A group of elementary school teachers at Sarah Thompson School in Langdon have found success this school year with a new way of learning that makes use of an interactive board game in the style of Dungeons and Dragons.
Teachers Kristie Mackie and Geeta Behal were two members of the group who were eager to discover new ways to present some of the bigger concepts in the social studies and science curriculum to their students. They also hoped to combine concepts from literacy and math.
According to Grade 3 teacher Mackie, a fellow member of the group was a “huge” Dungeon and Dragons fan, so the fantasy tabletop role-playing game was the initial inspiration for what they developed for their students.
“We ended up mashing a few ideas together and coming up with this game we named “Survive and Thrive,” she said. “We want our students to just be kids and we want school to be a fun place where they have some choice and voice in their learning.”
She added since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, school has looked different for kids, whether it be online or in-person learning with added safety precautions. But the curriculum has changed too, thanks to the introduction of the internet, she said.
“A lot of those things we would memorize when I went to school, we don’t need to memorize anymore,” she said. “We have the internet to help us memorize some of those dates and ideas.
“We want them to be able to explore those ideas independently and pick apart what’s important so when they move into middle school, they have the skills to be good problem-solvers and think critically.”
Mackie added the game involves tasking students with creating unique characters, engaging in interactive role-playing, and journaling their experiences.
As is expected with a larger-than-life board game, students roll dice to determine how they should move through the game.
“[“Survive and Thrive”] allowed the teachers to be the storytellers and move the story in a way that was best for the kids to move through the curriculum,” Mackie explained. “[Students] would have certain pieces and land forms they would need to discover and they used the experiences and the storytelling to build a board of their settlement.”
She added they chose from one of five geographic locations and they had to consider such variables as climate and resources, and how they might “survive and thrive” in the chosen environment. They were also charged with such assignments as building a bridge, climbing a mountain, or finding material to build a boat or raft.
“They worked in little groups, [and] each group had their own special talents and they learned through the game,” she said. “It was very cross-curricular. It really covered a lot of material.
“We were also interested in having them use some of their 21st-century skills like problem solving, [and] critical thinking.”
Mackie added she plans to run the “Survive and Thrive” board game with her students during the rest of the 2021-22 school year, but it might look a little bit different based on feedback from participants and lessons learned along the way.
“We like to rethink a few things of what went well and what we needed to consider changing,” she said, adding two teachers have since left the school, and they are working on incorporating ideas from new instructors as well.
She noted the instructor who was most interested in Dungeons and Dragons has since left Sarah Thompson School, and so the game may also change to a computer or question-game format.
“[It’s about] allowing the kids to explore game-ifying like they are creating the game themselves,” she said. “In the end, we’ll ask them to create a game around their own character to show their learning.
“Feedback from our students tells us they become more engaged with the material and are excited about learning when they’re having fun in the classroom.”
Grade 4 students Kaliyah Harris, Mya Arnold, and Brendan Everett said their favourite parts of “Survive and Thrive” included learning new skills that allowed them to collaborate with each another.
Similarly, Grade 3 students Brayden Aiken and Brandon McMillan enjoyed working together and taking on unique roles such as guardian healer and knowledge keeper.
“I was a knowledge keeper, so what that is, is we go to the knowledge tree, which is a big tree with lots of knowledge in it, and you come to the rescue team and tell them what [the knowledge] is,” McMillan said. “We had to do maps and put pieces together and it was really fun.”
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