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    World of Warcraft Finds Its Way Into Class

    Katrina Schwartz


    World of Warcraft

    Students’ passions can be a powerful driver for deeper and more creative learning. With this knowledge, some educators are using popular commercial games like World of Warcraft (WoW) to create curriculum around the game. And they say they’re seeing success, especially with learners who have had trouble in traditional classrooms.

    World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplay (MMOR) game, where players take on the identity of characters in a narrative-rich plot, working together to overcome challenges.

    “In my estimation, a well-designed video game is pure, scaffolded, constructivist learning at its best,” said Peggy Sheehy, one of the designers of WoW in Schools, an elective English Language Arts curriculum built around the game. “Mastery of content opens up new content and offers unlimited opportunity for success.” And that’s what learning should be like, she says: interesting, engaging and collaborative. Research on gaming in an educational context corroborates Sheehy’s viewpoint that games demonstrate mastery learning because a player cannot move on until he or she has completed a set of tasks.

    “Game designers get that failure is anticipated and celebrated. It’s a learning opportunity.”

    Sheehy designs “quests” with particular learning objectives in mind that the students or — “heroes” as they’re called in class — must complete. Quests might include components of comparative writing or characterization exercises. For example, Sheehy had her students read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit as they progressed through the course, and for one assignment, they had to pick a character from the book and categorize that character within World of Warcraft. They were asked to defend their choices in writing, supporting their argument with the text.

    “When I bring these to their other teachers, I am consistently told, ‘I don’t get anything like this from them,’” Sheehy said in reference to the writing her students produce. They write complex arguments because they are passionate about the game, the storyline, and the class. “When there is no passion you get dutiful, for the grade work,” she said.

    One of the benefits of using a multiplayer, collaborative game is that students also work together to accomplish quests. They post their writing in “guilds” within the game and are asked to critique one another’s writing, creating a constructive peer review.

    Perhaps one of the most prominent ways that game-based classes are different from traditional ones is how failure fits into the daily experience of learning. “Failure in a game typically means that you tried the challenge in a new way,” Sheehy said. It’s not bad; it’s creative problem-solving, risk-taking, and a natural outcropping of trying something new. But in most classrooms, kids are programmed to understand failure as shameful at early ages. “Game designers get that failure is anticipated and celebrated. It’s a learning opportunity,” Sheehy said.

    [RELATED READING: Money, Time and Tactics: Can Games Be Effective in Schools?]

    Those accustomed to having assessments be part of the learning model may wonder how to measure things like reading comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary.

    “Assessment and gaming are so contradictory,” Sheehy said. “Gaming is almost like the scientific method. You get your quest, you form a hypothesis, you try it out, you encounter challenges and you draw conclusions.” She thinks that’s assessment enough and is wary that formally assessing students will take the fun and the passion out of what she considers to be a very effective education tool.


  • Just Ran Across My Piece in the New York Times…

    In my first graduate degree at Stony Brook University,  I was graced with a gifted English professor who really made me take a hard look at my writing and where it might go were I willing to do the real work.   Unbeknownst  to me, she was in the habit of sending student work she deemed worthy to luminary portals such as the NY Times , The Atlantic, Forbes, Harpers and more.  I found this out when I received a release  form from the times…

    Anyway, would I edit this now–Oh yes!  Voraciously!  But, was I thrilled?  Yep.  Do I remember writing it?  Nope– it was just another assignment but I do remember being excited about the topic.  It was personal, it was authentic, and it was my choice.  Hmmmmm….


    The piece is below but here’s the link to the NY Times Archive

    Thank you Dr. Brown.


    July 28, 2002

    OPINION; Surfing My Way Back to My Past

    HAVING turned 40, I found myself thinking back about the adventures I had let slip out of my life over the last decades. Reigning supreme among my memories were those of surfing in every season at every time of day, even fully suited in December with a coat of Vaseline between my skin and wetsuit.

    Those brief winter excursions in the freezing water off Gilgo Beach were done for bravado, to maintain my status as ”one of the guys,” and were not much fun; not food for the soul. But the rebel in me hadn’t fully emerged so I remained anchored to the climate along with school, and the dictates of the underage suburban rebel.

    But later, once I broke free of the shackles of high school, I propelled myself to warmer climates, surfing Rincón, Puerto Rico; Blacks Beach by San Diego; Sebastian Inlet by Cocoa Beach; Nags Head and Cape Hatteras. Most times it would be a group of us embracing the camaraderie and the security in numbers and all falling in with the spirit of the sport, trying crazy stuff, coaxing a stunt from a lackluster wave just for the pure fun of it, knowing a buddy would bail us out if we landed in trouble.

    But the Zen of surfing, for lack of a better phrase, that I discovered by returning to it on Long Island two decades later, that was quite another story.

    The rush of surfing is not just about the skill but is about getting back into the primal state; the ocean is the catalyst. (Anyone who has ever gone alone for a swim offshore for a half-hour or so would know this sensation.) I wanted to get back to those beginnings; that is why I decided to welcome my 40th summer by getting back on a board.

    Arriving one early morning at Gilgo Beach, where I surfed so often in my youth, I met fog and damp sand and a shoreline like a fresh sheet of paper, all of yesterday’s footprints erased. Years had passed, but having surfed that very same break so often, I still knew that the wind was the deciding factor in what the day would give and what the ocean would sanction.

    Checking the wind I sat for a while, studying the waves. They were arriving in sets like families on an outing. First little cousins and toddling siblings would dribble up in spurts and tangled tempests, then an aunt or two, arching their backs, until finally, the elders, proud, thunderous and wizened waves, and at last the patriarch himself would rise and fall, as if dragging his kin back to the sea to begin again. The trick was to see the patterns and to know that the family always had a renegade. It was the break in the pattern for which I really watched, and the aim was to meet it poised.

    Between the exuberance and the thrill that awaited, there was a twinge of anxiety: the undercurrent of the idea that I may not return; not a likelihood, not even a strong probability, but merely a possibility. Always aware of the vastness of the sea and the eternal wild it represents, I went through the paces, hand over hand stroking the salty water, my body knowing the rhythm of the ebb and flow.

    So on that glorious day of my return to the sea, I floated on my board waiting for the first wave that would carry me home. Finally, it came, and I was ready. I signed the pact, dropping down the face with speed and legs thrusting toward the shallow then up and over and maneuvering for the crest, roller-coasting the left, and cutting back before the crash, exhilarated, turning back to flat waters to line up again, breathing deeply, washed in Poseidon’s grace.

    I did not try to conquer the waves, but to find a place on them and harness their power to meld with my own. When the ocean sought to remind me of my place and the currents tumbled and passed me from hand to hand like a rag doll, I remembered what I had learned — to relax, not to resist, not to panic.

    Survival required submission. Beneath the surface, curled into a ball, knowing that position to be the path of least resistance, there was a sense of complete abandon, and simultaneously, in the womb of the wave, a sense of helplessness and trust. There I was, a woman of 40 and rolling in the arms of the sea; a mother myself, in the cradle of the universal mother.

    Paddling back again and again, kissing the sand and bending back to the deep, I had a sense of remembering, or almost remembering, or perhaps it was more a precognizant awareness of the next wave, knowing the pulse of the ocean tied to the cadence of the blood in my veins.

  • Teacher of the Week…

    Educator of the Week: Peggy Sheehy, Suffern Middle School

    08 January 2014, 10:46 am by  in education Video games World of Warcraft – 1 Comment

    Who: Peggy Sheehy, sixth-grade humanities teacher at Suffern Middle School, former ITF/media specialist, and national leader in the use of video games and “virtual” games in after-school programs and as part of classroom instruction.

    Educator of the weekSince when: She’s been at Suffern M.S. since 2003.

    What’s new: After building a successful after-school program around World of Warcraft, an immensely popular online “role-playing” game, Sheehy has this year made WoW a key part of her sixth-grade humanities classes. She has co-authored a curriculum that links the game to the Common Core learning standards. “We have to meet these kids where they are, with what they care about,” she says.

    About using games in the classroom: “They need to know about the Renaissance. They need to know about making inferences. They need to know how to pull citations from two different texts and to compare them to make their point. It’s my job, my responsibility, to expose them to this curriculum and, hopefully, help them develop mastery. I don’t have the license to let them just go off and discover on their own. This is much more structured than just some free game play. They’re getting the benefits of the on-line environment. They’re getting the benefits of the social aspect of things because learning is social. Learning is no longer this isolated event.”


    Look for a story soon about Sheehy and her work in The Journal News/LoHud.com.

    Read about the Wow in School project HERE.