Welcome to the Matrix

If I had to trace the origins of my shift towards a fully gamified classroom, I suppose I would probably point the finger of blame squarely at George Couros, Twitter education rock star and author of The Innovator’s Mindset. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed his book last fall, I had the chance to hear George speak in person at the 2017 Virginia ASCD conference, where he was the keynote speaker.


I’d always prided myself on being a teacher driven by student engagement, but jumping with two feet into the full-blown world of the “Innovator’s Mindset” felt like a pretty big pedagogical shift. When I look back at the decision, it’s kinda like that scene in The Matrix where Neo is given the choice between taking the blue pill and the red pill. I’ll let Lawrence Fishburn’s character Morpheus explain:

You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Here’s a quick recap of my trip down the rabbit hole to a fully gamified classroom (to be documented as stand-alone blog posts at a later date, no doubt):

  1. Read The Innovator’s Mindset. Hear smart people like @ToddWhitaker and @gcouros at education conferences echoing the same things again at again about the power of Twitter to connect like-minded educators from all around the world.
  2. Feel inspired. Check out other books and hashtags by Dave Burgess Consulting authors.
  3. Expand ever-growing network of like-minded educators on Twitter while adding smart people to my personal learning network (PLN) by connecting to conversations with the #InnovatorsMindset hashtag.
  4. Find more inspiration and creative ideas from the Twitter musings of other teacher-leaders using the same hashtag.
  5. Implement Twitter-inspired lessons in class. See incredible results. Repeat steps 2 through 5 and go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.
One of the most successful Twitter-inspired lessons I’ve implemented in my classroom this year came to me from Quinn Rollins, teacher mad scientist and Dave Burgess Consulting author of Play Like a Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics. We’ll call him the Cheshire Cat to my long, strange trip down gamification Wonderland.
Outstanding idea — if a little “young” for my 11th grade Honors students. But then again, winter break was fast approaching and I found myself in need of some sort of low-impact assessment to make sure that students were actually reading their choice novels over the Christmas break. And since Quinn linked to the Funko Pop templates on his website along with his December 11 Twitter post… want to guess what my Honors American Literature students were doing for homework over the break?

You guessed it.



Having already seen the power of the #InnovatorsMindset community through Twitter, and compounding my curiosity with the crazy amount of student buy-in I was able to see come to life from this one-off “gamified” approach to what could easily have been a throw-away assignment, I started warming to the notion Dave Burgess Consulting crew might actually be onto something with this whole “Pirate” approach to education after all.

So I took the red pill. 

Checked out a handful of videos from Matt Miller‘s nine day #DitchSummit over the winter break. Flipped through a copy of classroom gamification guru / education Mad Hatter Michael Matera‘s Explore Like a Pirate: Gamification and Game-Inspired Course Design to Engage, Enrich and Elevate Your Learners while on a trans-Atlantic flight to Austria for the Christmas holiday. And found myself deep inside the Matrix of the gamified classroom. 

Welcome to the rabbit hole.

Thanks, George. I owe you one.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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