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Best of the Week 2018-2019: Teaching to the Future


This week for his IB Latin seniors, Latin teacher Mr. Greg Stemm created an activity that would motivate his students to practice detailed grammar that would otherwise be tedious to learn. Drawing on inspiration from English teacher Mr. Elliot Zetzer, Mr. Stemm gamified his grammar lesson into an engaging and competitive activity inspired by the well-known, fantasy tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. Dungeons & Dragons at its heart is a collaborative storytelling game. The "dungeon master" creates a story, and the players create their own characters, who have a variety of abilities which are associated with a given number. To play the game, players roll a 20-sided die and whatever number they land on, a bonus ability is given to their character, ranging from combat abilities, spellcasting, climbing and animal training. To tie in the Latin courses' content, each of the character's abilities were also connected to different grammatical topics, such as vocabulary, verbal forms like gerunds, participles and infinitives, or pronoun usage. Rather than rolling the traditional 20-sided die, students took a brief online quiz of 20 questions through Powerschool and their quiz score became equivalent to the number they would roll using the die.

"Students really enjoyed creating their own characters, building their personalities and coming up with creative solutions to the games' problems. For example, during the game when trying to find a light source to explore a cave, some characters tried to use magic to produce light, others tried to use their Nature skills to locate bioluminescent fungi, and others simply lit torches that they needed to purchase before leaving the town. Ultimately, the game is completely open-ended depending on what the students decide to do. The joy and challenge for me is adapting the story I've written to keep up with the ideas that the students come up with," says Mr. Stemm.

To make this gamified lesson even more entertaining, Mr. Stemm wrote a story that serves as a basis to the setting of the students' game. From the story, students represent their own community within the Five Havens of this fantasy world and are trying to recover a lost artifact that will bring back peace and prosperity to this world that has now grown dark and barren.

"Dungeons & Dragons' game format brings in a greater degree of motivation for the students," says Mr. Stemm. "They work together in groups of three but are all competing against each other in a common task. Because the students are invested in their characters they have created and the story they are all building together, they want to outperform their peers to win the game, and to do so, they need to become familiar with the Latin grammar we are learning. If they don't learn the grammar well enough, they will never succeed in their attempts to use their magic or to win the quest."

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