Monthly Archives: January 2012

Make your kids hate chores even more with HighScore House!

HighScore House is an online startup that offers to ‘gamify’ your children’s chores. They do chores. They get points (‘stars’). They spend those points on rewards (‘eat ice cream for breakfast’, ‘play video games for 30 mins’). I could just leave it at that, but my bloody-mindedness compels me to point out several disturbing things here.

First off, the obvious. Extrinsic motivation (like the clear ‘reward’ structure created here) does not help me to ‘love chores’, as HighScore House suggests. It makes me love rewards, and tells me that chores are obviously horrible detestable things whose only redeemable feature is the reward I will get for doing them. Two problems with this are ‘hedonic acclimation’ that tells us I will need ever greater rewards to motivate me (as Slash wrote, “I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it, so the little got more and more”) and the fact that this type of extrinsic motivation actually extinguishes behaviour when it is removed – so when I finally move out of home and no one gives me an ice cream for cleaning my room, well, that’s the end of room cleaning!

Secondly, I can’t decide whether I am more concerned with the way it reinforces parental power (instead of imbuing children with a sense of responsibility), or the way it almost releives them of having to take responsibility for their own power by allowing them to defer to ‘the system’. “Sorry, little Johnny, no desert for you – computer says no.”

Thirdly, the team behind HighScore House compare their effort to Zynga games (Farmville and the like). Emulating Zynga is definitely a success strategy, but there seems to be a missing piece in how the brilliantly manipulative mechanics of Zynga games translates to HighScore House. Zynga have never been foolish enough to include ‘real world’ activity in their games, they have succeeded through;

  • play based on small tasks that build incremental addiction
  • managing the repetition to play to create habitual behaviour
  • enabling the creation of ‘owned spaces’ that players then give emotional value
  • massively leveraging social networks for propagation and normalisation

Sadly, HighScore House does none of this – their invocation of Zynga appears to be lip service only.

Okay, so the thing is set up by four guys who look like their mum probably still does their washing. And it’s not like they’re an established outfit receiving huge accolades and support. But they have been funded by VCs, which could be taken as a concerning (by utterly unsurprising) sign of the times. On a more positive note, perhaps it speaks to how much opportunity there is in the space for people who actually do it well. We shall see.

Sorry guys, ChoreWars and Farmville both do it better, and HighScore House is not a beautiful melding of the two.

Welcome to WordPress

So, regular readers (yes, I jest) may notice some changes around the place. Over the past week I have been (somewhat tediously) moving my various personal blogs from TypePad into WordPress. This has been a long time coming as I have always been a TypePad fan. In the end, the need to create Exemplar content in WordPress just seemed to make it the obvious thing to do. At the same time, it seemed a good opportunity to integrate the various sparse blogs I have been maintaining into one reasonably healthy one.

Here then, in one easy-to-read volume (and categorised for your clicking pleasure) are…

  • (my personal stuff)
  • (my professional stuff)
  • The Adventures of a Mild Mannered Ad Man in the Land of MTeach, Primary (a journal of my teaching degree)
  • various academic posts over the years, including papers I have written and chapters of the thesis-that-never-was
  • and the beginnings of ‘Evidence Based Dad’, a blog I really did think would have been wonderful, had I found the time

Thanks for reading. Stick around for more stuff to come!

Are you looking for Exemplar Learning?

If you happened to be in the audience this afternoon and are looking for – my apologies. Unfortunately the site is still ‘under construction’.

To make up for the disappointment, why not visit our Exemplar Learning Facebook page, make friends, and that way you’ll be the first to know when we have a proper site up.

Thanks for listening!

– brett

Motivation in Education – after Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive’

After reading Drive by Daniel Pink, I thought it would be worth making some observations about his thoughts on motivation – particularly since he explicitly applies them to education in a short section late in the book (p.174-184).

In essence, Pink has written an excellent book about new thinking on human motivation. He is what my supervisor Gillian would have refered to as a ‘populist synthesiser’. What he does is takes a whole slew of research and theory, and packages it up nice and neatly for non-specialists. Its a term I don’t use in a negative fashion – I think writers like Pink (as well as Po Bronson, Steven Levitt and others) play an important role in mainstreaming learnings that would otherwise remain the domain of academic specialists.

In short, Pink has some recommendations for educators, based on the observation that intrinsic motivation is a powerful force – and that autonomy, mastery and purpose play important roles in creating intrinsic motivation. His recommendations are essentially;

  • give meaningful homework (re. autonomy, mastery and purpose)
  • set aside time to tackle projects that the children decide on
  • have students produce their own report cards
  • don’t link doing chores to receiving pocket money
  • offer praise for effort, in private, when deserved
  • provide the larger context for work being done
  • have students teach other students

I have to say, all that sounds pretty sensible and reasonable to me. Nothing there was a surprise – and I guess I wonder how much of a surprise it would be to most people… and hence perhaps how utterly out of touch I am!

Pink also suggests looking at unschooling, Sudbury, Big Picture Learning, the Tinkering School, Puget Sound, and Montessori. I’m intrigued at the reference to Montessori rather than Reggio Emilia, and wonder if that’s an awareness thing.

One thing that did strike me was a comment in one of the early recommendations, about creating projects driven by student interest (and we are really talking about student-directed learning and project learning… nothing particularly break through!) He suggests we “[s]et aside an entire school day… and ask kids to come up with a problem to solve or a project to tackle.” (p. 176) A day? An entire day? Is that really how bad things are in schools?! One can only hope not in all schools.