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Epic learning: Common Core enters World of Warcraft

posted Dec 13, 2013, 5:01 AM by Ramapo Central   [ updated Jan 9, 2014, 3:45 AM ]
[December 13, 2013] “Percy Jackson is following the path of The Hero’s Journey. I know this because the author states…”

Students in Peggy Sheehy’s sixth-grade ELA class at Suffern Middle School are learning to craft powerful paragraphs with strong claim statements supported by direct quotes and text references.

They are also learning to be mighty gamers because Sheehy is gamifying the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS).

With the command “Go forth and be epic,” students pack away drafts and log on to 3D Game Lab where A Hero’s Journey awaits.

WoWinSchool: A Hero’s Journey is a curriculum based in World of Warcraft (WoW), a massively multiplayer online role-playing game in which players assume characters and interact within an ever-changing, virtual world.  Sheehy helped to frame the curriculum developed by Lucas Gillespie and Craig Lawson with whom she collaborates on the award-winning WoWInSchool project.  The original curriculum featured The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien as the companion novel.  While tracking Bilbo’s journey, students made connections to their own lives with a focus on self-reflection and journaling. 

This year, Sheehy is translating the sixth-grade New York State Expeditionary Learning (EL) modules into WoWinSchool using 3D Game Lab, a quest-based course management system for delivery.  In addition to traditional, paper-and-pencil work, students assume the role of a character to complete quest-based assignments online while investigating Myths: Not Just Long Ago and Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief.  Self-reflection, in conjunction with the EL texts and tracking of characters’ hero paths in WoW, rounds out a robust humanities curriculum that addresses the CCLS while meeting the kids “where they live”.

Students say it’s a far cry from just playing video games.

“There’s a lot of problem-solving and reading,” Adam explained. “This is something kids are interested in, not just reading from a textbook. For the game to be fun, you have to read to understand what to do. Sometimes the quests aren’t clear, but that’s part of the fun—figuring it out.”

Through WoW, students learn to communicate exclusively through an online text format with one another—a skill they will need in an increasingly tech-centric world. They are also learning to assert their influence for good.

“You have the ability to positively influence any arena in which you participate,” Sheehy advised. “You can improve the culture of games you play online by letting it be known that bias or bullying is not OK!”   

Rachel agreed.

“You can learn a lot about how to treat other people,” she said. “Also, you learn how to figure out what to do to learn a lesson…and that’s something that helps you for any subject.”

Sheehy, who bills herself as “a teacher on a mission,” presents her work with learning in virtual environments all over the world.  This winter, she will be bringing WoWinSchool to The American School of Bombay in Mumbai; she’s been invited to share with educator groups in Australia next summer. 

“It’s about honoring our kids and the ways in which they learn,” Sheehy noted. “It’s about bringing the tools they use into schools and it’s about creating learning spaces for them.” 

UPDATE: Peggy Sheehy is named Journal News Educator of the Week

Photo caption: Suffern Middle School sixth-grade teacher Peggy Sheehy has translated Expeditionary Learning modules into a quest-based curriculum featuring World of Warcraft.