When students get to play World of Warcraft in school, even the teacher is happy.
Alfonso Gonzalez is a middle school science teacher at Chimacum Middle School in Washington. He’s taught grades 4-8 for 25 years.
We spoke to Gonzalez about what’s it’s like to use WoWinSchool (read as “WoW in School”), a program created by Lucas Gillispie, the director of academic and digital learning for Surry County Schools in North Carolina.
How did you find WoWinSchool, and what made you decide to use it?
Alfonso Gonzalez: I was a WoW player. As a matter of fact, the 6th grade science teacher from the school in the next town showed it to me one day when we were at science conference. I was like, “Oh, all right, I’ll try it out.” I got hooked on it.
I never thought of it as something I would do with students in a school setting. I thought of it as a video game, something you do for fun. Honestly, I don’t remember how I came across Lucas’s website. It was probably through Twitter because I follow a lot of teachers through Twitter. When I saw WoW in School, it was free, first of all. He offered it for free on his website, and you could download the entire PDF. I looked through it and I was like, “Oh, my.” Here are teachers who are using a game that has no place in school really, and they’re using it for educational purposes to motivate their students to do things like reading and writing. So that’s really what hooked me is a way to motivate kids to do school type stuff.
How long have you been using it now?
Gonzalez: This is my third or fourth year. Definitely three years offering it as a class. The first time I tried it, I tried to incorporate it in my 8th grade life science class. At that time, I thought, “Wow, what a great way to have them learn about categorizing living things by going to a world that most of them don’t know anything about.”
So I got them all to create a character in World of Warcraft and start playing it, and they got to a certain level where they were free to go around and explore. And then their task was to draw and label the different flora and fauna from that region. And I gave each group of kids a specific region so they weren’t going everywhere. They had to figure out ways to categorize [the flora and fauna], and I let them group according to what made sense for them. Overall, the game-playing part they were into … the actual drawing and categorizing wasn’t 100 percent successful. [Laughs]
So yeah, I didn’t repeat that that way. But the next year, we had a new principal, and we had a chance to teach a course during what we call our exploratory. It’s kind of like elective classes. We have three 6th grade classes, and there’s three 6th grade teachers, and we could do any curriculum for that period. It was like a 53-minute period. So I wrote up a proposal and presented it to my principal, and he approved it. And I was shocked. I didn’t think it would fly. I think he approved it because there was a way that we could do it for free. Because Lucas on his website does show how you can get a discount, but even with the discount, it would have required quite a bit of money. But I showed him we could do it for free.
The discount for the WoW subscription?
Gonzalez: Yeah, because it’s a subscription game. Lucas had a way—they had a program where through Blizzard you could get it at a discount. And I couldn’t get that one.
Here’s what’s brilliant. Like a lot of games, you are allowed to play for free up to a certain point. World of Warcraft does the same thing. It lets people who want to try it out create an account, create characters, and play up to Level 20. Now those who play can go up to Level 100. But Level 20 is very beginner. They have a limit on how much gold you can earn and how many things you can do, but for my purposes of getting kids playing the game and doing the activities and assignments from the WoWinSchool’s curriculum, it was perfect. It was all we needed.
How does WoWinSchool work, and what is The Hero’s Journey curriculum?
Gonzalez: Another tool that I use in my classroom is a learning management system called 3D Game Lab. And like any learning management system, it allows you to put in your assignments, and once you’re in there kids can go through and complete them at their own pace. …
Well, I took a course from Lucas called “WoW in School.” He not only created the curriculum, but he took all those assignments into 3D Game Lab assignments. They’re called quests. So kids complete quests, they earn XP, and they get badges. They can do that in the computer lab through 3D Game Lab, and because I took his course, I got the entire curriculum on my 3D Game Lab as part of being a student in his course. So I had it pretty made for me.
He has done all this work, and he gives it away. I take my kids into the computer lab, they all log on to their account, and it has got their WoWinSchool quests there ready for them. I did go in and tweak it so I could add assignments that are unique to Chimacum, and I took out some of the ones you needed a paid account to do. But the lion’s share of the work was completely done for me by Lucas.
How does the curriculum connect with World of Warcraft?
Gonzalez: There are a certain number of quests or assignments that need to be done to get to play the game. Some of the assignments are, are you ready to begin the journey of a hero? And kids read a passage and they say, “Yes, I’m ready.” Then they look at and analyze bravery and cowardice, and are they the same thing? How are they different? Do you have to be fearless to be brave? And they write about that.
They look up adventure quotes, pick their favorite one, and analyze it and write why did they pick it, what does it mean to them, and how does it relate to playing a massively multiplayer online role-playing game like World of Warcraft. The next part is really cool. Part of the course is—World of Warcraft has different races, and Lucas created a series of questions where they have to go to different online resources to learn about the race they want to play. If they want to play a Night Elf, they look up Night Elf and answer all these questions to learn about what they can do, what special abilities they can get, and how can they play the game.
Once they’re done with that, then they research classes—the Warrior, the Hunter, the Priest, or the Druid. They pick the one they think they’re gonna like, then they research it. They answer a bunch of questions about that. Then they get to make the huge decision: Do I want to play what I researched, or do I not really like it and want to play another? They come up with a name, and those are the preliminary assignments that they have to do to unlock and play the game.
What happens next?
Gonzalez: Once they start playing the game, I give them time to level up their character and get to a point where they can either meet up and get together, so they have a little more freedom. Back in class, we work on—there’s a whole series of assignments that stem from there. Some are more analyzing the journey of a hero and at any point in the game, what part of the journey is your World of Warcraft character on? And then there’s a question about in your life, what part of the journey of a hero are you on and why? So they get to go down that road and learn more about this journey.
There’s another branch they can take which is poetry. Looking at and analyzing poetry and what you like about this poem and why. So there is reading and writing involved. We have a discussion forum where kids post their answers, and they can reply to each other’s posts. They also have quests or assignments where kids have to learn to take a screenshot or do a screencast and share it on our discussion forum. There’s all these different ways that they can interact with the game.
I actually went to a computer conference, and they had a World of Warcraft and reading session. So of course I had to go to it. And this one teacher, who I guess is using World of Warcraft with her students, was showing that by playing the game, the kids are actually reading the quests and what they have to do and looking up information. The Lexile level of some of the wikis that people have created are actually really high. So kids have to have pretty decent reading skills to advance in the game. Because when they get stuck, I tell them look it up. Somebody must have posted a way out of it, and yes, they have.
Are the poems in the game?
Gonzalez: No, they can choose any poem that they like and yeah, that part can be adventure poems—mostly it’s something having to do with adventure and heroes and stuff like that.
Part of the assignments going down that path will relate back to—in the game, how can you relate these types of poetry to what your character is doing? There’s one where they get to write their own poem and put them up on the discussion forum.
What changes or reactions from students have you seen since using the curriculum?
Gonzalez: They’re really excited when it’s a day when they get to play. I hear them talking down the hall, like, “Oh, we get to play World of Warcraft today!” Sometimes I actually have to remind them because they get so used to it that I’m like, “You realize you’re getting to play a video game … during the school day as part of your class.” I have to remind myself of that too … I told the other teacher who got me started, “I’m playing World of Warcraft with my 6th graders … in school … during the day.”
When you go into the computer lab, the buzz and the energy in there—it’s high energy. Kids are talking to each other because they’re helping each other out. “Hey, how do we get to Stormwind?” “Oh, come on, I’ll show you how to get the boat!” And they’re working—I’m just watching this take place, and it is amazing. You talk about in education having kids use technology to communicate and collaborate and connect, and they totally are doing this. If you just play the game by itself, the critical thinking and problem-solving that they’re doing, just in the game—I could make a case for just playing the game, even if we didn’t do all these other activities. But it is nice to sell to principals and parents that we are doing more than just playing a game in school. [Laughs]
Another aspect is digital citizenship. That’s huge. Anytime something goes wrong in the game, like if we run into another actual player and somebody’s rude or something, we talk about that. How could you handle that in real life when you’re playing a game and somebody comes and does something that is clearly wrong and rude? How do you react? Digital citizenship is another aspect that’s in the WoWinSchool curriculum.
How can other teachers get started with using WoWinSchool and The Hero’s Journey?
Gonzalez: Going to Lucas’s website is the first thing. Download the curriculum and take a look at it because the proposal I wrote to my principal was one page of me explaining why I wanted to use it and that the curriculum existed, and the second page was [where] Lucas tied the assignments that are in the curriculum to some national standards. So it’s standards-based, and I think he’s even done it to Common Core now. So it is standards-based curriculum, which administrators can get behind and support.
That’s the first step. And then find a place in your school day where it will fit. Luckily, I had this chance to teach an exploratory class, which could be any topic to enrich our students’ lives. And that one was totally accepted.