Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

First Week

I just finished my first week as Technology Integration Specialist at Worcester Academy. My preliminary verdict? I’ve never been this happy at any job before. I have been working on SMART Board training and Wikispaces training for faculty, learning how to use Schoology (a great tool that is overshadowed by big competitors Moodle and Blackboard), building LEGO robots, and just generally becoming acclimated to the new environment.

I’m really excited about the role I will be playing in the school. In addition to my technology integration duties, I will also teach a middle school class on digital citizenship and a tenth grade English class, and I will co-sponsor the school’s LEGO Robotics club for middle schoolers. I am super excited about the LEGO Robotics club, especially after one of my new buddies from Carolina Day School reached out to me via Twitter to suggest a collaboration between our two schools.

Besides having colleagues who are excited about technology and are doing exciting things with technology integration in an environment that encourages and requires technology integration, I also have a variety of tools at my disposal. I have never been able to have access to all the tools—including professional development—that I need to do my job. That may sound like an astonishing statement, but most educators can completely relate to it. In fact, that’s the most overwhelming part: not knowing what to use.

I haven’t even taken time yet to process my first ISTE experience on this blog, but that will be forthcoming. I’m really excited about the year ahead. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, moving my family so far away, particularly when my children are on the autism spectrum and don’t like change. They had no memories of ever living in any other house than the one we lived in. They have adjusted surprisingly well, and I think once school starts, they will be happy. I like New England, too. Moving can be such a stressful event, and our move didn’t go as smoothly as we’d have liked. (Word of caution: Don’t hire Summit Van Lines to move your things. They gave us a low initial quote, but turned out not to be terribly cheap in the end, AND they took two weeks to deliver our stuff. I was not happy with them at all. They were almost impossible to communicate with, in addition to the other issues. Steer clear!)

In all, it’s looking like a very good change, and I’m really happy.

RPG’s in Education

This morning I was thinking about an activity my 7th grade social studies teacher assigned called the Redwood Controversy. My classmates and I were each given different roles. In order to understand how great this assignment was, I need to preface my description of the activity and my role in it by explaining I was easily the most liberal child in my class. In our class election, I was the lone student who voted for Walter Mondale. I remember going with my parents to the polls, begging them not to vote for Ronald Reagan (I knew they planned to). I remember desperately trying to change their minds. The Redwood Controversy (look: you can buy it here) is essentially an RPG, or role-playing game, in which students are given roles in a senate hearing about a logging company wanting to begin logging on protected forest land. I was outraged. How could a company want to do that? Of course they were in the wrong. Then Ms. Snyder assigned me my role: I was to be the logging company’s attorney. It was a big role. I had to research my position and answer my senator classmates’ questions. I knew the case wasn’t going my way, but as the game progressed, I wanted to win. Even though I didn’t agree with my own position, I was increasingly frustrated by my classmates’ inability to see how reasonable my arguments were.

Well, I didn’t win. The environmentalists won the day in my class. Some few days later, I was called to the assistant principal’s office while I was once again in Ms. Snyder’s class. I was terrified. I had never been called to an administrator’s office for any reason. I couldn’t imagine what I had done. My fear must have shown on my face because I remember he said to me, “I’ll bet you’re wondering what you did.” He reassured me that I was not in trouble. He had a certificate in his hand and he read it to me, presented it to me, and congratulated me. Ms. Snyder had given me an award for my performance in the Redwood Controversy debate. When I went back to class, I remember she caught my eye and gave me a sort of smile. Being recognized for my hard work felt good. I still have the certificate somewhere, and naturally, when I looked for it to include the exact wording here in this post, I couldn’t find it, but I remember Ms. Snyder wrote that I defended my position well without becoming overwhelmed. This learning experience stands out in my mind today as one of my best. I had to think about my arguments and do research about my position. I had to look at an issue from a point of view that differed from my own, which was actually the most important part of the learning experience for me. Taking on a role, especially one I wouldn’t have chosen, taught me a great deal about the environmental issue at hand. It was early exposure to bias, too: I remember seeing some of the materials my classmates had and realizing that the information was presented to them in a much different light in their materials than it was in mine.

My point in bringing it up again (because I’ve written about it before) is that it is easily one of the most memorable learning experiences of my K-12 education. I think I learned more about environmental issues and controversy in that one assignment than I did in the rest of my education experiences, even in college. I still remember it quite clearly. Admittedly I don’t haven’t done any research to back this up, but I am wondering if role-playing gives students an active way to learn that will not only make students learn better but also personalize learning. Any readers have similar experiences with RPG’s? I do intend to see if I can find some research to back up this assumption, and I am sure I’m not the first person to examine the question of how good RPG’s might be for education. After all, I think a lot of us remember playing Oregon Trail in order to learn about what westward expansion was really like for pioneers. However, I haven’t noticed it being used a lot. My current school has Mock Trial, and I know other schools do Model U.N., but I haven’t personally witnessed (or experienced) a lot of teachers harnessing the power of RPG’s, whether computer games or physical games, to teach students. One time in which I used an RPG to great effect was a Thoreau lesson I found on Discovery’s website.

I’m wondering if introducing students to reenactment might not be a great way to pique students’ interest, too. Historical reenactors, such as Civil War Reenactors and Society for Creative Anachronism members, are often viewed as huge history buffs. They read everything they can get their hands on about the time they reenact, but they reach a certain point at which they really want to live it, not just read and learn about it. Rather than being the endpoint of serious historical interest, reenactment could be the gateway for learning. Have any readers taken students to reenactments, had students participate in reenactments, or invited reenactors to school?

Many long-time readers know I have participated in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute. It took place the week after school let out, and I have never wanted to get back into the classroom so badly the week after school let out as I did that week. I immediately wanted to take everything I had learned back into the classroom. Essentially, drama, RPG’s, and reenactment have many similarities and involve many of the same kinds of thinking skills, decisions, and learning experiences.

I can’t help but think we really need to be doing more with RPG’s in education. Do any of you have resources you can point me toward? Interested in joining me on this research excursion? Might be a good project for a group wiki on RPG’s in education, which could be a collection of ideas, resources, and research citations (wish educational research wasn’t so often behind a paywall).

Are you in?