Sarah Lawrence College is not known for its sciences programs. A liberal arts school with a reputation of being a haven for artists and writers, even the brochures keep mentions of the natural sciences to a minimum. And yet it is here that I took one of the most interesting and engaging science classes in the entirety of my educational career.
“Crazy Physics” is not only a class that welcomes students of all levels, it is also a role playing game! The idea is simple, the government has money to spend on scientific research; to decide who merits the grant, a committee is formed, some are conservative, others are liberal. The committee meets a few times a week to meet with potential recipients to discuss proposals. When meetings are not in session, each committee member must keep up-to-date with proceedings through research and journal entries. Needless to say those readying proposals must be alert when others are presenting, all the while compiling their own research and presentations. All proceedings are recorded and reported on by the “media.” The professor is simply the Game master, refereeing when necessary, making sure everything is accurate and stepping in as the voice of reason.
For fifteen weeks, the entire class was absorbed in the project. The committee didn’t see eye to eye, the media formed biases and proposals were ripped apart. In real life, students got so involved that some of them actually got into serious arguments outside of class revolving around their role.
What a perfect example of engaged learning. No one was bored, the homework was less chore, more fun, and boy did we learn a lot! Each student read at least four books relevant to their topic, then introducing them to the rest of the class; each student conducted hours of research and wrote dozens of pages. More than anything, however, each student was obviously very interested in what they were learning, it was made relevant to them.
What gamification offers, and what is so often overlooked in education, is the ability to connect what is being learned to the students’ daily lives. Subjects that are more difficult, such as the sciences and mathematics, are usually so inaccessible because they are abstractions to most students. When the abstraction becomes “real life” it has the potential of being understood and utilized.
Although not known for the sciences, Sarah Lawrence is a place that is willing to explore new approaches to learning. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if every school had the same idea?