Gamification, the blockchain, and Google Sheets: or, how to create a digital classroom economy

If you want to jump to the instructions, scroll down. If you want to get a short briefer on the background and rationale of the digital classroom economy, read on.


A colleague of mine had been toying with the idea of gamifying his classroom. I had also been thinking about this but hadn’t quite found the right mechanism to organize it around.

I had recently been to an Ed Tech conference workshop where a teacher had presented a neat online platform he had used to get his students to complete quests and bonus adventures that were tied to required learning outcomes. It worked for him, but it seemed to require a lot of planning, such as thinking about what further quests got unlocked after students were finished.

I did like the gamifying concept, but I didn’t like the amount of monitoring required. Nor was it generalizable, scalable, or open-ended enough for me.

Enter the classroom economy.

My colleague suggested he might use the classroom economy as a base. For readers who don’t know, the classroom economy is essentially a gamification system where students have jobs with different responsibilities that help them to earn a salary. These responsibilities might include being the banker, wiping the board, arranging the desks, passing out papers, organizing the classroom library, etc. The students can receive additional money for activities determined by the teacher, such as improvement on a test, bonus for being ready for class every day, getting a test signed, etc. Or the money can be deducted, for fines like forgetting items to bring to class, or desk rent, etc. Whatever suits your fancy, or even ideology! For a great overview visit My Classroom Economy.

Teachers have been using versions of the classroom economy for years. I had never done it in part because it requires some preparation and careful management of ledgers and/or the pieces of paper representing the money. I’ve never been good at keeping papers organized, so if I was going to run a classroom economy, it would be even less likely that my students would be able to manage it without my example. Besides, as I rarely use cash in real life, couldn’t there be another more digital solution for the classroom? I mean, our students all had their own laptops. Why not make something work with those?

As I mulled over the desirable aim of running a classroom economy while avoiding the undesirable aspect of using paper, I thought of an idea. Why not run the classroom economy via Google Sheets? But more than just using a Google spreadsheet to maintain records, that’s easy, would it be possible for students to check their own accounts at any time, and only their own accounts? Could the records remain secure?

I know enough about the power of spreadsheets to do a fair bit of stuff with them, but I wasn’t sure if I could get what I wanted for this classroom economy.

So I did what I always do whenever I’m unsure of something. I Googled it. And here is the answer:

= IMPORTRANGE(SPREADSHEET_URL, RANGE_STRING)

Turns out, in both Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets, this can be done. Though here, I’ll focus on Google Sheets. It is possible to mirror one page from a Google sheet so that another person can view it. And it only requires the formula above that can be easily cut, pasted, and then modified.

After tinkering around with the system I came up with my version of a digital classroom economy with an online classroom ledger with records of all transactions that could be edited by a teacher and/or a student banker. The traditional salaries, bonuses, and fines of the classroom economy could be centrally inputted on the tabs of a Google Sheet, with each student’s ledger stored on a tab.

The rest of the students could see an always updated statement of their own bank account via their own “Bank Account” sheets. As they only had view-only privileges there was no danger of traceless shenanigans taking place, like collecting a double salary.

If this was not already elegant enough, all edits are recorded through Google Sheets’ history. If a banker makes a mistake, the teacher can go in and restore to an earlier version of the ledger. If a student sees a mistake, they can contact the teacher and/or banker to have the mistake fixed. This is a simplified version of the blockchain.

So there you have it. Google Sheets, gamification, and the block chain taking the classroom economy into the 21st century!


Instructions

Here are details of how to use the templates that I’ve provided for the classroom economy. Feel free to use them, modify them, enhance them. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Get the files at this Google Drive link. Then, watch the video and/or walk through the steps described below.

Requirements

Google accounts for all students and devices to access these accounts.

Step 1 – Adding templates to your own Google Drive

Make a copy of the Google Drive Classroom Economy Google Sheet files and add them to your own Google Drive. You should have at least the Class Ledger and one “First Last Template” file with some additional sample student bank account files.

Step 2 – Adding students to the class ledger

Open the Class Ledger sheet and right click the “First Last” tab located in the bottom left. Click “duplicate”. This will create a new tab called “Copy of First Last”.
Right click the “Copy of First Last” tab and then rename it using the first and last name of your student. Repeat this process until you have one tab for each student in your class in addition to the “First Last” tab.

Step 3 – Creating individual student account sheets

Go back to the Google Drive folder with the templates. Right click the First Last Template sheet file to make a copy.
Then, right click the copy and rename it so that it corresponds to the first and last name of the student which you added to the class ledger.

Step 4 – Pointing student bank account spreadsheets to class ledger

You will need to get the link to the class ledger. Do this by opening the class ledger, clicking on the green “Share” button at the top right, and then clicking on the “copy link” button in the box that opens.
Now, open the student bank account sheet. Mine is called Sally Sue. When you open it, you should see something like this with a “#REF!” in cell A1. Notice the green formula in the formula bar. You will now replace the link between the quotation marks with the link to your own Class Ledger AND change the “First Last” that you see at the end of the formula to your own newly added student’s first name.
When you’re done, the Google Sheet should look like this if you’ve selected cell A1. Your link will be different and your student will be different, too. The long red underlined link should be the link to your class ledger. The short red underlined first and last name should be identical to the tab of the student on the class ledger. Be careful you have the correct file names.

Step 5 – Sharing sheets with students

Right click “Class Ledger” and then click “Share”
Type in the email address of the banker and be sure to give them editing privileges.
Repeat the sharing procedure for each student. Type in the student bank account holder’s name and make sure that “view only” is enabled.

Step 6 – Repeat steps 2-5 for each student in your class

If you have any questions about setting it up, leave your contact info in the form below. Or you can leave a comment at the end.

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