Lucas Gillispie (above) works with teachers in his district to offer semester, full-year, and after school programs to Middle School students using games, or, more precisely Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). He co-authored a full one-year ELA curriculum using World of Warcraft (WoW), maintains a website on courses using Minecraft, and runs a third website to start showcasing curriculum that can be followed using practically any game. This is his fourth year teaching with games.
I recently got a chance to talk to Lucas about using MMORPGs for learning.
Do you incorporate the learning into the games, or do you offer the games as a reward?
Students play, and they learn, and then they learn some more. For example, students might get together in World of Warcraft to form a player guild. This could be across classes or schools. They look at what a guild can do. They come up with what they want this guild to do. They discuss and research what they want their reputation to be, and then they write a mission statement for the guild. They research mission statements to figure out what a good one is, and then they write one. They decide on norms of behavior and rules. And they compare what they’ve done in WoW to what they experience in real life. This lesson combines digital citizenship and writing.
Are there other types of writing, other than mission statements?
Here is an example of creative writing. Students study riddle poems and look at examples. Using what they have learned about World of Warcraft, they create their own riddle poems for that world. They get feedback about the poems from friends before going public with them. They then go into a crowded area in that world to challenge other players to answer their riddle poems and give prizes. In this process they have researched, written, given constructive feedback, and performed for a real virtual audience. Then they reflect on the experience.
In another type of exercise, students look at characters and how they impact the storyline of the world. They are learning to consider characterization and point of view. We’ve had them tweet in character as they were acting in WoW. We have quests where they use argumentative writing. They write fan fiction, writing from their character’s point of view.
We’ve had them write reports on books like The Hobbit, relating their quests in WoW to the hero journey, and then relate those to their real world experiences as well.
All these lessons are available on our website.
Do you recommend World of Warcraft to other schools?
We’ve had about 20 schools use our curriculum, and I am often asked to speak. The problem with WoW is the cost. It costs $15 per month per student.
That’s one of the reasons we tried Minecraft. Minecraft is like a virtual world made of an infinite supply of Legos. Just think of the lessons you could create out of that!
Students can design buildings. They can design roller coasters and study forces in motion, like determining where the potential or kinetic energy would be highest. They can recreate scenes from literature. We’ve had students recreate the arena from the Hunger Games, replay some of the scenes, and then reflect on what they created and what happened.
We’ve had elementary students research landmarks and attractions, recreate them, create virtual tours, and then post them on Youtube.
We’ve had students look at the human impact on ecology, like what happens to wildlife when you deforest an area, or how could they build environments that supported wildlife by counting the animals after making structures. Then they related what they learned to events that happened in the real world.
What about other games?
We are building the Story and Game Academy website to show that if you have access to any gaming platform, you have access to learning.
What kind of results do you see?
There have been lots of comments from other teachers and parents. All of the students showed growth, although we have an admittedly small sample size.
A lot of what students learn doesn’t fit into standardized testing. In addition to math, ELA, science, or other academic subjects, students are also learning soft skills like solving fuzzy problems where the issues are not clearly defined, leadership, conflict resolution, and working as part of a team to accomplish a group goal.
Teachers play along with the students, and you always have to be ready with teachable moments when they happen.
How would a school or teacher get started?
I have posted a good overview of games and learning in the classroom on SlideShare.
On the Minecraft in School Wiki, we have instructions on setting up Minecraft for a school, with Math, Science, and ELA lessons and ideas, and we have links to other good resources to get started.
We are also working on creating PD, and I am often asked to speak at conferences.
Students having fun while learning? What a concept.