Learning from Tomb Raider

Easily my favorite game of ALL TIME!

Easily my favorite game of ALL TIME!

One of my favorite games of all time is Tomb Raider – there is action, adventure, puzzles, gripping story telling, and amazing locations.  A new installment is due out just in time for Christmas (hint, hint).  I thought about putting a teaser trailer in, but this game has turned more toward the adult side of the gaming universe.  You will have to do an extra click into it right here.

Actually - I think I will skip sum up and keep explaining...

Actually, I think I will explain…

I went back today and played the reboot of this epic franchise and it dawned on me…games have a lot offer us as teachers.  Let me explain…

When you first start there is a choice: easy, normal, hard.  This may not seem like much, but think about the classes you teach.  Your classes fall into those categories, or through the course of the school year, move through all of those categories.  Maybe you have some really brilliant students and some students who struggle – in the same class at the same time.  Exercise your right, as a teacher, to differentiate your instruction.  Meaning – some students will get easier stuff, some will get harder stuff, all will be challenged.

The game did not tell me everything that I needed to know right away.  It gave me some very basic (super basic) controls to follow.  Then Tomb Raider Start Menuturned me loose to explore and practice the simple skills.  Think about your classroom – you don’t give your students the entire game plan on day one (a course outline is not the same thing).  You give them little nuggets – we are going to get here, we will be able to do this.  They get to explore your class those first few days.

I quickly ran out of the small learning space – only one way to go – forward….Which is exactly how we set up our curriculum isn’t it?  We teach a subject that has so many neat and exciting things to share with the those we teach.  We cannot possibly cover it all in a day and in some cases, we need years of study to understand a particular thing.  As teachers we set out a course for our class to follow (curriculum) and we push and pull and guide the students along the way.

Next up was a bad guy – I had to wiggle free from his gripTomb Raider Wolf (the test) so that I could advance the story line (the next chapter/unit).  I had a visual aid pop on the screen (test review) and tell me exactly how to do this.  The problem was, I was to slow the first time and he…umm…he ended my story rather quickly.  The cool thing is this (and don’t miss it), I was not penalized for dying.  That’s right, no penalty.  The game restarted with the bad guy grabbing at me.  I had the visual queue again and on the second try I got it right.

This is one place where as educators we can do better.  I know that we have to give a one shot assessment at the end of the year (I hate this) but don’t forget that your students are learning all year long.  What if there are a couple of things that they struggle with?  Even on test day?  As teachers do we just move on – to bad for little Johnny he bombed that one!  Or do we figure out a way?  The hard thing as a teacher is that there is so much material that needs to be covered by the time the high stakes test rolls around.Tomb Raider - Falling  But think on this – what if you gave little Johnny another chance?  If little Johnny gives good effort in class, asks questions, does his homework, does he deserve a second chance without penalty?  In my game I was trying to win, I didn’t make it. I needed one more try (sometimes I need lots of one more tries).  If those students are working hard, really working hard, do they deserve a second shot and sometimes a third?  I think so.  Now those students who sit there like a bump on a log, I don’t have much sympathy for them.  However, as a teacher it is my privilege to try and figure out why they are unmotivated and move them forward.

As I moved through the game, I learned new skills, new moves, faced more difficult bad guys and had less help from the game.  Each time I missed a jump (forgot homework), ran out of time (missed class for school activity), got caught (failed a quiz), made a mistake (asked for more time on a test),Tomb Raider Skills Menu whatever, I had the chance for a clean restart from a specific point.  There were even times I died, ON PURPOSE, to discover where the bad guys were located.  This gave me a chance to develop a strategy to get past them within the rules of the game.  Imagine a student taking a test, just to get a feel for it?  Is that bad?  Depends on the student right?  But if this young person is hard working and done everything that you asked them to do….

Moving through the first area of my game (it was coastal forest on a Pacific Ocean island) there were hidden power ups and loot to discover.  Not everyone finds these things, but I take my time and search for them.  Why?  Because they can help my character get stronger and fight stronger bad guys.  Tomb Raider LootCan you build this into your classroom?  Free homework passes or quiz passes or the opportunity to take a test with a buddy, things they would want to have, this could be the loot.  The game rewarded my persistence – you could reward your students.  They go above and beyond on an assignment – get out of jail free!  They help other students all the time – quiz pass!  Be creative here, that is what makes the game fun and this is where teaching can go to a whole new level!

And to borrow a term from Jane Mcgonigal (I lover her thinking) I beat the boss at the end of the level to earn the “Epic Win!”  I celebrated by leveling up and choosing some attributes to increase, then I moved on to the next area.  Tomb Raider - Lara Croft surveying the landI am not sure what an “Epic Win” will look like in your classroom.  Maybe that is the unit test, benchmark test, six-weeks test….something-something-test….But when the students earn it, be sure to celebrate!  Be creative here, there is no one right way to celebrate.  Sometimes all you need is a high five – think about what you do when your favorite team scores in a critical situation and then wins the game (This goal still brings tears to my eyes!!  Brazil denied at “The Death”).  If you are a gamer, think about the time you won a level that you worked really, really hard to finish.  Celebrate like that!

Games are fun and even though I don’t have time to spend playing them, I do.  And I don’t regret it or wish I had done something else.  Look in your school – I bet you see students wearing clothing for a professional or college team.  Can you capitalize on that?  I bet you could….

Have an idea to celebrate the “Epic Win?”  Have a cool idea for loot or an attribute to “level up” in your class?  Leave a comment…

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