We use learning games to teach the curriculum. One week at a time, we introduce the students to a variety of universes and give them roles within that universe.
They could be nobles in ancient Rome – trying to master the challenges of the great empire; passengers in Agatha Christies Oriental Express – trying to pinpoint the killer; or NGOs preparing for a climate conference – trying to influence the lawmakers of the world.
Within the universe the students interact with each other and try out the boundaries of the constructed ‘reality’. They are presented with problems, cases, assignments and knowledge that is relevant for their roles and for the universe, that they try to master.
Here is a more specific explanation of the above example of a week in ancient Rome:
In the Roman Republic week the students are parts of different noble families in Rome, bc. Their aim is to rise in power, to influence history, and to secure the heritage of their family.
In Math, cosines and sine is introduced working with a problem concerning the water supply to Rome. Different elevated reservoirs in the vicinity have to be connected to the city by aqueducts. Also a Greek mathematician is challenging the roman digit system by asking for methods of multiplying and division. If the students work well with these subjects they will earn influence on the Roman monetary system and their plantations will work more efficiently.
In Physics the students are introduced to metals – their abilities, where they are found, and how they are mined and used. After working with this subject, they are dealt mines within the empire to give them good income and now they can equip their legions with better weapons for battle.
In German language studies they can buy slaves from a German speaking slave trader to get efficient plantations and farms. But they have to practice a good vocabulary to buy efficient workers. Also their teacher, representing a gothic warlord, presents them with territorial claims for his tribe, and they have to negotiate in German. Working well with these subjects earns them income for their plantations and status as diplomats within the Roman Empire.
In Social Science the students are part of the senate and the Roman courts and work with dilemmas and decisions. In Danish languages studies they read and analyze a Danish novel on the Cimbrian invasion by the important Danish author Johannes V. Jensen. In religious studies…, in geography…, in history studies…, in social science class…
Next week the students are in International Bank Conference week…, in Harry Potter week…, in WWII week…, in Superheroes week…, in General Hospital week…, in Around the World in 80 Daysweek…
This continues for the whole of the school year covering the entire curriculum necessary to pass the standard Danish exams. The school now has a stable of about 70 week long learning games to choose from. They have all been tried out with students aiming at final exams.
The school was founded by Malik Hyltoft and Mads Lunau, the latter still principal at the school and the former now active in the school board. Being a central part of the Danish gaming environment from the early 1980s on, they observed the motivation in young people created by the roleplaying games and strategic games coming to Denmark from abroad. After experimenting with learning games for years, they concluded that it was worth a try to see if the method could be used in the Danish educational system.
In 2003 they started working on the idea of a boarding school based on learning games – and in 2006 Østerskov Efterskole started in Hobro.
Ten teachers teach the curriculum having all from a teacher’s degree to a master’s degree – some of them both.
Working with roles, rules, and the principle of active students, large groups of special needs students see the method as beneficial for their studies and apply to the school. Four teachers supply support for these special needs students.
The practical staff and administration is 10-12 more employees.
Studies and references
Recent studies by Professor Lisa Gjedde have shown that the method improves motivation, general conceptual grasp, and long term memory of the subjects taught. Her statistical material shows that grades are either neutral or improved by the method. The improvements are mostly in verbal skills, but also when requiring insight into the ‘usefulness’ of the subject.
Lisa Gjedde and her team have found large benefits for the special needs students, where students with Asperger and ADHD are greatly helped in the way the teaching is organized.
Parents with highly intelligent children have found an interest in the school. It seems that the extra layer of meaning in the classroom in using different roles and realities challenges the profound minds.