Tag Archives: teaching middle school

Role-Playing Games in the Classroom

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Zeus, the god of Storms and the Sky

In the early 90’s a fellow teacher became acutely aware of the effect the role-playing games I was playing at home after school had on the cognitive abilities of the fatherless boys I was constantly entertaining.  She suggested that maybe, if it was working at home with a few students and former students, it could also work in the classroom with all students.

This, of course was a daunting classroom activity to carry out, but enough of a creative challenge to my story telling abilities that I simply had to try.

I began with a cheap RPG book about adventuring D&D style with characters from Greek Myth.  This was an opportunity not only to play adventure games, but to teach a little bit about history and a lot about mythology.

So I created generic character sheets using my own personal copier, my own copy paper, and my own overhead projector plastic overlays.

I created adventures that could be conducted on the overhead with dice and each kid having their own set of skills and useful items.  We conducted Olympic games and included mythological creatures like Tritons and Centaurs as player characters.  We learned about the city of Olympia, the city of Argos, the city of Corinth, Athens, Sparta, and even Atlantis.

I let students draw their character from a hat on strips of paper that contained a boy option and a girl option.  I even let students trade for the character they wanted and we learned negotiating skills along with problem-solving skills.

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                                                                                     Demeter, goddess of fertility (which you can’t say in a junior high classroom, so goddess of crops and farming.)

Most of the stories were driven by a kidnapping where the beautiful daughter of one of the players was kidnapped immediately after the Olympic medals were awarded.  The villain would take her to his evil island base, and the players would have to work together to buy or steal a boat.  Gods and goddesses could be called on to intervene, and sometimes they actually did.  Another story line began with the sack of Troy, during which the players either murder or witness the death of a young Trojan boy who just happens to be Heracles’ son.

That story took the players on a quest of penance to visit the underworld and retrieve the boy in the same way that Orpheus tried to rescue his lady love Eurydice.  Potentially, Heracles would even join the quest himself if none of the player characters were the actual killer.  And, of course, all sorts of encounters with monsters would ensue.

 

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I ended up using about as much of my personal resources as a story-teller and a cartoonist to create those adventures as I had available.  But I had students tell me that the week of classroom time spent playing that problem-solving myth game was one of the most memorable learning experiences they ever had.  I never tried it with a high school class, only middle school, and then mostly with 7th graders.  But I think the experiment was very successful from about 1992 to 2004, and it taught me even more about teaching than it ever taught them about mythology.

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Filed under autobiography, Dungeons and Dragons, education, heroes, humor, Paffooney, pen and ink paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

Nerds… by any other name!

This is an essay from 2006 that I dug up to make more fun of nerds (which can be considered self-referential humor).

A while back I had the misfortune to write an essay that I called a Bestiary for the Modern Classroom.  I delineated the nonsense as if it were more than the half-disturbed ravings of a burned-out junior-highschool English teacher, something like the wit and wisdom gleaned from a twenty-four year sentence to the educational gulag of our time.  I told you about the Pepsi girls, Snarks, and Invisible Kids.  I deliberately ignored an entire wing of the monkey house by not breaking down for you the tremendously terrible and totally trigonometric totality of the modern Nerd.
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When I drew this particular nerd cartoon, I am a cartoonist, by the way, Steven Q. Urkel still strutted and polka-ed his way across the TV screen in the 80’s sitcom, Family Matters.  I fear nerds are still pretty much the same.  I will have to admit, I will probably also be accused of being a Nerd, and though I do love cheese and polka music and Star Trek… I AM NOT A NERD!  That second Paffooney is NOT a self-portrait, though I have to admit I do grin just like that, and wear glasses, and… but enough of that!
In my previous article, I made the most heinous mistake of mentioning that there were Gomers lurking in the classroom.  Well, GooooOlleee, everybody seemed to think that that meant a clueless hayseed from the back hills who went to and fell in love with the Marine Corps.  Do you remember Gomer Pyle, USMC?  Yeah, that make-believe soldier that made Sergeant Carter’s life a living heckfire during endless training sessions while real marines were getting cut to pieces by Russian-made weapons in the rice paddies of Viet Nam?  The rube part of that story, nor the military part are neither one of them the part that makes a Gomer a Gomer.  It is entirely the idiot-savant part.  Remember Gomer’s ability to burst into song and solve the problems of the whole camp with a beautiful basso rendition of “Oh, My Papa”?  Gomers are all like that.  They are nerds who can’t follow directions, get everything wrong in a Steve Urkel, “Did I do that?” sort of way, and who are two earnestly sweet and silly to ever be mad at.  They also have that one unmatchable talent hidden somewhere inside that they can whip out without warning and melt the hearts of every LuAnn in the crowd.  It isn’t necessarily a singing talent.  Young Master Victory Brown was a hip-hop wannabe who couldn’t get the attention of a decent cop by blowing up the Chemistry lab, but who could dance like a wild man.  Everything went against the boy, it seemed, except when a professional singer like Patsy Torres came to play and sing in the high school gym for Red Ribbon Anti-Drug Week.  Young Vic got up on that stage and started dancing.  Ordinarily, the performer’s bodyguards would’ve had a punk like that in chains before the song was over, but he was so enthusiastic and downright good, that Patsy Torres was wowed and let him stay.  He danced so hard he executed a perfect back-flip off that stage and into the audience, where he landed on his feet like a cat and kept right on dancing like he meant to do that all along.  You know what?  I believe he really did mean to bust that move.  And man, did he ever bust it!  Gomers can excel in math, chess, theater-arts, drawing and painting, sewing, singing, and practically anything else that could ever be that one miraculous talent that lets them strut and fret for hour upon that stage.  Victor would be offended to hear it, but he was a Gomer through and through.
Goths as a subspecies of nerd are worrisome at best.  Girls and boys, though mostly girls for some strange reason, who wear spiked dog collars like Droopy’s enemy Spike in the old Tex Avery masterpieces, and all look like they must surely belong to Bela Lugosi’s fan club with their black clothes and black lipstick and eyeliner (even on the…No! I mean especially on the… boys) and their notebooks scrawled with death’s head symbols and Marilyn Manson stickers are all under the mysteriously medieval label of Goth.  Now where did this nonsense ever start?  I will admit that I was once at a midnight screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I did briefly admire the poems of Baudelaire and Rimbaud in College, but I wouldn’t be caught dead pasting my hair down with hair gel just to show off my Eddie Munster widow’s peak, and I would never let anyone read my gloomy Death Poems and Devil Poems from the late 70’s, let alone paste them on MySpace or Xanga (Read that now as WordPress) billboards.  I am mortified by the obsession with mortality displayed by the average Goth.  Did they not hear Kevin McCarthy’s warning about the pod people?  Did they never fear the bite of Barnabas Collins because it would make them tainted and like him?   Whether the whole Goth scene is dying or not, I have to regretfully report, there was a girl last week at Ted Polk Middle School wearing her eye-liner like a tribute to Alice Cooper.  The dramatically dying and dreary undead are still ironically alive in the teenage Goth.
That leaves only Trekkie Techies to complete my bestiary.  And you will undoubtedly agree with me that they have been around since the 1950’s.  In the 1970’s we called them the “Audio-visual Club.”  Yes they were the ones that strange-old Mr. Hickenlooper would get to run his eighth grade social studies film backwards to fill the remainder of a period.  He somehow thought that seeing the cannon fire off of the Battleship Missouri blowing back into the barrels in black and white newsreel footage was the height of humor.  Mr. Hickenlooper never truly realized that he was the only one laughing at his jokes.  The rest of us laughed at how he was laughing at his own jokes.  In other words, we were not laughing WITH him, we were laughing AT him.  The Big Hick was himself a nerd, probably of the subclass known as a Trekkie Techie.  Yes, they watched Star Trek just as I watched Star Trek.  But they were also the ones who could actually explain to you how a warp drive worked, and fantasized about kissing Uhura as a Klingon Captain.  You probably won’t believe it, but Trekkie Techies are still around and going strong.  Now, instead of 35mm film and tape recorders, they work with I-pods, Dell Computers, and Flash Drives, but they are still making technology dance to their own different drum.  Instead of Captain Kirk and the Vulcan Death Grip, they talk about Jackson’s version of Frodo, the other Jackson’s Master Mace Windu, and how Marv whacked ’em all in Sin City, but they are still living in their own little fantasy worlds and talking Klingon and Huttese.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know Bill Gates was one, and Bill Clinton was another, and probably Obama is too(or is that O’bama? he doesn’t look Irish?), and all three of them probably would get a laugh out of ionizing George W. Bush’s underpants, but it will never be cool to be a Techie Trekkie.  The question will undoubtedly arise, since I like Star Trek and Star Wars and Star Anything, am I a Techie Trekkie too?  Well… “May the Force Be With You!”
So now my little bestiary is complete with all the major species of anniemule in the middle school classroom.  Do you think I left any out?  No doubt.  There are more kinds of human beings in middle schools than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.  (Yeah, isn’t there a kind of Snark who always misquotes Shakespeare to keep us entertained?)

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