Reading, writing and games: Edmonton-area teacher turns classroom into game site to keep kids engaged
A Fort Saskatchewan teacher says in order to compete in our fast-paced world, instruction methods need to move away from memorization and repetition. So, Scott Hebert turned his Grade 8 classroom into a role-playing game where students are pitted against the evil Minotaur King.
“My class is a giant, year-long medieval-themed game where we actually apply science knowledge.
“I try to stay away from memorization,” Hebert says.
Hebert is a Grade 8 science and technology teacher at Our Lady of the Angels School. He has faced some criticism for his methods; he understands change can be frightening to some.
“The education system literally for the past 100 years hasn’t changed, so people are really fearful about change in education.”
This is the third year he’s used gamification — and he is seeing positive results from students.
“The world they live in is dramatically different from the way education was designed. So we have to actually meet them where they are.”
“I’m seeing grades go up, I’m seeing engagement go up, I’m seeing interest in the sciences go up.”
Hebert started his career instructing Kindergarten and Grade 4 kids, and noticed those students were highly engaged. But engagement dropped off when he landed in a Grade 8 classroom.
He sat down and mapped out a game he hoped would get students interested again.
“I wrote this script for my classroom. So it’s very similar to a movie or a book. You read this and get engaged with the characters and do different things.”
The activities involve practical applications of science – and lessons in ethics too, when students need to decide whether to help other players. Those decisions may have consequences later in the game/school year.
“The cool part about education is that curriculum is just what we have to teach – there’s no ‘how’ you have to teach it.”
Hebert’s method involves tying those curriculum goals to stories, games and more interactive activities.
“If you actually look at what an RPG is, you start at level zero and you get better as you go. Technically that’s what school is.
“You are supposed to start at level zero at Kindergarten and we are supposed to fill you up with knowledge and make you kind of feel good about yourselves and determine a career path so you can leave at the end of the system and contribute to society. So I figured could I actually do that.”
He’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the Alberta Teachers’ Association Middle Years Conference in April, and plans to keep on sharing the benefits he’s found using gamification in the classroom.
“I have 20-some years left in my career, I’m not going to teach any other way. I’m just going to keep figuring out different ways to make it new and fresh.”
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