Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg teaches Judaic Studies at the SAR Academy in Riverdale, NY, where he also serves as a JudeoTech Integrator. He is the Rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim of Kew Gardens Hills and the author of The Unofficial Hogwarts Haggadah and Morality for Muggles: Ethics in the Bible and the World of Harry Potter.
Armed only with Smart Notebook and Google Drawings, I undertook to create a universe. Now I know how Harold felt with his purple crayon.
When last we chatted, I was casting about for the right platform on which to create the backstory for my hardy Mishna Meanderers, lost in time and space. There are elaborate ready-made platforms that can do most of the work for you. A prime example is ClassCraft, built on the model of the best selling collaborative video game World of Warcraft. But aside from the cost involved in purchasing licenses, if you choose such a system, you are locked into many choices and structures already built-in. You can only be a Mage, a Warrior, a Healer, etc, and must situate yourself in the medieval questing setting provided. What if I want to use categories like Chacham, Tanna, Amora, etc.? After exploring several possibilities over the summer, I threw the question of platform to colleagues in my social media Eitza-sphere. One interesting suggestion that came back was Thinglink, which allows you to place all kinds of media on a page and trigger the sources by running the cursor over them. But that wasn’t sneaky enough. I wanted hidden links to secret areas and unexpected sources you find almost by accident. So I chose Google Drawings. (H/T Sara Wolkenfeld!) Diabolically simple: You just plant links, and if your unsuspecting audience clicks, well, they can be transported anywhere you wish.
But this method also has its drawbacks, some of which I knew going in, and some of which have been not-so-pleasant surprises along the way. There is just so much you can do with a link. How do you create a dialogue between your student and the characters he or she meets along the way? (Have I told you that I can’t program to save my life?) How do you keep score when no one is doing it for you automatically? How do you plan which missions are required and which are optional “side quests?” How exactly are the students going to navigate? Do I want to assign points (XP)? Calculate Health? Award gold? Badges?
So here is what I did.
1. A lot of hype. Built it up. Talked about it. Showed the intro video. They were dying to see what came next.
2. In the olden days, I would teach an intro unit about Torah Sheb’chtav, before introducing the Oral Law. That unit became Eretz Torah Sheb’chtav, but they wouldn’t get there so quickly. First they’d have to figure a way to get “Mahn” (food to eat) and “Mayim” (water to drink), and a map of the land they would be exploring:
The button on the bottom turned out to be the gateway to—
To earn Mahn, students had to play a Smartboard game about the Berachot on cereals and get ready for a competition against other teams. Correct answers in that competition would earn units of Mahn. The Be’er arrow led to questions about where water is found in the Torah.
(Confession time: While it is possible for kids to play a Smartboard game even without Smart Notebook software installed on their machine, by using Smart Notebook Express and playing online, teaching the kids and their parents how to do this was not trivial. For one thing, it meant installing Flash on their computer, something for which I insisted kids needed parental permission. Mental note: Perhaps a logistically easier activity next time…)
By this time I had divided my class of 24 into 6 teams of four (after eliciting their top three choices of whom to work with), and awarded each some XP and Matbe’ot Mishna to start. Those teams, as yet unnamed, competed in the same Brachot Bee on cereals. Most earned the requisite number of Mahn units. One had to buy the remainder with some of their start-up coins. Thus supplied with food and water, they were now able to access the map, which looked like this illustration (click to view).
This is where another key element of Gamification makes its first appearance: Choice.
Every student had to do the quests associated with Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim, learning basic facts about them. But they were also permitted to do optional side-quests on the individual books of Tanakh. Doing so would earn them additional XP. And every side-quest completed gave them another chance to draw a “spiritual advisor.” A spiritual advisor is a positive figure from Tanakh, who has a “super power” that just might come in handy along the way. (You can find my list of spiritual advisors and their powers here.) Predictably, some teams did two or three side-quests. One team did 8, the maximum allowed. And one team did none.
And those “boulders” between the hills? They lead to bonus XP, bonus Mishna coins...or snarky comments. Each bonus comes with a code that has to be emailed to me before I add it to the student’s account.
Loose ends: What is the best way to keep track of all of these things? Is there any less cumbersome ways to add points, coins, etc? Should individual students, teams, or each member of a team be given points for side quests completed?
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!