Monday, January 16, 2006

Orcs and cheese doodles...

Tomorrow, I begin a three week departure from my regular teaching schedule. Our school has a break between the two semesters we call Paideia. The term is from Greek, and means “from many sources”. We use it as a time for students to engage in activities, projects, research and experiences that they would never have time to do properly during the normal school year, but that are nevertheless incredibly valuable to them. It sort of makes up for the fact that our students are in school from 8:30 until 4:15 every day, and would never have time to do these things because of that.

We have many different things going on during this time, some of it taking place on campus, but much of it away from school as well. There is ballroom dancing. Students go to area elementary schools and work with young kids and help out in classrooms. A group practices making clothes in the costume department workrooms. One of my students is working at a homeless shelter, and will write a paper about her experiences (she wants to work as a counselor for indigent and migrant families). It’s not French or Math or History, but it’s good learning and the students really work hard to make the most of it.

What do I do during this time? I play Dungeons and Dragons®.

Well, let me be clear. I teach roleplaying, medieval history, story creation, plot and character development and game theory. D&D is just the archetype through which I teach them these things. We spend a lot of time talking about and exploring the universe we play in, which is modeled loosely on medieval Europe. We discuss what life was really like then, and the degree to which real life should be part of the story we build together. We playtest different ways to use the D&D rules to make the experience of gaming come alive, and the students learn to evaluate improve their own acting and storytelling skills.

We also kill lots of orcs, goblins and evil wizards, and steal their stuff while consuming copious amounts of cheese doodles and carbonated beverages.

Believe it or not, all this does carry an academic component. The students must either write a paper which discusses some aspect of the things we’ve explored or create their own universe through which they can explore questions and conflict of their own design. It’s heavy stuff, and they jump into it up to their necks. I have one of the most dedicated and interested Paideia groups every year, and they turn out some amazing products during the three weeks we work together.

This year, in addition to everything else, we’re going to explore how to put a game up on the internet and how to use technology to improve the effectiveness of the presentation of roleplaying games. I have recently started posting the game we play at home on the web, and it’s proved to be wonderful for both me as the Dungeon Master and the players. They’ve been asking me to cover this so they can continue to work with their projects after we go back to academic classes.

If only they were so devoted to math and French. Maybe I should offer cheese doodles for those classes, too…

The War for Greatland is in its second book now, and the characters are tasked with nothing less than saving the world. It’s publicly viewable, though the posted version of the game only goes back as far as chapter 2 right now. If you’re interested in following their epic journey CLICK HERE.

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