I want you to think back to your eighth grade science class. For some of us, this walk down memory lane will bring nothing but cheerful memories. However, some of us will find this a dark and frightening journey into poor grades and awkward social interactions. Scott Hebert, a science teacher from Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Junior High in Fort Saskatchewan, is setting out to make sure eighth grade science is an enriching, challenging, and fun year of learning for every student. So what is he doing to make junior high science fun? Easy. He turned the entire class into an RPG.
As the Edmonton Journal reports, Herbert invented a mythical land called Scientia Terra, broke his class into four guilds, and tasked them all with freeing their master, Master Heebs, from the fiendish clutches of the evil Minotaur King to restore their resource-rich land to its former glory. Herbert’s classroom doesn’t have desks, but is instead is filled with tents, a castle-themed door, the Cave of the Abandoned (where work goes when a student forgot to put their name on it), and some painter’s tape on the floor to denote various territories. Homework and worksheets are morphed into challenges, tests become boss battles, and grades become XP that gets listed on a leader board on the classroom wall. By changing the way his students interacted with the material, Herbert managed to turn science from a boring or too-challenging class into something that the kids could grasp and excel at in a creative way. He explains his classroom a bit in the trailer below:
But the big question is, of course, do the kids actually learn anything? After all, they’re just playing games all class, right? Not only are Hebert’s students learning and finding a newly kindled interest in science, but he also noticed his students’ grades go up by 12 percent. And while it’s easy to think that these kids aren’t learning, they most certainly are. Every “challenge” presented to the students force the kids to engage, learn, and then reproduce scientific facts–one challenge asked the students to correctly label the human heart and another had them explain the functionality of the gall bladder, both things I know I could not do. But because Herbert’s students are being taught the material and being asked to show their knowledge in a way that makes a bit more sense to the way their minds work, they’re excelling like crazy.
We’ve seen RPGs used in therapy and how games can help mental health, so it only makes sense that if games can help the brain process trauma or work through something like depression and anxiety, that it could also help kids especially engage and really digest challenging and often dense information. Plus, by changing the format of his class from a lecture and grade-based atmosphere to a creative, fun, and welcoming environment, the kids are able to feel a bit less intimidated by a stereotypically intimidating subject, and that heavy weight of getting good grades is turned into something a bit more fun and empowering by making it RPG-based.
— Scott Hebert (@MrHebertPE) September 2, 2016
As someone who spent a year teaching, I can tell you from experience that it’s incredibly tough to find a way to make a lecture that teenagers care about when the subject is something either super dense or hard to grasp. While we’re all used to lecture-based teaching, that can really be a way to inadvertently alienate kids who don’t learn best by listening, and it almost always means that the kids learn the information just for the test and immediately forget it. However, if Herbert’s students tell us anything, there is something really special happening when the traditional school format gets changed up. Gamification of school allows students to tap into their creativity, to feel empowered, and it removes some of the scariness of school without removing the substance of a subject. It just presents the information in a way that is easier to digest and understand on a long-term basis. If you want to see more about Herbert’s school gamification, you can check out his YouTube channel where he helps other teachers learn how to gamify their classrooms.
What subject would you like to see gamified? Would you respond well to this method if you were Hebert’s student? Tell us what you think in the comments!
Feature Image: Master Heebs/YouTube