Grant Proposal

Funder: Charles Koch Foundation
Category: K12 Research

Grant Description

We are especially interested in research that:

  • Explores new approaches to next-generation accountability, including consideration of multiple measures for assessing performance.
  • Analyzes pathways that increase education options to best meet the individual needs of diverse students.
  • Examines teacher training and incentive structures that support effective practice and gives teachers access to diverse employment opportunities and the flexibility to best meet students’ needs.
  • Studies K-12 innovations happening outside of traditional schooling from education start-ups and other education delivery trends to homeschooling and micro-schools that offer new opportunities for individualized education.
  • Examines student-based funding, school finance reform, and spending transparency.
  • Assesses long-term debt obligations in the current K-12 system and other financial barriers to student success.
  • Evaluates the economic, environmental, and social impact that open educational opportunities have on their communities.

Grant Criteria

A one-to-two-page abstract of the project on behalf of your university, college, think tank, or other 501(c)(3) organization. The abstract should provide sufficient detail for reviewers to assess the nature and feasibility of the idea.*

A CV or résumé.*
A brief, itemized budget.*

Final projects should be original and meet the highest standards of their field, and must not have been previously published.

*Items are required in application.

Abstract: Quantifying The Impact of Gamification on the Development of Grit


Recent research on classroom engagement has shown that students throughout the United States suffer a significant and alarming decline when they enter middle school, with student interest and engagement continuing to fall until graduation. In fact, according to a 2017 Gallup poll of more than 3,000 different schools across the country, 74 percent of fifth graders feel engaged by school, while only 32 percent of high school juniors feel the same way (Calderon & Lu, 2017). To overcome this challenge, many teachers have adopted new and unorthodox strategies to keep their students engaged, such as incorporating game elements into the classroom. This pedagogical strategy is called gamification, and educators who use this technique believe it motivates their students by harnessing their enthusiasm for playing games and by providing a tangible means for students to track their own progress (Filsecker & Hickey, 2013; Deterding, Dixon, Khaled, & Nacke, 2011). Unfortunately, while preliminary research on gamification has demonstrated considerable promise for engagement and content acquisition, there has been little to no research regarding its effect on other dimensions of childhood development (Chapman, Rich, 2018). This is a significant knowledge gap because decades of research on teaching and learning have advised against relying on extrinsic motivators, but gamification functions by expanding the external reward system. Thus, if bringing gamification into the classroom makes routine tasks more enjoyable, will it then become harder for students to persevere when tasks become difficult? To date, no studies have specifically addressed this question, which means there is a critical need for research on gamification that goes beyond the traditional measures of content acquisition and engagement to directly identify its impact on the development of grit.

To meet this need, the overall goal of this project is to quantify the relationship between pedagogical gamification strategies and the development of grit in middle school students. Grit is a relatively new cognitive concept that describes the ongoing demonstration of passion and perseverance toward a goal despite significant obstacles and distractions. We have decided to focus on this dimension of educational development because studies have identified grit as one of the most reliable predictors of success in both college and later in life (Duckworth, Quinn, 2009). We, likewise, have chosen to study middle school because this is the critical stage at which classroom engagement in students in the U.S. begins to decline. (Calderon & Lu, 2017). Thus, to accomplish the overall goal of this proposal, we will pursue the following research objectives.

  1. Incorporate pedagogical gamification strategies into a 6th grade class curriculum.

We will train 6th grade teachers at Waverly Middle School to use the commercial gamification program, Classcraft, and provide support as they incorporate gamification into their classes.

  1. Evaluate the change in grit score for the 6th grade students over the course of a school year. 

We will conduct a pre- and post-intervention Short Grit Scale survey for all participating students and analyze the data to determine how ‘gamifying’ classes influenced students’ development of grit over the course of one school year.

Upon completion of the proposed research activities, we will have gained critical data for understanding the relationship between gamification and the development of grit in middle school students. This work is significant because gamification is an innovative and potentially landscape-altering methodology for reengaging upper level students in the education process, but we do not fully understand its overall impact. If our research shows that there is a positive correlation between gamification and the development of grit, it could lead to the wider implementation of gamification strategies and a corresponding increase in student engagement. In contrast, if this project finds a negative correlation between gamification and the development of grit, then teachers and administrators will better understand the consequences and drawbacks of gamification when making decisions about incorporating this technique into their curriculum. For this reason, after analyzing the data, we will compile and submit our results for publication in the Journal of Research for Innovative Teaching & Learning. We will also propose a poster presentation for the International Conference on Innovative Research in Education to broadly disseminate our results with the wider academic community. On a more local level, and to more directly benefit the target population of this research, we will hold meetings with the superintendents of Waverly Public Schools and Lincoln Public Schools to inform them of our findings and help understand the impact that gamification might have if implemented in their districts.

We will be using Classcraft for this project. Classcraft is a sophisticated, commercial software designed to shift the classroom experience into the form of a role playing game that utilizes the most engaging elements of games in an educational context. It easily integrates with existing curriculum, and fosters teamwork and collaboration. While other commercial gamification systems are available, Classcraft is unique in the way it introduces role playing to the classroom. Waverly Middle School is a part of School District 145, which serves several small communities across four counties within a 300 square mile range. School District 145 is a Class III district and enrolls 1,920 students in grades K-12 (Waverly School District 145, 2020). There are approximately 464 students enrolled in the middle school with a student to teacher ratio of 16:1. Of those students, 94.4% are Caucasian, .9% are African American, .4% are Asian, 2.9% are Hispanic, .4% are American Indian or Alaskan, and .9% are multiracial.  65% of the sixth grade students are proficient in math and 84% are proficient in language arts. Math proficiency of the sixth grade students is close to 10% lower than that of the rest of the school. Language arts proficiency is comparable.

We will begin by providing training volunteers from the 6th grade teachers at Waverly Middle School in Waverly, Nebraska as to how Classcraft works with students and how they can translate their lesson plans into quests. We will divide the sixth-grade middle school classes into two groups; one to serve as a control group and the other to take part in a gamified classroom. Teachers who are required to learn and administer the Classcraft system will be provided a stipend to compensate for the training and the extra time they will be spending administering their classes. 

At the beginning of the school year, we will prepare a pre-intervention Short Grit Scale survey to obtain starting point data. The short grit scale was developed by Angela Duckworth, the psychologist who first identified grit as a meaningful metric, as a means of measuring perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Duckworth validated the survey through a series of studies involving a variety of subjects from West Point academy students to national spelling bee participants to a sampling of normal adolescents. According to her study, individuals who scored higher on the grit test proved to be more successful (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009). Both the control classes and the gamified classes will take the Short Grit Scale survey on the first day before the students are introduced to Classcraft

After the survey is administered, the students in the non-gamified group will proceed to learn in a traditional classroom setting while the students in the gamified group will be introduced to Classcraft.  Of the 160 6th grade students at Waverly, about 80 will experience a gamified classroom. Students will choose a character type such as warrior or healer, will create an individual avatar, and will be assigned to a guild or team. Guilds will create a group identity and will work together to accomplish guild level goals. At the end of the school year, we will administer the Short Grit Scale post-intervention survey to students from both groups. We will look at the data and determine whether grit scores changed for any of the students. We will aggregate the scores and compare data from the gamified classroom with data from the non-gamified classroom to identify any statistically significant trends. Specifically we will be establishing which group realized the greatest gains from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. 


Calderon, V., & Lu, M. (2017, June 1). Student Enthusiasm Falls as High School Graduation Nears. Retrieved from Gallup:

Chapman, J. R., & Rich, P. J. (2018). Does educational gamification improve students’ motivation? If so, what game elements work best? Journal of Education for Business, 315-322.

Classcraft. (2019). Retrieved from Classcraft Studios Inc. :

Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011). Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification” . MindTrek ’11.

Duckworth, A., & Quinn, P. (2009). Development and Validation of the Short Grit Scale (Grit–S). Journal of Personality Assessment, 166-174.

Filsecker, M., & Hickey, D. T. (2013). A Multilevel Analysis of the Effects of External Rewards on Elementary Studets’ Motivation, Engagement and Learning in an Educational Game. Computers and Education, 136-149.

Waverly School District 145. (2020). School District 145 Waverly. Retrieved from District 145: