Online program enables Baldwin students to learn at their own pace

Baldwin High School students Tony Thornton (left) and Nathan Ondo work on an assignment in Daniel Harrold’s class.
Baldwin High School students Tony Thornton (left) and Nathan Ondo work on an assignment in Daniel Harrold’s class.
| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 2:24 p.m.

An online game of “Escapade through British Literature” has allowed high school seniors in Daniel Harrold's college-preparatory English class at Baldwin High School to take charge.

The focus is on the students. They set their own pace and, at times, they even decide when they will take a test for advancement. The teacher, who appears in online videos, stays in the background to guide those who need assistance.

“Usually, a class will happen whether the students care or not. The way this class works is the students are the ones that push it forward. The students will not get to level two, just like a video game, if they don't complete level one,” Harrold said.

Harrold's approach to education, in which he teaches senior English students through a series of QUESTTs in an online video game, is rare in the region, school officials said, and one that soon will become a model for others.

His video project-based learning formula was selected as one of 10 programs to receive one of the Sprout Fund's Recipe for Remarkable Learning Experience Project's $5,000 grant, where he, along with Baldwin High School assistant principal Janeen Peretin, will create an approach so that other educators can duplicate his methods.

Harrold and Peretin will turn the daily practices into an online instructional kit as part of the project. They also will participate in workshops and professional development for the project.

“I know there are not many other schools or teachers doing what Dan's doing in his classroom every day,” said Peretin, who will serve as the district's new director of information and instructional technology in upcoming months. “This is an opportunity for us to really showcase what Dan's doing in his classroom and to really try to grow it as well.”

Playing a video games gives students freedom.

“In video games, you have this freedom to fail,” Harrold said. “Most of the world is not like that, but in video games, you can fail over and over and over again, until you finally succeed and move on.”

Video games also allow students to work toward a goal, or a letter grade, instead of starting at the top with the fear of losing points.

“You start at zero, and you gain power and experience as you move on. A typical classroom is not like that. A typical classroom, you are told by the teacher that you start at 100, and you sort of whittle your way down until you settle at your level grade,” Harrold said.

Using “3D Game Lab,” created at Boise State University, mixed with his own ideas, Harrold turned his classroom into a game.

The game consists of 12 QUESTTS, or the format for the unit: questions, understanding, explore, synthesis, test and take a break. Students watch videos, read assignments, answer questions and score points.

“So much of the learning is not direct instruction, me telling them things, it's them interacting with the text and doing things with it,” Harrold said.

Some students work a month ahead of the class schedule. The majority are within a day of the planned itinerary, and there are those few who fall behind.

Harrold keeps the projects relevant and exciting, such as having the students create videos about a new King Arthur to complete the unit on the medieval British leader or using social media to retell the tale of Beowulf. “What he's able to do, often times, is connect things that they're learning about with modern day media,” Peretin said.

Someday, officials would like to incorporate the game into other classes.

Through the grant, Baldwin High School also will be eligible to receive an additional $2,500 to test the program prior to its public release.

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