Aviles believes gamification — adding game elements to a non-game situation — can help bridge the achievement gap in education. His use of gamification at the national level is turning heads at technology and curriculum publishing companies, which have tapped him to help develop real-world, interactive game simulations. And his techniques are part of a study at the University of North Carolina and Iowa State University. It even garnered him a recent invitation to the White House Games for Learning Summit.
Aviles, who is largely self-taught when it comes to technology, launched his teaching career at a Title I high school in New Jersey.
Aviles turned to gamification, specifically incorporating video game elements, because he saw it as an opportunity to engage a variety of demographics. The average African-American student plays video games 20 minutes longer each day than white students, and Hispanic students play for 10 minutes longer. “The poorer the student, the more video games they play,” Aviles says. Aviles turned his class into a video game to try to spur interest in students who had become disengaged and to close the divergence in education among low-income and minority students.
Aviles created “Quests” — assignments based on Bloom’s Taxonomy — to allow students to work at their own pace while applying the information in new ways and around their own interests. The results were so effective, he modeled all of his classrooms this way.
He says, “I had a group of girls who were obsessed with fashion, so I made them their own Quest to recreate fashions from the Victorian era of Edgar Allen Poe. It gave the kids ownership over their work.” Other students operated a video game based on the works of Ayn Rand — although they didn’t know it at first. “We talked about how much the individual owes society, and they were excited to have that conversation. When I revealed the game was based on ’Atlas Shrugged,' they were blown away,”
Aviles says. “I owe it to these kids to teach them learning is everywhere and lifelong.”
After leaving the classroom, Aviles began serving as the edtech coach at Fair Haven School District, unveiling “Innovation Labs,” where learning is conducted largely through the video game Minecraft. Students use unique tools to modify the Minecraft experience with code and create objects with 3-D printers, which he hopes will lead them to a greater interest in STEM learning. He is also introducing students to a new credit card-sized device that enables them to write code to create music, poetry, door sensors, weather stations and even a birdhouse that will tweet out pictures when a bird enters it. “I’ve always had a passion for technology. When you really know how to use it as a teacher, you can not only create amazing workflows that make your life easier, but you can also deliver a personalized learning experience to every student that can transform their lives. It’s a win-win.”