Great points.

That’s a great point about the linear vs nonlinear connections between LGs. I’m wondering from Kyle, or @ajinsf for those connected LGs, can a demonstration of understanding on a higher goal be used as evidence of a lower connected LG?
 This reply was modified 1 year, 10 months ago by Christopher Ernst.


What a great comparison and a way of thinking. Very exciting to see how I can formalise the student’s improvement and growth into a visual grading system.

Love the video game comparison, and have actually been talking with another teacher in my district about this very concept. He’s leaning towards a more “gamified” classroom experience, but also using this idea for AFG as well.
One question I do have is for students that are chronically absent, a very common occurrence at my school and in my district prior to this year, can we really give a 0 on a LG for them? We’re required to have grades in for all students at some points. Seems like they’re coming into the game with no extra lives or already behind.

Great question here! I guess what you need to decide for yourself is whether a 0 is ever a truly accurate measure of student understanding? For example, do you know the student knows, understands or can do some of that work? If the answer is “yes” then a zero wouldn’t be accurate.
Is the zero more of a punitive assessment practice or one that promotes growth?
Would a 40 make more sense than a zero to still indicate you don’t know what they know about this or aren’t confident in it? Would this show students that they are much closer to success than what a zero might imply?
Just some thoughts here as there are no right answers…


“Never electrocute their deer”. This is hard! It’s a natural tendency to want to save people who are struggling.

We certainly got into this business because we love helping students be successful… it is so hard to train ourselves not to do the work for them!


I just finished reading “Building Thinking Classrooms” and the slow building of difficulty in video games makes me thinking of “thinslicing” questions. They start easy so students can start to see patterns and strategies but build with a slight new challenge each time.
This also makes me think about the way that a lot of newer video games give very few instructions about how to play the game and lets the player figure it out in the early levels. I think of this as only giving my students the minimum information needed for them to get started on a task, and letting them figure out the rest. Drop in hints or point things out as needed, but let them discover how to play the game (find a strategy to solve the task).
Love this equating video games to learning! Works from so many different aspects.

Wow, I thought I had a good idea of where this was going, but it is so much deeper than I expected. I love the 6 things that video games do well and thinking about how to use them in my class. I have a specific activity that I LOVE to do with my kids as I think it does a great job of introducing Pascal’s Triangle that we can later use for the Binomial Theorem and for combinations and counting. But, students struggle a lot with the problem because I don’t do a good job of giving them some level 1 and 2, but rather start them at level 20 and hope that they will use good problem solving skills of breaking it down to a simpler question to start with. Usually I have to give them a LOT of support to get through the exercise. Now I’m thinking about how I can turn the one page document into 2 or 3 or even 4 with some much easier starting questions to get them going and prepare them for success with the bigger problem.
One question I have in this has to do with retention. Often with a unit or topic we test them on the learning goal, but then we want to reassess it again later in the year to make sure that they still have the knowledge. I’m trying to think of that in a video game setting, you would never expect a video game to go back and take away a star for an earlier level. But, as I think about it, the same skills would be covered on future levels.
So, from a math perspective imagine these learning goals:
1: Solve single step algebra equations.
2: Solve two step equations.
3: Solve multistep equations.
4: Solve equations with variables on both sides.
A student shows consistent ability at LG1 and is given his 3 stars. But while working on LG4, struggles with equations like 3x=5 and gets the fraction wrong. Would we look at that and realize that our marking on L1 wasn’t correct, or would we just deduct stars on LG4? To mean it would seem more informative to drop the grade on L1, but that could also be demoralizing for a student.

These are great questions @danielwhittaker I would say you’ll want to ensure consistency. If later in the course a student consistently struggles with 1 step equations then feel free to go back and change the marking. But it also means some of the wheels have fallen off for that student here and we should investigate. Keep consistency as one of the main look fors when assigning these grades.


Wow – many ideas coming together in my mind. One, I read the comment above about the 0 in the gradebook and love the response. This is a tough question and one I struggle with as a teacher. Additionally, the mention of consistency. By changing the language of feedback/grading versus evaluation, I think it is easier to process moving a LG mark down. (I hoping there is a rubric example we might get to see later that includes consistency.) Since the LG mark is not instantly effecting their overall grade in the class, I think the student would value the feedback that they “had it” at one time, but for some reason they lost “it.” It would be a great conversation.
My biggest take away is the analogy of Mario brothers. You can complete a level without getting any stars. The stars open up “doors” in the future. I think this relates so well in mathematics. In a very traditional/procedural course, students can mimic their way through a lesson without really understanding. This is like going through the course as fast as possible without “earning” any stars. The students are allowed to go to the next levels, but at some point that catches up with them. Excited to see how to structure Standards Based Grading for Growth (SBG4G) in action.

I agree with what Bonnie mentions above… I saw the connection of the “Building Thinking Classrooms” book “thin slicing” questions with the video game idea of starting at Level 1 and working up slowly to more complex challenges. Great talk on the video game analogy to math class!

I loved the video games analogy! Good reminder that students and people do enjoy challenge or obstacles, but not when we start on level 20. Starting easy and gradually increasing the challenge allows the hope of success to take root and have the students “become addicted” to finding and growing. And I want my students to be able to be the hero in their math lives.

I am just so excited to learn more about this. This makes so much sense.
I was also a big fan of Angry Birds and Super Mario Bros – but never had enough time!!!

I attended a conference session (by accident, actually) several years ago in which the presenter went through the psychology of video games, and I find this fascinating! That dopamine hit is real, and I cringe when I think of how many times I have robbed my students of that satisfying moment. I have a colleague who constantly “rescues” her students, and I think it’s time for her to hear about the student’s role in his or her hero journey. I think of the hook into the games when you figure out how to make it work, and I love it when I can accomplish something that seemed so difficult at first. Pipes did this for me…
I also thought about the number of times I repeated levels of things just to get the higher number of stars…
I’m convinced and hooked on this, and I want to see how to make it work! This is good stuff!

So many takeaways here. One is the video game reference. I agree so much with the idea of easy entry points. I also like the idea of using 3 stars for each learning goal.
I’m looking forward to moving on!

I found this to be very thoughtprovoking. I am already trying to come up with ways to make my class have the same “stars” that are found in video games to track progress. I started doing this last year, but only by looking at the students overall gradelevel growth (as determined by a computer assessment program–IXL) from the beginning of the year until the end of the year. I like the idea of seeing it applied to each individual learning goal. Now I just have to figure out how to do that.

My big take away is “Don’t electrocute the deer.” I noticed in the classroom there is a competing dopamine driver for kids and that is to be right and shine in front of peers. I am thinking of those that blurt out answers and steal learning from other students. The lightening analogy would be great to bring back to students to build classroom culture of appreciating the struggle and respecting each other’s deer.

Such great ideas using video games to make math engaging. I really like the idea about giving descriptive feedback. I like answering the 5 questions, so students know where they are at and where they are going. I’m wondering what this should look like in my class. I also thought it was interesting that students feel judged when they are in math class.

Thanks for sharing Raj’s presentation. Very succinct and understandable. Gives a good framework for an approach.