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Dungeons and Dragons as a teaching tool


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(The following is listed from a school email from the behaviorist, Doctor Bedlam, who teaches a self-contained special ed class for middle school students who have behavior problems, to another teacher in the department. Recently, the Doc has been using D&D's addictive nature as a carrot to make the boys behave... as well as using it to force them to read, write, and do mental math. The dice come in handy for percentage and probabilities lessons in math, and we have recently expanded to the concepts of "mean," "median," and "mode." The boys are getting educated, without realizing it... and they're enjoying it... and they're behaving, for fear of being denied a chance to play and earn gold and XPs during free time... and the Doc feels the need to share it with people who will understand what he is talking about...)


=) Oh, ghod, my stomach hurts. I can't stop laughing.


The game is D&D, of course. Yesterday, the boys found a magic rune on the floor. If you step on it and invoke its power, you roll percentiles; depending on the roll, you gain or lose powers (+2 to strength, +5 hit points, -2 to intelligence, etc.) The change is permanent.


Plainly, this is a very desirable thing. The boys took advantage of this; New Boy gained the power to see in the dark, Hyperboy gained +5 hit points, and The Scam got +1 to his armor class.


Well, The Scam did not much care for this. What he wanted was extra hit points. He complained. He said, “"Why did they get to roll for themselves, but you rolled for me? I want to roll again."”


But we ran out of time. So I offered Scam an opportunity this morning. I showed him the book that had the table he was rolling on, which had the numbers and their effects. The situation rapidly degenerated into an advanced lesson on probabilities and percentages (which are on their TEKS, of course!) Now, Scam is far from stupid; he just has to WANT to think.


“So,” he said, “based on percents, this means I only have a 10% chance of rolling the result that will give me the extra hit points.”


“Quite so,” I said, proud beyond measure of him.


“So… that means… (stopped to scribble briefly)… that means I can reduce the fraction, right?”




“That means… I only have a one in ten chance of getting the five hit points, expressed as a ratio.”


“Educationgasm,” I said.


“What?” he asked.


“Never mind,” I said. “Your calculations are correct so far.”


“And 25% of the results on the table will HURT me. That’s… one in four.”


“Got it,” I said.


“That sucks,” he said. “So there’s a nine in ten chance I won’t get what I want, and a 2.5 out of 10 chance that I’ll get screwed. Those odds are not good.”


“I would agree with that assessment.”


“But I want the hit points!” he cried. “Can’t you just give them to me?”


“I’m not in charge,” I said, sanctimoniously. “The dice are in command. And the dice are random. Roll it, and be witnessed… or keep what you have, and be glad.”


He agonized for two hours. He kept doing the math over and over, trying to get different results. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun teaching math. He finally broke, driven mad by his desire for more hit points, and rolled… 85, a -2 to his Constitution, which dropped his hit points by 2. He about cried.


I let him stew for a little bit, and then said, “Tell you what. I will allow you to take that roll back, and to keep your +1 armor class, and get your old hit points back… if you will participate with me in another probabilities experiment.”


He eagerly agreed. I said, “We will now roll again. However, the results… positive or negative… will be applied not to YOU, but to the next monster you fight.”


The Scam looked at me quizzically.


“And,” I said, “we will not use your dice. We will use mine.” And I fished a pair of ten siders out of my desk. “You will choose which is the tens and which is the ones before I roll.”


The Scam raised an eyebrow. “Can I roll them a few times to see how they come out?”


“Nope,” I said. “You can call which is which, but you may not touch them. I will roll ONCE. If you agree to this, I will let you take your results back.”


He moped about this for another half hour before finally agreeing to it. And then he changed his mind about whether the blue die was the tens or the ones. Four times. And then he finally let me roll.


So the Scam got his +1 AC bonus, and did not lose any hit points, although he did not get the permanent extra five he wanted. And the dragon waiting for them in area #13 has an extra two points of Charisma. I can’t remember a time when teaching was this much fun…

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That's pretty darned neat! Probably wouldn't work so well in a more "mainstream" math class, but in a special case like this teacher's got, you absolutely have to think outside the box and contextualize the learning - since mainstream isn't working for those kids in the first place.


I hope no crazy people come in and shut him down for using a game!

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I had an English teacher in 9th grade who engaged my imagination as a way to teach me sentence structure, grammar, and creative writing. She assigned a short story excersize to the entire class. 5 pages, front and back on any classroom appropriate subject. I chose to write a DnD story. By the time teh assignment was due, I had written 10 pages front and back and the story was not even close to being finished. She read the story to the class over a series of short readings for three days, all the while I continued to write, adding to the story. The class's reaction was quite positive as was my Teacher's reaction. She offered to let me write the story as an on going assignment that she would grade at regular intervals.


I had failed 8th grade twice, passed on to 9th as a disciplinary burden, and had already failed 9th grade once before reaching her class. I did not care a rat's arse abotu school, nor did I think I could benefit from it or even succeed within it. She taught me differently. I learned to believe in myself, seek different solutions to problems, and to follow through with ideas. I ended up with 679 pages of pure fantasy drivel that was decently composed, coherent, and had decent enough flow to hold a teenager's interest. Which, admittedly, does nto say much, but for me it was the milestone that changed my life. I had read all of the Dragonlance novels, most of the first Wheel of Time book before havign to give it back, and a few of the brand spanking new Dark Sun novels. I had never had much interest in reading anything that was not a comic book, or Guitar magazine ( and then it was just tablature )




I know it sounds very, very hokey, but it is very true, she was the teacher who made a very REAL difference in my life.


Be very proud of what you are doing with those kids. Even if they don't follow a great course in life they WILL take somethign out of your interactions with them that will be a positive asset.


So imagine this as a vicarious message from their future; " Thanks. "




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I had failed 8th grade twice, passed on to 9th as a disciplinary burden, and had already failed 9th grade once before reaching her class. I did not care a rat's arse abotu school, nor did I think I could benefit from it or even succeed within it.


And that is what I do.


I don't always succeed. I hate it when I don't succeed. An ordinary teacher teaches one subject, and teaches the same subject, the same way, to everyone in the class. I have only a few students, but I teach ALL the subjects... and I have to make that subject appealing enough and interesting enough and diverse enough to appeal to my charges. All of 'em. In multiple grade levels, at the same time. With kids who fight me every inch of the way, because that's what THEY do.


This was the first year it occurred to me to try D&D. I'm amazed at the results I'm getting.


I'm also amazed that the state is PAYING me to play D&D, but that's another thing entirely...

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Very cool! Don't forget to look at other games as a means to teach other subjects.


One of my social studies teachers used the board game Diplomacy to teach the politics behind WW1 - we played the game in class for a week while he tooks notes of our games, then the following week we discussed WW1 and how various things that happened in the games applied to the real world situation.


Some of the games in my collection that could have uses are:


Boggle & Scrabble - vocabulary building & spelling

Settlers of Catan - trade and barter, team work, simple math.

RoboRally - logical thinking, spatial relationships, simple programming

Formula De - simple math, risk management

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I think I would not recommend Diplomacy if any of the kids have impulse control issues*. The game regularly makes even otherwise sane adults consider violence.


Don't misunderstand me; I really like the game. It's well-designed and great fun with the right group. But I know far too many people who have conceived a long-term antipathy as a result of playing to recommend it broadly.


* Since most kids have impulse control issues....

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Oh, yass.


I've used games before. I don't dare use games that have any element of "screw your neighbor," because this sets off anger control issues. There are a LOT of ways games in education can go wonky.


I still remember when I used Age Of Empires II to emphasize the "God, gold, and glory" motivations of the Spanish conquistadors when they took over Mexico.


You might remember how, in that game, your Priests could convert the natives over to their side? Allovasudden, my kids realized entirely why the Spaniards were doing what they were doing. They gleefully converted the Aztecs over to their side, and put them to work mining gold and harvesting lumber... as the game permits... and as the Spaniards did in real life. The ugly part came when one of my black kids said, with some satisfaction, "Man, I understand this whole slavery thing now. Slavery was cool, long as you were the boss dude." Sometimes I still have nightmares about what would have happened if the kid had mentioned this to his parents (whom I presume were black, too.)


I bet he remembers about those conquistadors, though...

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I heartilly agree with D&D having potential in the classroom as any reasonable simulation tool can teach valuable lessons especially in concepts of actions having consequences. Plus if you're a sub and have a small group and no lesson plan, a quick dungeon crawl can be a life saver.

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CAV would help teach them the basics of math extremely well. It has all of that stuff that you're using D&D for, but the volume of calculations is a lot higher. Of course you'd also be giving them heavy, sometimes pointy, metal objects that they could throw at each other. :poke:

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CAV would help teach them the basics of math extremely well. It has all of that stuff that you're using D&D for, but the volume of calculations is a lot higher. Of course you'd also be giving them heavy, sometimes pointy, metal objects that they could throw at each other. :poke:


This is why I am now a CAV addict. I wanted to give my son a real world application for math and strategy in a way he'd think was fun. And it works great!

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