In fact, these activities are often the only ones that keep kids there long enough to graduate. Over the past few decades, many schools have embraced national and even international academic competitions such as the National Geographic Bee, the Scripps National Spelling Bee, MATHCOUNTS, National History Day, and Odyssey of the Mind, among others. But even though several of these competitions boast thousands or even millions of participants—the spelling bee claims that upward of 10 million children participate each year—schools have rarely used academic competition to improve instruction for more than just a few top students, in essence replicating the same old academic bell curve. Coleman would not be pleased.
Shawn Young, founder of Classcraft, uses the game in his grade 11 physics class. Classcraft is a peer-driven classroom learning and management system that resembles a low-tech, sword-and-sorcery video game.

The need for such a new culture is huge: Indiana University’s High School Survey of Student Engagement has found, for instance, that 65 percent of students report being bored “at least every day in class.” Sixteen percent—nearly one in six students—are bored in every class.

Shawn Young, a 32-year-old Canadian physics teacher, has created a peer-driven classroom learning and management system, dubbed Classcraft, that resembles a low-tech, sword-and-sorcery video game. In it, students work in teams to meet the basic demands of school—showing up on time, working diligently, completing homework, behaving well in class, and encouraging each other to do the same—to earn “experience” and “health” points. These points help a small group, or “guild,” of classmates prosper in the game. The system, Young said, essentially replaces letter grades.