Friday, July 26, 2013

Strategy Guide: LEGO English Class

Question: How do we turn an English class into a video game?
Answer: Simple. Turn everything and everyone in the classroom into LEGO pieces and characters.

Just kidding. (That would be pretty awesome though)

In my technology in education class, we were presented with a problem where we had to try to figure out how to design a curriculum of a classroom as a video game. The reason behind this, in short, is that many students find video games engaging but school not so much. So how can we make an English class more like a video game, but at the same time make sure we're meeting the required standards for a curriculum? How do we make a game similar to Call of Duty and at the same time incorporate Hamlet?

I have several suggestions, but keep in mind that I'm a math major and I don't have much knowledge besides from my own personal experience about the requirements or standards that are required in an English class. First, for each book or story you decide to teach, have them turn it into a video game. Make them create characters assigning them strengths and weaknesses, special abilities, armor, weapons, tools, and background stories. Have students create levels for the game, different stages, environments, plots, and even dialogue. Tell students to create a walkthrough or make a strategy guide for the game. This will enable students to approach books and stories in a creative way appealing towards the interests of students.

Second, have students take on personalities or roles that are present within the game. At the beginning of the term, have students select from the options like hero, enemy, support or role character, victim, etc. Whenever a new topic arises in the course, each student will approach that topic from the perspective of their chosen role. I'm not really sure about the specifics of how they might achieve this or how a teacher might implement this, but it would be interesting to see the outcomes.

Third, which would be more of an activity than a transformation of an entire curriculum would be to have students select a book or story, and compare it to a video game of their choice. Have them find similarities between the characters, plots, settings, etc. You can also have the students give their opinions on how to take the strengths of the stories and improve the video game or vice versa.

My last suggestion is for the entire transformation of an class into a video game. Make each topic a level. Assign literature as weapons of choice that you unlock as you proceed further throughout the "game" aka the course. You begin with the texts that are more dull and boring to students as the beginning weapons and as students complete "achievements" aka assignments or homework, they can unlock the more exciting material or unlock new abilities aka class projects that are specialized and are seen to be more fun and exciting. Sorry, I'm assigning random terms from video games to school terms, but you get the general idea. You could have students choose their route or path at the beginning of the course, and have them proceed along that route with all paths leading to the same goal at the end. You can add other aspects from video games like saves or checkpoints where students can return to these points if they "die" aka fail a test or do poorly on an assignment. Each level will increase in difficulty as each stage is completed, and each level will provide new challenges.

If you read my previous post, you would agree that I was one of those students who would've benefited if school was a video game. During a field trip with the middle school students we're working with, we had the opportunity to learn about astronomy from a real astronomer. After the small lecture, I asked a student if he was interested in becoming an astronomer. The conversation when something like this:

Me: "So what do you think about astronomy?"
Student: "It's okay."
Me: "Do you have any interest in becoming an astronomer?"
Student: "Nope!"
Me: "Why not?"
Student: "Because you have to study to become an astronomer."

I had an earlier discussion with this student about where he saw himself in 10 years and he said college. After I asked him what he planned on studying, he replied that he wasn't going to study but instead, he was going to college to play basketball. Back to the conversation above:

Me: "Do you know basketball players have to study?"
Student: "No they don't. What do they have to study? You just catch the ball and shoot."
Me: "Professional players watch and study film."
Student: "That's not studying, that's watching television."
Me: "If I put a science program on the television, is that not studying? Ever watch Magic School Bus?"
Student: "Hmm... I never thought of it like that."

I then went on to describe how the best professional basketball players study the game, plays, player and team tendencies, and methods of improving and developing their own play.

I feel like many students have the same perspective and that anything related with fun like video games can't possibly be related to studying or anything educational. However, I think many of them don't realize what it takes to become a professional gamer. At one point (you can reference my previous post), I was studying a game religiously to become better at the game. I think it is important to make the connection visible to students that we have to study to get good at anything. We can't accept it when a student says he doesn't like school because he doesn't like to study.


  1. Jonathan,

    Thanks for sharing your story from the field trip the other day! Your comment about the Magic School Bus made me laugh, although you made a really good point! It's interesting to think about school as a video game and I too imagined it similar to what you were thinking. But also while reading your post I though about those "choose your own adventure books" and similar to the second point you made, what would happen if you chose your own path through an English class? On the thought of these books, I remember my middle school English teachers telling students that they were not allowed to choose these "choose your own adventure books" for their free reading or to do their reports on. But thinking about the skills that go into making a class a game, made me think that reports on these types of books might not have been that bad of an idea. Students have to weigh the pros and cons and think about what they should do next. Having a student present on their thought process throughout one of these books would be really interested I think, and a way to get them thinking in the same way we are thinking about implementing game strategies into our classrooms. Thanks for getting me thinking!

  2. Jonathan,

    I really enjoyed this post! I like the idea of having students create the game so that they have control over their learning experience. I think creating characters incorporates a personal element that traditional instruction may not be able to. I am trying to think of ways to apply this to a science classroom. I also really enjoyed your last comment about "no opt out" in terms of if a student doesn't like school. With this system, it is hard to opt out based on the fact you don't like to study because this isn't really studying in the traditional sense. Thanks for the post!

  3. Jon,

    I like the creativity of this post. I think your idea to allow students to create characters that could be used in the context of a curriculum is very exciting. Using curriculum as levels is also a very engaging idea. I like how you spelled out that "boring" material could be used as the first levels of the game. I think this parallel is very interesting in that it implies mastery of basic skills and that more fun learning occurs at higher levels.

    I was really baffled by your conversation with the student on the field trip. I was surprised because its been awhile that I remembered just how concrete examples must be for students to make connections. It was intuitive for me to assume that an individual could connect learning via television. However, you reminded me that it isn't what I know, but what my students are able to know that ultimately matters! Ensuring that we, as educators, are mindful of this reality is constantly important to be aware of. Thanks for pointing in out in the form of a great anecdote.