Uncertain Reward

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If you've ever introduced a game involving chance in your classroom, dice, a spinner, a coin flip, you've noted the kids are suddenly, intensely interested.  Wild Jack, your Beloved Rascal, exclaims, "Oh!!  Dice!!! Can I roll them?!!!"

The nucleus acumbens, about the size of an almond, deep within the limbic system, secrets dopamine, the brain's pleasure chemical when we engage in enjoyable activities:  playing games, eating, listening to music, exercising, procreating.  Interestingly enough, the nucleus acumbens produces more dopamine when rewards are uncertain, rather than guaranteed.


Every game involves uncertain reward.  We shoot a basketball, move a chess piece, play Monopoly ... the question is, "What will happen?"  It isn't winning or losing that prods the nucleus acumbens to produce dopamine, it's wondering if we will win or lose.  If we weren't addicted to uncertain reward, we would play tennis without a net and basketball hoops would be big as trash cans.  Nothing is more boring than a game that is too easy, that lacks rewarding uncertainty.


Recent research by Dr. Paul Howard-Jones of Bristol University, indicates that students' memory retention is directly related to the degree to which uncertain reward is incorporated in a lesson.


Our two most popular, games are the class motivating Scoreboard and the individual  motivating Super Improver.  To supercharge these year-long entertainments, we urge you to introduce uncertain reward.


Buy a pair of large, foam dice (round cornered ones are best because they roll and roll).  Each day of the week, write on the board one of our five virtues (Glorious Kindness, Leadership, Courage, Invincible Grit, Creativity).


Scoreboard: When you note several class members displaying the day's virtue, stop the train!  Say, "It's Scoreboard Bonus Time!  Jack, you are doing such a great job with today's virtue, pick any two numbers 1-6.  If I roll your number, the whole class wins a Smiley Point!"


Super Improver: When you note one kid making an improvement in the day's virtue, stop the train!  Give her, Darling Maria, a shot at picking two numbers. If Maria wins, she earns a Super Improver Star.


Roll those dice and everyone's nucleus acumbens spouts dopamine.


To make uncertain reward even more deliriously uncertain, follow this pattern.


1. Month One:  Hold up the dice, talk about their mysterious power.  Let kids beg for details.  Mark a day on the calendar in Month Two when the dice will be rolled. Oh!  Can't wait for that day!

2. Month Two:  Use the dice roll on the Scoreboard (one die, you roll it) as a Virtue Bonus.

3. Month Three:  Now add a die roll for a Super Improver Virtue Bonus.

4. Month Four:  Allow kids actually hold a die.  Permit them to rub the foam cube and whisper encouraging words ...  and then you roll it.

5. Month Five:  Promise that on Friday, a remarkably improving kid might not only get to rub the die, speak to it .. but actually roll that baby!

6. Month Six:  Now use two dice!  Lucky kids get to pick four numbers ... fabulous day!  Mom!  I got to pick four numbers!!

7. Month Seven:  Add a spinner.  Where will the big wheel stop?!!


What are you doing?  Linking uncertain reward to moral behavior.

In WBT classrooms across the land, students play the greatest games ever.  The more kids play Scoreboard and Super Improver, the wiser and kinder they become.


The strange sound you hear in Teaching Heaven is Virtue Dice rolling on golden floors.