A middle school student in Wisconsin tests his new game.
By Nathan Maton
Games have shown great promise for learning, but it’s not always easy to figure out the logistics of how to use them in class. Every student and teacher’s experience is unique and it takes time to calibrate and tinker to get the best out of the experience.
What’s more, using games might lead to something neither students or teacher anticipated — more work.
When it came to using the game Operation Lapis to learn Latin, the experience proved to be a mixed bag for students and teachers. In the game, students play the role of Romans in a reconstruction of ancient Pompeii (or ancient Rome) and have to learn to think, act, create and write like a Roman in order to win the game. Those are the same goals of any introductory Latin course.
After Kevin Ballestrini launched the game in his own class, ten other interested teachers decided to take a stab at using it in their classes. The prevailing conclusion? Students’ successes represent the environment and instructor as much as the game itself.
The teachers shared similar joys and frustrations with the challenges, whether it was an over-designed aspect of the game or the benefit of creating active learners. And without exception, they all said they spent more time reviewing students’ writing and were impeded by lack of technology access in the classroom.
Karen Zook, a Ph.D. student working under professor Roger Travis, one of the co-creators of the game, says students struggled with the new game when she first started using it in her college Latin class.
“The game provides an insurmountable problem because they cannot simply skid by not doing anything.”
“The first week or two is always a little rough,” Zook says. “Trying to form the students into long-term groups is hard when it isn’t clear who’s going to be in the course for the first few weeks.”
Students were also skeptical when they learned their homework was going to take the form of a game. After that initial adjustment period, though, they came to appreciate Lapis, she said.
“It forces engagement, and provides for a less-frustrating classroom experience, since it compels students to prepare for class in a way that’s [different] in a more traditional setting,” she said.
This “forcing” of student engagement was a common thread among teachers who tried the game.
“There are a portion of students who refused to buy into the system and they have since failed out of the class,” said Matthew Bennet, a high school Latin teacher and co-creator of the game. “The Continue reading