Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ninjas: Undeniably Awesome. But Student Motivational Tool?

Tomorrow morning will be my first day with my students. When they walk into the room, this is one of the things they'll see:


Yep. A section of blank wall that I have dubbed "The Ninja Board."

What is it?

That's what my students are inevitably going to ask me. And I'm not going to tell them.

But I'll tell you: It's a type of "achievement" system, similar to what one might find in video games. In fact, I'm pretty much ripping this off of the clan rank system from Final Fantasy XII, which I played in my spare time this summer.

The idea is simple: Students do things in class that earn them "ninja points." This can be anything: Completing assignments, demonstrating knowledge at a certain threshold of rigor, developing an interesting project, etc. Lots of things can earn "ninja points." Enough ninja points, along with completing other certain tasks, will allow students to gain a ninja rank ("Level 1 Ninja," "Apprentice Ninja," "Super-Awesome Math Ninja," etc.). Their ranks, in turn, will be displayed alongside their names on the ninja board.

I'm purposely not going to tell my students what they can do to earn ninja points or ranks. I want them to discover that on their own. They'll have no idea what's up until the first student earns ninja points and gets their name put on the board, with a point tally and a rank.

Then everyone will start to get it. And chances are they'll want a piece of the glory, too.

I want them to be curious about what they can do in class to earn ninja points, and then try to figure out on their own what those things are. When a student does do something that earns ninja points, or when a student does gain a rank, the knowledge of how they did so will be published to the ninja board. So they'll slowly learn how to get ninja points and ninja ranks as they go along.

Is it cheesy? Yes.

Is it completely silly? Of course.

But what if my students buy into it?

It's possible some really cool stuff could happen as a result.

I'm hoping to see increased student motivation in different areas of our class. I'm trying many new things this year -- discussion board posts, journal prompts, student blogging, and so forth -- and I would love to see my students get really creative and really deep with these things. The Ninja Board might help facilitate this. Like I said, there are many things that could earn ninja points. Perhaps a particularly thoughtful discussion post; a journal entry where the student talks about a real learning breakthrough they had; or a voluntarily-written blog post on a really cool topic.

Here's what I think might be the real beauty of it: I honestly haven't given much thought to what specifically can earn ninja points. But I'm willing to bet that my students will try out a bunch of different things, or ask me about different ways to earn ninja points. And some of what they try might actually be pretty cool, thus legitimately worthy of ninja points.

In other words, the students themselves will determine what earns ninja points, not me.

So it starts tomorrow, and we're going to see how it goes. It could fall flat on its face. It could be fun for a while and then get old. Or, it could be really super-cool and lead to some unexpected (and pleasant) results.

"Why ninjas?" you might ask.

I'll tell you why: because they're totally sweet.

Related: Ninja Board Update: Week 1


  1. Interesting idea. So what did your students say about it today?

  2. Actually, I was extremely surprised to find that nobody said anything about it. The first student that actually did ask about it was someone who I don't even have for class -- he just came by to ask me about Anime Club, then saw the wall and asked, "What's the Ninja Board?" I had to laugh. :)

    I imagine it will get some notice tomorrow. Three students unknowingly earned ninja points today, and their names will be on the board tomorrow.

  3. i really like this idea, but have some questions about implementation. how do you keep track so that you don't accidentally skew ninja points to big personalities and leave invisible students out? and once you give ninja points for something, do you feel obligated to always notice it?

    again i really like this idea. i've wanted to do something like this for a while and these are the questions that always hold me up.

  4. Good questions. I'm definitely trying to stay cognizant of those students who would be otherwise "invisible" in something like this. I think I'm doing myself a favor by being incredibly secretive and vague about how to get points and gain ranks; it allows me to find ways to give points to those particular students. (For instance, a student of mine who is usually very quiet wrote a really great discussion post, so she got a ninja point for "Model Discussion Post.")

    Giving ninja points for something and feeling obligated to always notice it is something I've thought about too. I certainly think I should have a small handful of these things, but you're right -- I don't want to have to be keeping track of whether or not students are doing fifty different things to get points. I'm hoping to circumvent this by awarding a bunch of "one time" achievements (such as "first student to ask about the ninja board," or "first student to follow Mr. B on Twitter," and so on).

    I think that I made a good move to not establish any public rules or requirements. It allows me to be flexible with the system. (Although, if the students suspect I'm just making things up as I go along, I could be in danger of losing their buy-in.)

    I'd been wanting to try something like this for a while, too. I have absolutely no idea how it will go. It could end up being a huge flop and I end up abandoning it after the first few weeks. It could be totally fun and carry on for months. We'll see!

  5. I wish I had 1/3 of your creativity.

    1. I wouldn't call it "creativity" yet. Maybe "childish frivolity." :)

  6. Does/can the ninja board in any way impact the students' grades? I think it's a really awesome idea and definitely want to hear how it's going throughout the year!

    1. Well, it's definitely not FOR a grade, and I can't really say yet what impact it will have on grades, if any. I've been finding this week that the Ninja Board might be even better suited as a tool for promoting positive classroom culture.

      So far, students have gotten ninja points for acts such as "awesome Critical Friends leadership," "helping a new student get acquainted with the school," "being a good leader in Advisory," and so forth. But they've also gotten points for fun little things like "First to ask about the Ninja Board," "First to call Mr. B 'evil'," "Ruthless honesty," and so forth.

      I had quite a few students asking me questions about what the Ninja Board is today. I've offered no explanation whatsoever. It's grand fun so far. :)

  7. Jeff,

    I love the idea of the ninja board. This is awesome. Here's my issue (as mentioned in my blog post this morning ;) ):

    I have two classrooms this year. Do I keep a ninja board only in my main classroom for all students? Do I beg for wall space in the other room, and if so, then do I need a ninja board for each specific class?

    I'm leaning towards just having two boards and then, when they finally bug me about it enough, point out that there exists another board in another classroom that they can compare themselves with.

    Thanks for the great idea (and, I can't help myself: Go Blue!).

  8. Love it! I actually have a Math Ninja wall, but it's set up for students who get As on tests and quizzes. I found cool little ninjas online that I printed and will laminate (speaking of which, I should get on that- first test this week!). I will then have the students write their name on the ninja and why they earned such a lofty status and stick it to the wall. Far more simple than your ninja stasuses, but they're all ninjas! :)

    1. That's totally awesome!! I completely agree, they're all ninjas. :)

  9. So... we're near the end. How'd it go?