Sun Badges and Beyond

DSCN1165Khan Academy is a very interesting and helpful tool for us students. It builds a foundation for your math skills and also is fun at the same time. A few months ago, Khan Academy added badges to motivate younger students to learn. However, the students now have ignored the exercises and videos, only to focus on badges. There are six types of badges, the Meteorite Badge, the Moon Badge, the Earth Badge, the Sun Badge, the Black Hole Badges, and the challenge patches. The Meteorite Badges are common and pretty easy to get. The Moon badges are slightly harder to get, but still are pretty easy. Earth Badges are much harder to get. The Sun Badges are increasingly hard to get, and the Black Hole Badges are pretty much impossible to get. In our class, most of the people already have Meteorite, Moon, and Earth Badges, but only 6 have Sun Badges. Many students corrupt their learning in attempt to gain a badge.

Although it is pretty cool, earning a Sun Badge isn’t everything. It is not as important as understanding the exercise you’re doing. It isn’t the end of the road either. The problem here is that sometimes people rush through the exercise without learning it just to get a badge. The creators of Khan Academy added badges to make it more interesting and motivating, not to make you ignore everything else and just aim for the badges.

Even when you have a Sun Badge, there’s still a lot to do. There are many exercises and videos being created, and we haven’t even done every exercise yet.  Khan Academy will always be challenging.  We look forward to doing Khan Academy next year, even if it isn’t part of our math curriculum.

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11 Responses to “Sun Badges and Beyond”

  1.   Harsh Patel Says:

    I’ve noticed the same within about a week. I introduced Khan to my 5th grade students one week ago and I’m already afraid they are just going for the badges more than going for the actual learning. I’m trying to make an incentive for them to focus on the learning going on but I’m having a hard time coming up with a system. I’m thinking about making it competitive in terms of creating small teams that have to reach their ‘goal’ week by week of their whole group learning a new topic by themselves.

    Any ideas based on what you’ve done so far this year in 5th grade?

    Looking forward to more posts and a response if you get a chance!

  2.   Stephen Says:

    It sounds like refinements need to be made to the badge system or some way offered to opt your class out of the badge system. The fact that they are motivated is a good sign that some kind of successful competitive tracking system could be designed to reinforce educational progress.

  3.   Cheryl Oakes Says:

    We may need to model the “rewards” of the gaming worlds where our students live. They get rewards for nearly every few seconds of surviving in world. I remember this concern when my students played Reader Rabbit and Math Blaster. Smaller increments of rewards that are meaningful and consequences for “bad” answers, just like in world. We are getting closer!

  4.   DanBahamon Says:

    The fact that students are loving the badges is great news. Currently there is the 10 Correct answer streak requirement for passing a module, in theory this proves that the student is proficient at it, so the fact that they are moving right through modules to collect badges seems like great news.
    Now my question would be if these students that concentrate on badges are showing low scores and low increase of learning. If they are there could be two things going on: Either they are cheating with calculators or the 10 streak system needs to be analyzed further to determine if it really represents a proficient student.

    Unconscious learning is definitely not a bad way to learn.

    I would love to see comments with regard to the academic level of the students that concentrate on achievements.

    Also I just wrote a post on my blog about possibly adding other game mechanics, I would love to hear your opinions


  5.   Ian Schreiber Says:

    This outcome doesn’t surprise me at all. Badges are extrinsic motivators, which have been shown time and again to displace the intrinsic motivation of learning. Badges, achievements, gold stars, monetary rewards… these are all essentially ways of saying “I give up, I don’t have a way to make learning fun, so instead I’ll admit to you that learning is boring, but I’ll incentivize you to do it anyway.” And then the natural reaction once you’ve set up a system of rewards, is to game the system by finding the shortest path to the rewards, even if it short-circuits the thing you were trying to incentivize in the first place. Same result in the workplace: try giving incentive bonuses to people for some behavior, you’ll find pretty much every time they will take the path of getting the most bonuses, even if it detracts from the original goal.

    To say that “we added badges and learning became harder, therefore gamification is bad” is a straw man. Badges on their own are poorly-implemented gamification. Yes, if you do something poorly, you will get poor results.

    Think about it – the point of this is to make learning more “game-like” because games are fun, right? When was the last time you played a game where you only found yourself playing to earn an achievement, and not because you actually liked the gameplay itself? Would you rather play a game like that, or a game that is fun to play in and of itself regardless of rewards?

    So, instead of classroom incentives like badges, what you should be doing is figuring out how to make the learning intrinsically enjoyable. What kinds of cool things can you do with the content once you learn it? What interesting choices can students make while going through the learning process? KA’s “tech tree” that lets you choose the math topic to learn next is a good example of this; you are showing this long path, and letting the learner decide where to explore (it is also forgiving: if you get stuck in one content area, there are others you can go to instead so it’s hard to get permanently “stuck” in math this way). But the learning itself is one place where KA’s system is really not very game-like at all; it is the same old skill-and-drill, with the nominal advantage of being able to go back and review the lecture. More interactivity (ability to ask questions or participate as part of the lecture) would be great… a bit impractical for KA itself, but certainly something to be expected from a classroom teacher who uses KA as an out-of-class supplement. What about the questions where you have to get 10 in a row for mastery? How about giving the learner choices during the quiz… partial credit if they can eliminate one or more incorrect answers even if they don’t know the right one, an option to skip one difficult question at their discretion, optional “challenge” questions that the stats show are the most difficult ones in the pool that count for multiple right answers if done correctly, and so on.

    This is all just off the top of my head, mind you. The idea I’m trying to get across here is that it is spurious to say “we added badges, they didn’t work, therefore games are detrimental to classroom learning” because badges are not games.

  6.   Jason Rosoff Says:

    This whole disucussion is based on the false assumption that this blog post means exactly what it says. I spent an hour interviewing students after this post was published and it became clear that the frustration was actually around two things:

    1) Some modules had loop holes that made it trivial to complete them (and by extension earn associated rewards). This is what the *students* who wrote this post referred to as “skipping.” The activities were poorly designed, and even students who weren’t chasing a particular reward were using the loophole. Obviously a problem, and we’ve begun to address these specific exercises as well as some of the activity design paradigms to account for this in the future.

    2) Some students were going back to old modules to chase speed badges (read: automaticity) when they hit a difficult module. In other words, they took a break from math to do…more math. The teacher in this classroom did think this was a problem. The practice isn’t hurting and it gives a feeling of success. The real problem here is that, as Ian suggests, we need to give students more interesting and compelling choices when the start to struggle on other modules to reduce the desire to pick an alternate activity. We’ve spent a bunch of time discussing this, and we’re working on it.

    For more insight on the actual impact of the entire system on learning, check out Kami’s comments here:

  7.   DanBahamon Says:

    I totally agree with Ian and Jason, The goal should be making education relate to real life goals of individual students. The Khan academy has very valuable characteristics of changing the mindset of thinking of class averages and focusing on each student.

    I wrote a bit of a better reply on my blog, this post:

  8.   Tim Seager Says:

    If the students earn a “sun badge” by doing exercises and completing them successfully in a set amount of time for example, what is the problem? Do you not think completing these exercises shows that they have learned the material? If so, it’s not the badge system that needs to be questioned but the exercises themselves. While this is happening, a great deal of interaction/ collaboration is going on with the students. If their friends get a “badge” they will want one and will ask how to accomplish that. I doubt we would be having this discussion if students were fighting to get an “A” on a quiz or test. Maybe our existing grade/ mark system is not as good as the “badge” system!

  9. Says:


    I have a sun badge, and honestly I’ve rushed through modules with-out even really understanding them. Each student should not feel rushed to get a sun badge!

    I totally agree!!

  10.   Florent Berthet Says:

    Morgan, how were you able to rush through modules without really understanding them, exactly? How did you manage to get the 10 streaks?


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