Gamified Mishna Year One: A Look Back

Published: 
July, 2019

Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg teaches fifth grade at SAR Academy in Riverdale, NY, where he also is a JudeoTech Integrator. He is the Rav of Congregation Etz Chaim of Kew Gardens Hills, and his books, thus far, include Morality for Muggles, The Unofficial Hogwarts Haggadah, and The Unofficial Muggle Megillah.

When we last left our intrepid Mishna explorers, they were enthusiastically trying to learn their way back to their time and place by earning coins (Matbe’ot Mishna), and points, picking up valuable objects and defeating scriptural villains, aided by spiritual guides whose assistance they earned by performing optional quests.

Phew!

Enthusiastically is the key. This teaching format galvanized the students, not only to do what was assigned in Mishna, but the enthusiasm overflowed into other classes and was a major cause of their buying into the entire system - of Judaic and even General Studies. A specialty teacher was grateful when I allowed him to reward good behavior in his class with Mishna points. This alone tells me that I must continue the experiment.

What haven’t I told you?

Every Mishna is a world, or at least an Island

As the kids make their way back to civilization, they hop from island to island, and each island contains adventures, which teach them another Mishna and related subjects. The island of Mishna Alef looks like this picture:


By entering the caves, they meet characters and are sent on a mission to earn 3 bunches of bananas. Along the way, they must speak to the birds and animals on the island and accept their missions. Within the caves they are invited to dinner by a certain Kohen, who is finally able to eat his teruma, and who happens to have the sages of Mishna as his guests at the table.

 

 Why just consume, when you can create?


A stray comment from a colleague reminded me that the more kids can actually create the course, the stronger their attachment to it will be. At three selected spots along the way, I gave the students the tools and challenged them to become the teacher. First, before our first extended vacation in December, I taught them how Google Drawings works, and showed them how to make links and how to use the shape tool. I then shared with them an image of an empty alley (think Diagon Alley) and challenged them to make a sign for their own establishment, which would bear the link to their own adventure. Over half the class responded with enormous creativity to this non-required assignment.


But these adventures were on any topic that interested them, and did not yet contain Torah. For Tu B’Shvat, I gave each team five facts about one of the Shiv’at Minim, as well as a video about that “min”. Their challenge was to create an adventure that would teach those facts and video, topped off with a Google form to test the knowledge of their audience. Most of those projects were competently done.

Finally, as part of the summative end of year project, I had the students choose a Mishna from Pirkei Avot, teach it to themselves with the help of books I provided, and create an adventure which would teach the Mishna to others. This time the shared image from which the adventures emanated was a bookshelf. The results showed that the students could access Torah on their own, learn it and teach it in an engaging way, using a digital tool that had been unknown to them before this year.

Endgame

So how does this thing end?
Ya really wanna know?

Full disclosure: Not all of this is designed yet. That’s what summers are for.

In each level there will be a link that, if found, will take the clever student back to the Underwater World. (If they have found the necessary gear along the way, they will be able to breathe there; if not, they will suffer damage to their points.) There are objects and creatures to meet and acquire there. But most importantly, there are tunnels to enter, for a price! If they have the requisite Matbe’ot Mishna, entering the tunnel will take them, via a vortex (we may call it a “gezera shava”) to a different level bonus world, where they can pick up bonus coins, points, and objects while advancing one time period, from Tannaim to Amoraim to Geonim, Shulhan Arukh, Rishonim, and Acharonim (our time period), each time learning about the period they are entering. To advance each level, they must go back to the next island and Mishna, then to the Underwater World, to go yet further back.

 

In Prospect

Summer is a time for tallying scores and moving ahead. What would I keep, improve or discard?

The very positive reaction of the students tells me that I must continue this project. But the need to design on the fly and the lack of curricular time to teach Mishna meant that I did not cover as much as I wanted. A summer of work will hopefully improve the former and my school is actually likely to add more teaching time next year (not because of me, to be clear.) I

It was hard to keep up with the scoreboard. I started using one that I purchased from Michael Matera, my Gamification Guru, but it was too complex for me, and I am, how shall I put it gently, not the most organized person in the world. I think I will look for something simpler.

The course needs a name. When I presented it at the Prizmah 2019 Conference and in other settings, I called it Ready Lamdan One! Cute, but not definitive.

This course really needs a programmer to make it digital and less clunky. I envision its core becoming a template that teachers can adopt for any course they wish to gamify, needing only to insert their own assignments, but also able to customize with ease. Please leave your comments or questions in the "comments" section below!

Perhaps someone reading this piece will set me on an adventure towards making that happen. In education, anything is possible when the game is afoot!
 

Updated: Jul. 11, 2019
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