Dungeons and Dragons and the Perfect Lesson

Over lunch one day, I wandered into Dungeons and Dragons Club. Students were huddled around a table, and there was a tone of suspense, excitement and purpose in the air.

I was immediately hooked, but it wasn’t until I left the room that I was struck by what I had seen. I had just witnessed a perfect lesson.

That’s what led me to sit down with Michael Schmidt, science and Green Industries teacher and staff supervisor of the Dungeons and Dragons Club, to talk about the elements that make up an engaging, effective lesson.

Mary: What do you think I saw that made me say “I have just seen a perfect lesson”?

Michael: The students were completely engaged. They were “all in” on that moment for a full 40 minutes. Dungeons and Dragons also gives students lots of room to be creative, and encourages them to be flexible and adaptable. That creates a real sense of ownership over the learning.

Mary: You are also a science and Green Industries teacher, as well as a Grade 8 Adviser. How do you know that you’re in the middle of a perfect lesson?

Michael: In a perfect lesson, time flies by. You get to the end of the period and you feel like you were cut short.

Mary: What do you observe in your students when this perfect lesson in happening?

Michael: A great lesson inspires conversation. Students are eager to talk to each other about what they’re learning. They also connect outside of that lesson. During the Mission to Mars project, students were constantly talking about it, even at lunch or in the halls. The lesson is planned, but the learning and the connection with each student happens in the moment.

With the Mars project, I got and held their attention because there was a story. I created an event, and they were a character - a person their age training to go to Mars. It’s a real connection. And when they are 35 or 40, going to Mars might be a reality.

Mary: How do you create safety, so that students feel comfortable with this level of engagement?

Michael: These lessons can’t be a free-for-all - there have to be limitations and rules. Those rules help direct students’ energy and guide them as they create.

Mary: So, let’s imagine you are a professor and you are teaching teachers.  What would you tell them constitutes a perfect lesson?

Michael: A perfect lesson is one where students can find a personal connection to the material. There are opportunities to explore and to discover within defined parameters. I believe students like to have a sense of control, but also to be surprised.

I think of it like a railroad versus a sandbox - one is a direct line, the other has lots of room to play. The best adventures for students have both elements. They come out of the lesson feeling like they are co-authors and that they are part of the story.

Mary: At Greenwood, we are focused on personalized learning and on giving students opportunities to direct their learning and advocate for themselves. How to you see that in the Dungeons and Dragons Club and in a classroom setting?

Michael: We plan for learning opportunities where students can both be led and lead. We ensure that students are regularly given the chance to be the “experts” in their learning experiences.

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