Purpose Driven Learning (or the case for gamification)

And so we’re here, another school year. Another chance for greatness. Another chance for students to realize their impact on the world. It’s gonna be an EPIC year!


And to make this year epic, I’ve adapted the ideas of Purpose Driven Learning. Inside our classroom houses twenty-four young minds just yearning for something greater. Something more exciting, and that gets them passionate. This year, my hope is that gamification is the bridge for them to realize this end!

It’s the end of week two, and to kick off my LEGO Space gamification theme, they’ve entered Basic Training. ‘Space Camp’, if you will. Purpose Driven Learning (or PDL) is a concept coined by Michael Matera and Adam Moreno. The idea behind it is that each learner has an untapped inner strength that is unlocked when focusing on each characteristics. Michael did a great job explaining all ten PDL tenants here.

After introducing my intro video for gamification, my students were hooked. But, then what?

By the way, you can check out my intro video here.

I have to admit, I spent A LOT of time thinking about all the big grand ideas and gamification changes this summer and am now rushing each day to hash out some of the daily details. LEGO Space is a galaxy away from last year’s theme- Pokemon! Whew!

Nothing Batman couldn’t handle though.
This has me busier, for sure, but I wouldn’t trade this kind of classroom addition for the world. Gamification has changed my classroom culture in our short two weeks already. I can’t wait to see what else it’s going to do! After my students took the Bartle Quiz, I was ready to form them into small teams of 4-5. More on the Bartle Quiz here

This is my third year teaching, and let me tell you that for some reason this group so far has been the most resistant to collaboration out of all of them! My focus so far has been to change student perception about the importance of the team. The glue that held our classroom together so far had been a a series of team challenges, each focusing on one of the PDL tenants.

Resilience being one of the most important tenants…
With each team challenge, an important revelation revealed itself. The AWESOME thing is that after each activity, our class made the connections on the importance of a team mentality, and like the book “Wonder” illustrates (a highly recommended classroom read), to simply ‘choose kind’. That being said, each challenge didn’t come without failure…

During the famous Marshmallow Challenge, half of the students couldn’t get their structure to rise by the end of the time limit. 

But wait! An important revelation came from students (yet again). Some were reminded of what came from their failure…

“Without failure, their would be no real challenges, and no real fun in life!”

Well then, challenge accepted 5th grade. Challenge accepted.

The Challenge- Creativity!

This time, our latest challenge came from ‘Commander Antilles’, one of our adored but gruff-looking Lego characters, leading our young Cadets through Space Basic Training.

Commander Antilles- one tough cookie.
In this team challenge, Cadets were given a limited amount of time to build the ‘interior’ of their space shuttle (Benny took care of the exterior already). They had to work together, compromise, collaborate, and focus on creativity (our PDL tenant). Each challenge is getting better and better, as they are learning how to truly communicate with each other!

Funny how practice makes better.

I can’t tell you the joy I felt when I heard from each team how challenging, rewarding and fun each challenge has been so far!

The Shuttle Challenge goes as follows:

  1. There are 10 small containers of LEGOS, each containing a single themed color.
  2. Each team (of 5) will start with 2 containers of LEGOS.
  3. Each round (which leasts 2 minutes), teams will need to place a LEGO piece on their base plate, one at a time.
  4. When the timer ends, they hold their hands up. Any piece that isn’t stuck on the baseplate must be put back in the containers.
  5. The next round begins with 2 new containers, each with new colors.
  6. The challenge ends when all containers have been rotated, so that each team gets a chance at each color.


The referee will give a 10 second building penalty for any team that:

  1. Using unkind language towards another crew mate
  2. Making ANY comments on another team’s shuttle (instead of focusing on their own)
  3. Yelling, or otherwise being unkind
  4. Building when the timer runs out.

Luckily, I only gave out a penalty twice. Students quickly learned that it was better to compromise, work as a team, or just choose kind language. By the end of the challenge, everyones adrenaline was pumping! They were surprised by how time flew by, even though they had about 11 minutes in total to work on their interior.

These are PERFECT opportunities to meld my theme with team building! Challenges that fit thematically into my gamification only made the student buy-in larger. My students cannot wait for what happens next… now I guess it’s time to go work on it!

In the future, these shuttles will become interactive- upgradable, and they may even see special guests helping them in the fight against President Business!

I honestly don’t know what’s in store for my students this year, but I know we’re off to a fantastic start! Gamification is calling friends, are you going to answer the call?

So what are you doing to create positive classroom culture? Share in the comments below.

In great teaching,

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  • Sean, this is a wonderful post that truly shows the importance and power of gamification and purpose driven learning. Together, those two concepts change lives; the lives of our students and ourselves.

    Thanks for posting your journey. You are an inspiration! Keep up the good work.

    • I’m encouraged more and more by my students’ curiosity and inner strength! I’m glad I have gamification to help them unlock it!

  • Hi Sean, Could you tell me how you make those snazzy videos? With what program would be a start, then any other general info. I’d love to have such a video to really kick off a gamification unit. Thanks.

    Also, I know MMatera talks about using dice in his game for various things. Do you use dice and if so, how?

    Thanks. Love your space theme!

    • Hi Minda,

      Thanks for the post! I use my iPhone all of my videos. If you are talking about my blog or gamification intro, I started using iMovie, but then upgraded to Final Cut X for editing. Maybe I should do a video tutorial about it?

      Last year, my theme was Pokemon. Lots of things were left to chance for the students. A biggie was what/how many Pokemon they could “catch” after they complete a side mission. Each pip (die number) represented how rare their catch would be. I used crazy dice that had dice within them for this too!

      Dice were also used in my items. For example, they could earn a card that earned them note time during a test depending on what they rolled (ie rolled a 7- 7 minutes of notes).

    • Thanks for replying. I would watch a video tutorial on how to make awesome videos! Could you PM me if you end up making one?

  • To specify, I was watching your Lego introduction video. How do you get these scenes? Are they default scenes via iMovie or Final Cut Pro? I recognize the opening/title frame as being similar to something MMatera has done — I am not inherently techy but I do follow directions well and can research if pointed in the right direction 🙂 I see on iMovie how I can have a theme but not how I can find those segments of video which are space scenes/futuristic cities/medieval areas/jungles. Could you tell me how to get things like that? Thank you again.

    • I would love to make a “how-to” video using iMovie or Final Cut Pro X to make a trailer! I’ll keep it in mind for the future…

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