A few things happen when you have twenty years of teaching under your belt. You realize you have shoes older than most of the kids you are teaching and therefore you can relax a little. Having only been on the planet for eleven or twelve years, I commonly tell my students they have not earned the right to roll their eyes or shrug their shoulders yet. It’s ironic that this sense of calm comes toward the late afternoon of one’s career. I am getting ahead of myself, let’s call it a late lunch. A relaxing, late lunch with iced tea on a sunny veranda. That’s better. That’s where I am, sunning myself on a veranda drinking tea while I faintly hear my name being called over and over again. As we all know middle school students have no social boundaries and proceed to call your name as many times as they possibly can until they have your full, undivided attention.
And here I am faced with the challenges of the middle school student. Their bodies are changing literally in front of your eyes. Pants become shorter, voices change, all in one class period. Boys cry. Girls cry. We all cry. Through all of this we have to grab their attention, keep it, and assure their parents that none of us are going crazy. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
While attending a professional development and looking for possible solutions, a colleague asked the question, “How do I get them to be interested in the boring stuff? All they want to do is talk about Minecraft.” My response to her was quick and easy. Why wasn’t she using Minecraft to her advantage? Why not use what the kids loved? In education we all learn not to fight the wave but to roll with it. And then I realized I needed to take my own advice. Enter Sid Meier’s Civilization V. After playing the game for over a week, nonstop, I decided to incorporate it into my social studies class that predominantly focused on ancient history. By a stroke of luck, the day I had planned to show the game to the students and begin discussing it, there were tech glitches. The only time I can truly say I was happy that the tech did not work. We decided instead to form teams, essentially our own city-states, define roles for each member and discuss the ideal land on which to settle. The discussion was wonderful and inspiring.
That night I created the basis for what has become an elaborate game that has been going on for five weeks now. This endeavor has plunged me into researching game theory and gamification in the classroom. This journey is a careful balance between curriculum and game play, between too easy and too hard. This is the story of my journey. Stay tuned!