Latin learners turn school into a game

Last year the Latin level one and two classes at Dana Hall moved away from the traditional textbook and tried something new. The Latin level three class followed in their footsteps this year as well. These classes are now being taught using an online, interactive, role-playing type game called Operation Lapis, which is trying to reverse the idea that Latin is a “dead language.”

Operation Lapis is set up as a series of missions. Every student is paired up into groups,  and each group is given one character. As a group they must use their vocabulary and grammar skills to answer prompts, given to them by “mission control,” in Latin, and use their knowledge of culture to navigate different situations their character is presented with. The ultimate goal is to find the Lapis, or stone, by the time a student finishes her last year in Latin. As none of the classes have finished the game yet, the stone has yet to be found.

The game was created in 2010 by co-founders Kevin Ballestrini and Roger Travis. Their mission in making the Lapis game was to find a new way to teach an ancient topic in modern ways. In his 2013 TED talk, Roger Travis says, “The kind of immersion that is happening in games … is a re-invocation of twenty-five hundred years ago or more of the tradition of storytelling.” The game’s founders believe that reaching the learning objective of the curriculum as well as mastering the skills and content provided, while enjoying the game, is the most efficient way to learn Latin. The objective is to get students to be able to actually use the language. 

The game was brought to Dana Hall by Latin teacher Ms. Jacqui Bloomberg, who was Head of the World Languages Department at the time.  Having been to a conference about Operation Lapis and watching a Travis’s TED talk given by co-founder Roger Travis, she knew it belonged in Dana Hall’s classrooms. “We’re always looking for new ways to teach the language.” Ms. Bloomberg remarks. “We don’t want people to leave here feeling like they don’t know the language after four years.”

The price of the Lapis game is less than any textbook at only $10 per person, and Dana Hall provides the game free of charge for all students using it. The game itself is constantly being changed and altered upon request.

“It’s much faster than if a textbook needs to be changed,” Ms. Bloomberg adds. “Everything doesn’t have to be reprinted, and we don’t have to buy new editions.” There’s an online community where teachers and administrators can share their experience with the Lapis game. They can point out small things like a typo or suggest ideas and discuss what they believe should be changed.

Student reaction to the game has been, for the most part, positive. Many students like interacting and using the characters in the game to help learn as opposed to a textbook. Lindsay Hendrix ’19 says, “I like the resources the website provides us with. For each Key text, the website also provides you with vocabulary, grammar, and culture information to help you answer the prompts.”

Of course, just as there are people who prefer to take paper notes rather than using an iPad, there are going to be people who prefer a textbook to the game. One student who wishes to remain anonymous says, “Having experience with it, I prefer a traditional textbook. That’s not to say that the game isn’t a good way to learn the language; I just like the textbook better.”

In the long run, everyone using the Operation Lapis game is learning the Latin language in a new and creative way.

Lapis figures

Image: The primary characters in the educational game Operation Lapis. Image source: The Pericles Group.

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