A First-Time NASAGA Experience: Mike Canterino

In June of this past year, I, along with two colleagues, received grant money from our school to explore gaming in the classroom, the goal being to create a body of research, tools, and best practices for faculty to incorporate gameplay activities into their classrooms.

Now, as someone who still considers himself somewhat of a novice gamer (I started to play tabletop and roleplaying games only a few years ago), being considered one of my school’s “expert gamers” left me feeling like somewhat of a fraud—especially because my friend, Jared Fishman, one of the two colleagues, is an expert gamer. It was Jared who introduced me to tabletop and roleplaying gaming and Jared who was coordinating the gaming grant with me.

It was the third member of our gaming grant team, Peter Sawkins, who discovered NASAGA and the Rochester conference, and for me, it could not come at more crucial time. Less than two weeks prior to the conference, Jared, Peter, and I had our first meeting with our gaming cohort—a dozen teachers ranging across four departments and two divisions of the school. In this meeting, we outlined our goals and plans for the year, and for me, that meant both incorporating gaming activities into my own English classes and aiding other teachers do the same. And while I knew what fun, thoughtful and immersive games looked like from a player’s standpoint, creating and managing games and activities seemed wholly foreign and deeply intimidating.

Enter NASAGA.

Unlike any conference or any professional development I had been to in the past, the NASAGA conference actually put into practice the content it was presenting during the presentation itself. Each keynote speaker ran an interactive game, each workshop incorporated an activity-based design to allow us to experience potential classroom environments from the student perspective. Each keynote speech, each workshop centered itself around a fully-immersive activity that fostered my own creative thinking. Many of the notes I took in the workshops were ideas for applying activities to texts we are reading in class this year.

Thiagi, the pre-conference workshop leader says, “Plan exciting activities and the students will bring the content to those activities.” Since the NASAGA conference, my class preparation has undergone a philosophical change, concentrating on activities and projects rather than passages from texts. This change has, thus far, been successful. I have integrated more creative activities as a means to analyze literature; I am in the midst of creating a role-playing scenario for
reading The Catcher in the Rye; and Jared and I are proposing a writing course for next year that centers around the Collaborative Worldbuilding Card Game by Trent Hergenrader—the first keynote speaker at the conference.

The NASAGA conference changed the way I approach teaching my students and the way I approach teaching my colleagues about the value and merit of gaming in the classroom. Putting aside the intellectual and pedagogical value of the conference itself, the sheer amount of fun it was to game with interesting and incredibly smart people from across the country has me looking forward to what’s in store for next year.

Mike Canterino was a first-time participant at the NASAGA conference this year. He is an upper school English teacher and coach at Hackley School in Tarrytown, NY. Along with Jared Fishman and Peter Sawkins, he has received an iGrant from the school to explore gaming as a teaching enhancement tool.

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