Way, way back when I was in college and much younger than now, my professor in a library and education course assigned our small class of prospective school librarians the task of creating a lesson. The assignment was given before the talk of rubrics, and before professors put clearly defined expectations in print; so, without much guidance, much clarity, and no real-world experience, I set out to create my first library lesson.
I was never a great K–12 student and I've been very open about my mediocrity. I had a good family, a great home, supportive parents, but I never thought of myself as very intelligent, so I tried to prevent disappointing my parents. I never really thought I was capable of much more and I didn't know how to study, so I'm sure my laid-back attitude drove my teachers crazy even while I dutifully did all of my homework. I earned grades good enough to remain in good standing for the swim team, graduated high school in the middle of pack, and squeaked into college.
So here I was, in this ridiculous situation I'd placed myself in. I was in a school library media services program in the School of Education with the insane thought that I could be a school librarian and teach. How could I ever dream of being a teacher when I wasn't sure how to be an effective and attentive student? I swore to myself that I wouldn't go home without my degree, so I came to college and taught myself how to study, read every assigned word, attended absolutely every class, turned in every assignment on time, forced myself out of my shyness and actually engaged in class discussions, posed questions, developed time management and organization skills, and learned how to be a student well enough to graduate early and cum laude.
But right now, this introvert who floated through primary and secondary education was being asked to design a lesson. A real lesson to present to my peers in my introductory school library course. What had I gotten myself into? I was absolutely terrified of speaking to groups, and I didn't yet know a thing about lesson design, student engagement, brain development, classroom control, or, well, anything. I only had my gut feeling, and my instincts were telling me that my imaginary students would be uncontrollable and bored to tears if I tried to be a traditional lecture and worksheet teacher. This troublesome internal struggle about how to create a reciprocal lesson brought me to one thought: could a game also be considered a learning experience? Growing up, I loved playing board games with my three siblings on rainy days, so could I apply what I loved about board games and actually teach through a game?
I desperately hooked onto the idea of designing a game. I researched what my objective would be and what outcome skills I wanted the students to achieve and went about designing my learning game that would be the core of my lesson. I had little money, so I talked the local pizza parlor into giving me pizza boxes to use as game storage boxes, took advantage of the tools and supplies in the teaching resource lab, and got permission to plunder the games from the dorm activity room for broken and missing parts for components like dice and player tokens.
I went to class full of nerves, gave my presentation, "taught" my mock lesson to my fellow school library students, and blew my professor's mind. This was the turning point when I realized I was in the right place, doing the right thing with my life, and that I was a capable learner and educator. He was so impressed with my out-of-the-box thinking in how I taught my learning objectives through gaming that he had me share it with others, teach the lesson to students at the lab school, and asked me to make a copy of the game to share with professors and future students.
Gaming in education has come a long way since then. As we learn about engagement and learning retention, we now see facets of game play and design embedding themselves into teaching best practices. So, I challenge you to go forth, absorb the articles within this issue of SLC, and level up your interactions with your patrons and students with a few gaming strategies and opportunities to learn through game.