Darien teachers selected for game-based learning program
Updated 10:47 am, Thursday, June 15, 2017
DARIEN — How many lectures do students remember from middle or high school? Probably not many. That’s what Mark Stepsis and Kathryn Lindquist thought when they applied for the Woodrow Wilson HistoryQuest Fellowship to master game-based learning.
After finding out about the fellowship through a flier and being chosen after a long application process, the two teachers will spend a week in Princeton, N.J., learning ways to incorporate elements of gaming and digital tools into lessons, inspired by their desire to make students more engaged in the classroom.
The teachers are two of 57 teaching fellows from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey that are involved in the program, which began last year with 16 teachers from New Jersey. This year’s fellows will participate in a weeklong intensive in July, followed by virtual workshops and individual coaching during the following school year. The fellows were nominated by their schools and then chosen by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Developed with the New York City-based Institute of Play, the fellowship helps teachers bring game-based learning into their lesson plans.
“One of the shifts we’re wrestling with is teacher-centered education to student-centered learning,” said Stepsis, who teaches 11th and 12th-grade history and economics at Darien High School. “In this new world with access to information, no one needs teachers. So how do we train students to make connections and ask questions while learning?”
In Lindquist’s eighth-grade history classroom at Middlesex Middle School, instead of giving a lecture about the Reconstruction era post-Civil War, she conducted a role-play as sharecroppers to show students what it was like to be poor in the South during this time. Working a story into a lesson and giving the students choices are gaming elements combined into the lesson to make it more interactive.
“I could see the ‘click’ with them,” she said. “They understood sharecropping was a way to keep African Americans down. I could see them wondering how did they survive?”
Activities like this help students develop a deeper understanding of history and form questions about it and do their own research. It’s part of the shift toward a more student-focused type of learning, where teachers serve as content experts and guides, rather than lecturing the students and running the class.
“Instead of teachers feeding the information, it’s getting students to ask questions,” Stepsis said.
In his classes, Stepsis has started using a “layered curriculum,” where students do an independent activity of their choosing where they can read a text, write and reflect on it and then talk to Stepsis about it one on one.
“We want students not just to learn, but ask questions that can’t just be answered right away,” he said.
The teachers will be required to share these methods with their peers when they return from the conference and begin the new school year, in hopes the methods won’t just stay with Stepsis and Lindquist, but spread to other teachers throughout the district in the middle and high schools.
“I wanted to find ways to reach students and get them more engaged,” Lindquist said. “I’m hoping this institution will give me more of a toolbox.”
“The shift, it’s a big change in education,” Stepsis said. “It’s happening slowly and requires an appetite for risk and the unknown. There’s an aversion to risk, but that stifles creativity.”