Gaming for Prophets

Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg, Jewish Studies Teacher and JudeoTech Integrator

JudgeQuest, a unique online gamified program, exploits the potential of gamification to provide a vehicle for effective differentiated learning in a Judaics classroom. JudgeQuest uses a flipped classroom and quest-based learning to empower students to learn Sefer Shoftim (the Book of Judges) almost entirely independently, at their own pace, and with greater depth and skills than are currently attained.

The backbone of JudgeQuest is a series of specially designed five-minute videos, containing every word of every verse, with no more than one verse per screen. A typical video is color-coded to show grammatical points and quotations, contains pictures and animations that tell the story, and has a healthy dose of humor. Embedded multiple-choice questions and a teacher dashboard help to keep track of students’ progress, and the availability of Ivrit kalah (easy Hebrew) or English versions means that every student can access the videos on their level. Students view the videos as many times as they like and answer the questions until they earn the score set by the teacher for proficiency. They learn to regard each attempt as another step towards mastery and are delighted to hear that only the final score counts.

Links to the videos and the rest of the coursework are housed on 3DGameLab, a Quest-based learning site that enables every assignment to earn XP (experience points) and supports the awarding of badges and leveling up. Quests can be as conventional or unconventional as the teacher wishes; the difference is in the labeling. “Fighting the Boss” can mean conquering a test on the entire chapter. I try to make many of the assignments fun by designing review games and creative activities. In the future, I plan to include game design, as well, as one way of demonstrating mastery. The quests cover skills of reading, summarizing, making connections, grammar, parshanut and trope. It is up to the teacher to decide which quests are appropriate for which students. Stronger students can explore the trope and the grammar and can make connections to other texts, while weaker classmates may be doing the plot-related and reading quests.

By enabling the bulk of the learning to be done independently, JudgeQuest frees the teacher to work individually with kids, and allows teachers to differentiate based upon needs, to insert periodic frontal reviews, and to choreograph discussions in areas where we want to stretch the moral thinking of our students.

JudgeQuest thus engages more students and fosters active learning. It teaches more areas and skills. JudgeQuest makes differentiation natural and simple: Students proceed at their own pace, and teachers can tailor which quests are done by which students. JudgeQuest removes the stigma of failure and teaches students to take responsibility for their own learning. It can be adopted in toto or in part, as teacher, students and school prefer.

JudgeQuest is a work in progress. It was tested in incomplete forms since 2015 in the fifth grade of the SAR Academy, and, in 2016-17, at Manhattan Day School. Here are some things that I learned.

The videos themselves are very popular, both among students and teachers. Some teachers use them to pre-teach, others use them to review or aid summarizing, while I use them for independent learning.

The English version is necessary. My school learns Ivrit B’Ivrit, but there are a few students in each class who still need the English.

It is good that the program is modular. Teachers are reluctant to make the commitment to the gamified piece because of the learning curve, the novelty or personal teaching style. They nonetheless enthusiastically use the videos, with or without the embedded questions. The time to get buy-in is the summer, not the fall.

It isn’t necessary, or perhaps even desirable, to do every chapter with JudgeQuest. There will always be a couple of students who prefer to learn the traditional way. Teaching some chapters in a different, more traditional manner takes their preference into account and adds variety.

Never underestimate the ability of students creatively to undermine your best efforts. Students’ screens must be monitored to make sure that they are doing what they are supposed to do.

It is wise to balance the independent time and the time spent in frontal review or discussion. Do not take for granted that answering the embedded questions guarantees knowing the content. Plan for as many ways of checking knowledge as you can.

Some teachers found the videos saved them time, while some said they cost them time. This may have depended on how they were used in class and whether they were also assigned at home.

Despite the adjustment necessary for teachers used to traditional pedagogy, gamified learning can pay ample dividends by engaging students and helping them learn the material, especially in subjects such as Navi that are often allotted more limited classroom time than the primary subjects in Jewish studies.

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HaYidion Differentiation Fall 2017
Fall 2017