New teaching method replaces traditional textbook, lecture classes at Baldwin

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Not every high school student can say he or she goes on quests for homework.

The seniors in Daniel Harrold's college-preparatory English class at Baldwin High School are different. They're playing a game. The “Escapades through British Literature game” is composed of 12 units or QUESTTs. Students should earn 8,000 experience points by the end of the school year.

QUESTT stands for the seven components of each one: questions; understanding; exploration; synthesis; test; and “take a break.” “Synthesis” is a group project.

This is the first year Harrold has used the game-based learning system to reach out to students who have difficulty with traditional textbook and lecture classes.

“After being here for three years and seeing how the current system works, I thought it was serving the academic student,” Harrold said. “A lot of people would just slip through the cracks. They'd sit out assignments they didn't care for.”

The game-based learning class meets all curriculum guidelines and did not need to be preapproved, but Harrold has shared the new teaching method with staff and administration.

“Kids are used to being entertained,” Superintendent Randal Lutz said. “His methodology tries to tap into some of that. You can really build the response rates and look at student engagement. They aren't just passively sitting there listening.”

Harrold, who is writing his doctoral dissertation for Robert Morris University in Moon Township about game-based learning, is part of the beta group for a site called 3D Game Lab, which was created at Boise State University in Idaho.

Harrold paid a small fee to join the closed test group, and there will be various fees once the software is complete. “With a video game, you start at zero and work your way up,” Harrold said. “I think it's a more accurate measure of the student's learning. It's a more positive measure, so rather than being graded on mistakes, you are being graded based on what you do well.”

Each student has log-in access to 3D Game Lab, where they manage their assignments and earn badges and experience points. The highest achievement they can seek is “Game God,” at 10,000 experience points.

Each student must achieve at least an 85 percent per quest to receive the 200 experience points for the unit. Those who score under must correct their mistakes before moving on.

“It's more about what you take away vs. memorizing,” said Timmy Carr, 17. “In just a week, I've been able to express my opinions. There is no right or wrong answer.”

The game-based learning strategy also gives students the ability to learn at their own pace within some restraints. Once in a QUESTT, students can decide how many times they watch the lesson that Harrold has prerecorded through Youtube. The videos give them the ability to skip ahead, replay and pause to ask questions.

“You really monitor yourself,” said Sydney Stahl, 17. “I think it will help with technology and moving on to college. It helps you get used to monitoring your work like in college.”

Harrold put the group projects into place to keep students from getting too far ahead. While they are waiting for their classmates to catch up, early finishers can earn extra experience points or utilize the free time to work on assignments for other classes.

“I think that if a student is so advanced that they can go that far, they've earned some free time,” Harrold said.

Paper copies are available for students who prefer hard copies of the assignments, but most stick to the electronic version and submit their assignments through Google Docs.

Mid-terms and finals will follow standard test methods because that's what the school uses to track achievement.

Brittany Goncar is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or

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