Hi class! Good to see you all again. It’s been a while and much has changed. Some bad, like the tenacity of the COVID pandemic, some good, like finally being married to my very real dream of a wife! Last time we met was a bit of an introduction and an incomplete list of games that suit playing with kids. Today is time for a more theoretical approach, so let’s all grab a piece of paper and make sure your #2 pencils are sharp!
Goals. Purpose. Aim.
Imagine that I just wrote these out on a blackboard for you while saying them aloud. I might even underline them. Today’s topic is why we are playing the game. Why are we playing the game in class? Why are we playing the game with your kids at home? The game should be a means, not an end, when teaching. So what is the end?
If the game is a reward for good work, then this is not really important, but if the game is used to teach something, then we need to keep that in mind. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that teaching in the USA, or wherever you live and teach, at least resembles teaching over here in Belgium. I’m going to assume that you have something that resembles lesson plans, goals that need to be met in the year, or trimester, or other time period. For my lessons, I’ve got five periods in a school year and a list of goals for each period that my inspections expect me to accomplish, or at least to work towards.
These goals will influence what kind of game is suitable to use in class. If you are teaching a language class and want to use a roleplaying game, you will probably lean towards a game where language/writing is very important—say Happy Birthday Robot for a simple game or Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, perhaps with home-made scenarios (letters) tailored to the vocabulary lists you are handling in class at the moment.
If you are teaching math or calculus, perhaps you choose one where there’s a lot of dice-rolling where numbers need to be counted, added, subtracted, multiplied or divided. Depending on the age-group and time available I’m thinking of something like Risus (for younger kids) or Pathfinder (for high-school aged kids). You might have a game where resource management is a vital part, like playing traders or collectors of some kind. Perhaps something like Traveller, where space-cargo needs to be bought and sold in space-harbors for your space-trucking through the galaxy. (Your humble editor would like to point out that Traveller’s space combat system is also useful as an introduction to vector addition for higher-level math students.) Or perhaps you are crafters who need ingredients, and the recipes are not simple lists, but mathematical equations with divisions and comparisons, percentages etc. I don’t know if a game like this exists, but you can certainly “easily” make one yourself, as long as you keep in mind that you don’t need to make an entire game whole-cloth, but something that just fits one time-slot each time.
When teaching logic or mathematical problems, a game which features riddles or puzzles might be suitable. I recently read about someone who used sudoku (with numbers changed to ‘runes’ as glyphs) needing to be solved to get through magically sealed doors. You see what I’m getting at?
For my lessons, this will look a lot different than for someone else’s lessons, since my lessons are religion-lessons, and so the goals I want to reach are often behavioral, moral, or ethical. I want to let them think somewhat critically about the issues our lessons create. This way my games will often revolve around morality and be very much “railroady” and “preachy.” The goals of my games will often be the goals the player-characters are supposed to reach. Sometimes it’s also a test to see if they have reached the goals.
Let’s use a simple example from my own classes:
In third grade (8-9 year olds) we learn about Abram and Sarai leaving their home to follow God to an unknown land. Some of the goals are:
A.1. The pupils discover that—out of a loving relationship—God calls people to be part of His covenant people, to start a journey with Him and that He is their liberator.
A.2. The pupils recognize—from the biblical stories—examples of people that have heeded Gods call and trustingly and obediently followed Him.
A.3. The pupils can identify with the people from these stories and discover that God also calls them to walk with him in trust and obedience.
B.1. The pupils discover that God’s call invites a response.
C.2.1. The pupils discover in the biblical stories that people’s lives change if they journey with God
These goals are for the entirety of the third and fourth grade and encompass Abram, Issac, Jacob, Moses and the judges for the Old Testament and Christ’s life for the New Testament stories. But these goals—especially B.1.—could benefit from exploring this concept through play.
An unwritten goal or restriction is that (for my lessons) the game should not be longer than 40 minutes, preferably even shorter than 30 minutes, to comfortably fit into a class. Another option is to spread the turns out over the end-of-class times and have little scenarios or turns at the end of every class reflecting the lesson learned during that class. Yet another way is for the kids to make their moves at the end of class and have your GM’ed reactions ready for next class. So far I’ve only tried the actual in-class 20-40 minute games.
I have adapted Happy Birthday Robot for that, but hope to eventually rework Fall of Magic for this purpose because that would fit even better. I really like the simplicity of Happy Birthday Robot though, and the writing level of the kids should be just about good enough for it at this age. It will go smoother with the older kids (grade four and up) but it should be doable.
The change made to the game is just the starting sentence. Instead of “Happy Birthday Robot!” It will be “God called Abram!”. It’s a valid option to look at the free words you get during your turn depending on your place at the table to nudge the thinking process in a certain way. The standard words are decent enough though, being good words to make it possible to add on to a sentence by creating what google tells me are either “subordinate clauses” or “adverb phrases.” We call it add-on sentences if I’d translate it literally. Basically the words “but” and “and” make it possible to start a new sentence without ending the first one. It’s a delightfully solid and simple mechanic. I love it. Another change (this time for time) is to shorten it either by timer or by changing the counting and scoring system to make it end more quickly.
There are multiple ways to try and make a game follow a goal or make a game around a goal, and that is what the next few ‘Roll For Teacher’ articles will be about. System, Mechanics, Rewards, Missions, Tools. Stuff like that.
So now, before the bell goes and class is dismissed, think about your games in class and what goals you want to reach with them. Is it easy or hard? How could you do it better? More on this next time! (Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts in the comments!)