Zen And The Art Of
Education And Technology
After using Evil Hat Productions' fantastic roleplaying game, Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE), in my class, a question I have been asked more than once is, “How do you grade something like this?” Not to be glib, but the easy answer is, “The same way you would grade anything else.”
Grading is, essentially, assigning a numerical value to some form of assessment, based on demonstration of mastery. If she has an end outcome in mind, an educator can assess student mastery in any fashion she deems appropriate.
Because I teach an Introduction To Digital Media Literacy class, I chose to make part of my assessment of student work formative. I had them create videos that somehow demonstrated their experience with FAE. This was an open ended assignment, and students created everything from commercials to confessionals.
I might be biased, but I think they’re pretty darn cool.
We’ve created a playlist on our school’s YouTube channel of all their work. Please click here to check it out, and then let us know what you think.
Oh, and the students would really appreciate if you’d share the link around. They’re a little obsessed with the idea of their videos going viral, and would like to encourage more educators (and students) to use FAE in their classrooms.
All projects at Manor New Tech are experiments. Seeing that my students have, traditionally, needed help with their narrative skills, I decided to try something this year that I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time. I had my students play a roleplaying game in class, and I found one that truly set their imaginations free: Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) by Evil Hat Productions .
If you’re not familiar with the concept behind a roleplaying game, it’s pretty simple: players create characters and then collaboratively tell an improvisational-style story with them, using dice rolls to determine whether or not they are successful at various things as the story plays out. Most roleplaying games are built around established genres and/or settings. There are high fantasy games, science fiction games, super hero games, and so on. The brilliant thing about FAE is that there is no pre-determined genre or setting. It’s all about meeting the needs of whatever type of story the players want to tell.
To use FAE in class, as with any project, I started with the end results I wanted to see in mind. I didn’t just want students to “play Fate”. Playing FAE was a means to an end, to get them thinking of characters and narrative, of using their imaginations and sharpening their improvisational skills. FAE was going to be the scaffolding to hang all of these outcomes on.
I started off by allowing the students to form story groups, and having them discuss what type of stories they would like to tell. I then asked, “What kind of words come to mind when you think about this kind of story?” This led into talking about a specific game mechanic that each FAE character must have: Aspects. Aspects are words or phrases used to describe a character (or scene) that give some kind of advantage during play. As I was introducing this concept, it made me realize that any educator could use this to re-enforce vocabulary words. Pretty cool.
Next, the discussion turned to what type of characters would be interesting to see in such a story. What kind of words would be used to describe them? Aspects again.
We then went through the rest of the character creation process and ended the class period with each kid sharing his or her character, focusing on their Aspects. For homework, they were shown where they could download the FAE rules and were encouraged (not forced) to read them.
On the second day, I held demo games in class, taking the role of Game Master (GM), the player in charge of crafting the story as it is played and keeping track of all the characters not controlled by the other players. It’s like being a movie director, writer, and “cast of thousands” all it one. I walked each group of students though a quick scenario with their characters, demonstrating how various concepts in the game work. When it was not their turn to play, the other groups were our “studio audience”. This made some of the kids restless, so I told them they could live-Tweet what was happening, take pictures, record video, and even ask questions/offer advice. That kept them engaged.
The rest of the week was dedicated to giving the students time to play. We moved into the cafeteria and had a mini gaming convention. I monitored what they were doing, going around, taking pictures, answering questions, and just enjoying what I was seeing and hearing.
Was each table playing FAE by the book? Oh, heck no.
Were they playing “right”? Oh, heck yes.
Remember, this was all about narrative and characters, and each table, every day, was telling stories. They were, in teacher parlance, “actively engaged”. Sometimes they would feel that a narrative had reached its logical (or, at least, satisfying) conclusion and, instead of asking to do something completely different, wanted to know if they could start a new game, usually with a different kid being GM.
What kind of stories did they tell? We had shipwrecked pirates trapped on an island that was actively trying to kill them with all kinds of unnatural weirdness. We had gangsters from the 1920s battling the truly bad gangsters to help innocent people. We had Wild West outlaws who robbed a train owned by some devious railroad tycoons. We had a group of little kids and their babysitter who were transported into a strange, alternate dimension where they developed super powers. We even had a group of anthropomorphic sticky notes escape from an office supply store and get caught up in a saga not unlike Star Wars (but with evil staplers, scissors, and liquid paper). We had more than I can remember, but it was all awesome.
So, how did I grade all of this awesomeness? In looking at the 21st Century Skills education leaders keep talking about, I focused on observing their Collaboration, Work Ethic, and Communication skills. I made rubrics for each of these and, not surprisingly, the kids received very high marks for the week.
But, the project is not over. Now that the games have stopped, the students are creating videos about their experiences. Look for them to start appearing this week.
In closing, I would like to mention one more thing. I have very diversified classes, and not a single student was not engaged throughout this process. If you’re wondering if this could be replicated in another classroom setting, I would say, “Absolutely.”
Making a game out of something eases the fear of failing at it. If you want to help your students become better storytellers, give FAE a chance.
by Mr. Les Simpson
The first six weeks grading period of the 2013-2014 school year has already flown by.
So, where is the student work? This is a blog of student work, right?
Right. And it will be posted starting today. The students worked very hard during the first six weeks, and it is time for that work to be seen by the world.
Please, let them know what you think.