Creating stories for teaching

I have been having great success in engaging my high-school students (age 16 to 18) in classroom activities, by combining four gamified methods.

Each of these work nicely on their own, but together it’s almost like having a magic wand of motivation. Today I will tell you how to use the first of these methods: the story.

Story

I use a continuous storyline for my classes, one that begin the first day that I teach, until the end of their time with me. You don’t need this kind of commitment to the story, though. I also have a story that I run in 90 minutes for public school visitors, so the story can have any length.

A story gives the player a purpose, some epic meaning to what they do. For this reason, the students should always be the heroes of the story. And their heroic actions should fit together with the knowledge they get during classes.

I divide my stories into three elements: Setting, challenges and objectives.

Setting

The setting is the genre – like crime, sci-fi, fantasy – but also the details about the time and area that the story is set in.
An important detail when choosing a setting, is to find an excuse to why the knowledge of the students is so important. Why are they the smartest people around?
They might be the only people around, or maybe most other people do not have this kind of knowledge.

My own storyline is set in a time when nuclear war has wiped out all civilization, and humans live in small isolated communities. I took a lot of inspiration from the Fallout series on this, but changed the location (to Europe), which factions exist, level of technology (to fit with Classcraft) etc.

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Challenges

Now that the students is in a setting, what should they do?
I usually go around this part by examining my curriculum: What is the next thing that the students need to learn – then make a challenge and objective from that.

Example: The students should know about pressure and the force of buoyancy. A simple challenge would be to make a boat. Since I’m teaching physics and not carpentry, they would make relevant measurements on a small floating object instead, and use this to gain insight on how to build a proper boat.

I always try to make the challenge some kind of experiment, and you should do the same if your subject allow it. In other subjects the challenge could be a written product or a presentation.

Objectives

Every challenge needs to be expressed as an objective in the story. In this case I presented it as an opportunity: Their community have always been cut off by a toxic river. With proper safe boats, they would be able to utilize the river for transportation, and the students would also be able to explore the other side of the river.

A different option would be to present the objective as a threat that needs to be overcome. I used this in the next part, where the river flooded a cellar full of supplies, and the students needed to build a pump. Yes, we did scale models again, but made some calculations on using oil barrels in the pump, which would give the proper volume for the task.

Now, I structure the story such that the students always know about their next objective. They might not know exactly what the challenge is, but they know what kind of knowledge they need to complete it. For this reason, they see all the theory they are taught, and all the exercises they do as preparation for the challenge.
The preparation stage is peppered with small stories of how the students need to earn the trust of the guardsmen to enter a colony (by sharing their knowledge), then they need to do the local wise man a favor, and finally he shares a new piece of theory with them.

I have had students telling me that physics became much more “down to earth”, when they were told stories about a post-nuclear future. Because they saw how the theory could solve problems in their own story.

Now that you know about the first gamified method, you are ready to read about the second: Adding choice to exercises.
Or maybe you want more details about how to Teach with a narrative.

Here are the other methods that I use in Gamification of teaching

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