Some days when Steve Isaacs’ students walk into his classroom, they might have to deal with an earthquake that costs them health points. Other days, he might start with a quiz where correct answers defeat a green-furred raccoon-looking beast called a “wazler.”
Isaacs’ unusual class structure comes courtesy of Classcraft, a company based in New York and Sherbrooke, Quebec, that helps educators teach teamwork, good behavior and their regular classroom lessons through the guise of a school-yearlong fantasy game.
Helping Classcraft on its own adventure to reach more schools is a $7.5 million Series A funding round. Investissement Quebec led the round with participation from Whitecap Venture Partners, Brightspark Ventures and MaRS Catalyst Fund. The money will go toward sales efforts, improved storytelling and research and development. The company has raised a total of $11 million to date.
Isaacs teaches a video game design course, which seems ideal for trying out Classcraft’s classroom management platform, which can turn classes into a live action video game or a scholastic version of Dungeons and Dragons. But he says colleagues have also adapted the platform for other traditional subjects including science and social studies.
With Classcraft, students design their own fantastical characters, including mages and warriors, and embark on challenges that often require collaboration and teamwork. Educators design lesson plans as quests, with a digital map that marks progress points throughout the lesson.
The Classcraft dashboard.
Quest objectives include reading chapters in the textbook, and students can complete formative assessments in the form of “battles.” Students earn rewards for turning assignments in on time, like “experience points” toward leveling up their characters.
“It becomes relevant to them when you turn your class into a game,” says Isaacs, a 50-year-old teacher at William Annin Middle School and Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, N.J. “You’re taking out all the sterile school stuff.”
The company offers monthly new storylines and scenarios educators can use to engage students in class. In the first “episode,” which Classcraft released in April, students learn about the value of relationships through a story about about tribes in search of a mystery tower’s secrets.
Classcraft’s website also features a marketplace of authored lessons by teachers as examples of ways to use the platform. Educators have uploaded quests to teach history, art and even taxes and budgeting. A dashboard allows educators to see behavioral and academic analytics for students based on data collected from classroom activities.
A free version of the platform is available with basic classroom management tools. Additional features, including the formative assessments and analytics on absenteeism and behavior, are available with a paid version that starting Oct. 1 increases to $120 a teacher a year.
This map shows students' progress through the course, with lessons turned into quests fulfilled in exchange for points toward leveling up characters.
The company is a family affair, co-founded by brothers Shawn and Devin Young and their father, Lauren, the company’s chief financial officer. They would play adventure video games like the “Legend of Zelda” and “Myst” series.
School was a difficult time for both brothers. Devin Young, the older brother at 39 and Classcraft’s president, says he had trouble fitting in. Shawn Young, Classcraft’s CEO, recalls taking a six-week absence his senior year of high school due to boredom and feeling disengaged.
While the elder brother became a freelance creative director, Shawn Young worked as a teacher at a Catholic school in Sherbrooke for about nine years, determined to give students a better school experience than that from his own teachers growing up.
“There was some arrogance,” says Shawn Young, 36. “I definitely thought I could do better.” He programmed on the side, working with his brother on creative projects for clients like Chanel.
As a teacher, he sought ways to turn his class into a game, developing the foundations of Classcraft, founded in 2013. Today, the company has 50 full-time employees. It claims to have about six million users across 160 countries and 11 languages.
The company’s growth comes at a time when video games have become part of the cultural zeitgeist, the brothers say, in a way that’s different from when the puzzles and fighting games they played with their father.
Over 250 million people play the shooting game “Fortnite,” with dance moves from the game seen at weddings and mimicked by professional athletes. And “Minecraft” has become a hit in classrooms.
For Isaacs, the New Jersey video game design teacher, this is the first year he’s expanded use of the platform into high school classes in addition to his eighth grade classes. He says he likes that students can learn ahead or at their own pace through the Classcraft platform, even with all the classwide activities.
While most students can pick up the video game nomenclature used in Classcraft, parents sometimes need a hand. “My grading system is based on leveling up,” he says. “Once in a while, I have to re-explain experience points. Then they get it.”