In my role in the philanthropy team at Salesforce, we’ve leveraged the power of purpose-based and game-based learning to create a free and open-source gamified curriculum for educators and volunteers: Age of Makers. It aims to empower youth from middle to high schools to use new skills, such as coding, 3D printing, digital literacy, and music production, to positively impact the world around them. In this article, I would like to share the benefits of these approaches to creating change-maker students, and look at how you can try both the game and the approaches out with your learners.
The traditional approach to education starts by trying to teach students specific skills, without necessarily showing them why they should care about acquiring them. Without context, students often lack the intrinsic motivation they need to grasp a topic deeply. Edtech entrepreneur Lee LeFever offers an alternative to this approach in his book The Art of Explanation, describing how understanding can be seen as a balance between the ‘how’ and the ‘why’:
The less you understand about a topic, the more you need context to understand why it matters
As you start understanding the topic better, you can start digging deeper and look more precisely at how it works
Purpose-based learning flips the traditional education system’s paradigm by starting with the ‘why’. The Age of Makers game and its programmes are built on these principles. The game starts by introducing some of the world’s biggest problems, using powerful and simple frameworks such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Students then choose a specific topic they want to address. Only then do they start learning new skills in order to solve the problems they care about. As a result, students have agency in their learning and they see a direct connection to why they are learning specific information and skills.
For example, one group of students 3D- printed boat prototypes designed to collect and recycle the ocean’s trash. Another student produced a song denouncing systemic racism. Lars Blok, a teacher in the Netherlands, explained how this benefitted his students: “It was inspiring to see the students become more confident while finding their own voice.”
On top of a purpose-based approach, Age of Makers incorporates gamification principles. Gamification creates similar experiences to the sense of challenge, thrill, and accomplishment people feel when playing games, to motivate and engage users. It is the application of game-design elements and principles, such as scoring points, appearing on a leader board, and earning badges (See The Age of Makers Gamification Principles below).
The game itself is only part of the equation, though. Programmes are built around it so that educators can run multi-week activations locally, while partnering with volunteers wherever possible. These programmes have been used by 600 students all around the world, from Paris to Sydney passing by San Francisco, with students ranging from middle to high school.
What about you — are you already using games in your teaching as a force for change? Are you empowering your students to become change-makers?
The Age of Makers Gamification Principles
One challenge for students is not a lack of places to learn and upskill independently, but rather the difficulty in connecting topics together in a meaningful way.
The Age of Makers game solves this challenge by providing a Learning Map: a visual way to see the different topics at hand and how they all relate to each other. Try to create your own maps to guide your students through their learning. It could be as simple as something printed out on paper or on a slide.
Journeys can be seen as adventures that students go on. In Age of Makers, each Journey follows a specific pedagogic order. After finding a challenge they want to solve in their communities, students teach themselves different skills that they’ll use to build a concrete solution. Finally, students showcase their solutions in front of an audience, where they shift from being consumers to creators.
It’s important to phase how much you share with your students at each step of their learning journey, to avoid overloading them. In the game, we’ve built in the concept of Ages. At each Age, students see only the part of the map that’s relevant to how far they are in the game. At first, only a very small part of the map, with just a few Quests, is visible. As students complete Quests and straighten out their ‘why’, they reach new Ages, and more of the map gets visible each time, showing them more of the ‘how’.
To make learning more gradual, it’s best to break it down into bite-sized learning adventures for each Journey. In Age of Makers we call these Quests, and they can take different forms, from a video to an interactive showcase with examples to inspire the students. The game can embed a guide on top of any external website (e.g. MakeCode, BandLab, Tinkercad, etc.), so as an educator, the amount of content that can be leveraged through the game is pretty much endless.
Whether it’s in the classroom or after school, you can run an Age of Makers programme locally and for free, with in-depth guidance from our online guide.
The game is open source, so you can contribute by coding it, translating content, or envisioning a new curriculum connecting new goals to new topics like AI or painting.