What the students did in the multiplayer classroom

The first obvious difference in the class was the students going to the class bulletin board the first thing they did when entering the room. They wanted to see how many XP they had and if they leveled up. Following Lee Sheldon’s schedule, I put in place 20 levels. The highest levels corresponded to an A, A-, B+, etc.

The class

In some ways the class wasn’t that different from other algebra classes. I taught, students did activities and homework assignments. They took quizzes (more of this later). But about every other day, sometimes for just 2 minutes, sometimes for 20 minutes, they were involved in a role-playing game. This made the levels meaningful as the students’ avatars got items and increased skills with each level. The items [little pieces of cardstock] were pirate-related like a telescope, jewels, or a blunderbuss. The skills were things like swordsmanship, swimming, carpentry, or lock-picking.

Why take class time for a game?

Two reasons. First it was an investment in student participation in the whole idea of assignments and quiz scores turning into leveling up. Second, and more importantly, it was an opportunity for the students to participate in math in context. For example, the students had to decipher the secret message about the Spanish ship they were searching for. One of the students choose an “Arabic manuscript” by Al-Kindi that explained frequency analysis. She took “Arabic” for her next skill when she leveled up and asked me what the “manuscript” meant. Her guild helped her assign probable letters and decipher the clue. My goal then and now was to blur the lines between a game and doing math.


October 21, 2012 at 11:10 pm Leave a comment

Last spring’s experiment

For the last trimester of the advanced algebra class that I teach, I decided last spring to try an experiment. I started the term by telling the students that the class would be a multiplayer class. Specifically, the students will have avatars that are pirate scholars. When they completed assignments or took a quiz, they would get XP. The XP would be tracked and they would get advantages for their avatars as they leveled up. Part of the class would be a pirate RPG.

The Sources

I took inspiration and ideas from multiple sources for the game. Like Seventh Sea, I told the students they were in a parallel world to Earth. I did this so that we could be a bit anachronistic and have roles for women and different nationalities than the pirates of the golden age. I decided on a simple skills based game, borrowing from Five by Five the idea of using dice multiplication. Each level meant the player got a new random item and could either add a new skill, upgrade a skill, or add a new language.

Why an RPG?

I didn’t want the effect of the XP to be just a progress bar on the wall (although most students really liked this and would check their spot each day). I wanted to give students another reason (besides a grade) to get XP. I also wanted to blur the lines between students playing a game and doing algebra problems in a math class.

The Results

Promising, fun for me and most of the students, more focus (I think). I will explain more in the next post and talk about what is happening this year.

October 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm 1 comment

The Inspiration

I teach math at a small-town high school. After 7 years of teaching, I wanted to push students to adapt a more positive disposition to math. I read books like Mathematics Education for a New Era: Video Games as a Medium for LearningWhat Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Second EditionVideo Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital AgeQuest to Learn: Developing the School for Digital Kids,  and Challenges for Game Designers. Video games, or games more generally, are amazing learning vehicles. We can focus on figuring out how the game is played.

But I can’t make a video game for Algebra 2. So I decided to try an experiment and take a page from The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game. In the spring trimester I picked one class and made it a multiplayer classroom. My next post will go over what happened.

October 7, 2012 at 10:17 pm Leave a comment

Hello world!

So I took up Dan Meyer’s challenge and created this blog. He started his blog six years ago as a “lesson debrief.” Sounds like a good place to start.

Last year over winter break I started reading books on teaching mathematics and using ideas from video games. Lee Sheldon’s book, The Multiplayer Classroom, inspired me to try something low-tech first. I took one of my algebra classes and made it a mathematician/scientist/pirate role-playing game. We had a lot of fun and I learned some things.

In a few days school will start again and I will try another class with the pirate rpg and two classes with a spy rpg. Am I crazy?

August 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm Leave a comment

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