Active Assessment

The House of Caecilius
Episode 1.3.a gave the students an opportunity to explore a bit of Pompeii. They were finishing up their conversation with Sextus at his house (the actual House of Menander) and they were required to use two different maps (here and here) to figure out how to get to the House of Caecilius. They also had knowledge of their current location from previous missions and the embedded Google Maps (with location markers.) What we had hoped would be a simple mission to allow the students to get their bearings in Pompeii turned into an amazing chance for active assessment and lesson adjustment.

As the teams began discussing how they would move from Sextus' house (location 51 on the map linked here) to Caecilius' house (location 34), it was abundantly clear that they had very little, if any, experience in reading maps. Among the many different emails that I received over the course of the night asking for help, one of my favorite was from a student that asked if I could just give him Sextus' address so he could plug it into a GPS-based mapping system and get the directions. In fact, more than one of the teams posted turn-by-turn directions as if they were in some sort of ancient car, complete with distances measured in meters. "Ok", I thought to myself, "this going to be a long night." Each subsequent post by the operatives indicated a further disconnect from being able to read and interpret two maps and merge data between them. In fact, most of the students threw their virtual arms up in the air and said "I give up, I have no idea what I'm looking at or how to find this house." The most creative post went to the team that said their Recentius was confused and decided to follow another one of the characters.

It was then I decided to abandon my plans for the next day and instead focus on improving our map literacy and how to use the many different online sources to figure out where we needed to go. I also figured that I would poke a little bit of fun at the fact that they were trying to use modern directions and place markers to navigate the ancient city. During the actual class on the next day we took some time to pinpoint on the Google Map where each of their Recentius characters ended up using the modern directions. One of the best "tricks" that I did was open both maps up in two separate tabs and align them up so that flipping back and forth showed how the satellite image and the charta aligned perfectly. This was going to be yet another notch in the belt of practomimetic learning; we could add geography to the growing list of skills that the whole experience improves and builds upon.

Then something amazing happened.

Two students, not content with giving up for the night, were determined to figure out where the House of Caecilius was on the charta and how their character, Octaviana, was going to get there. As the all powerful Demiurge figure looked on curiously, they traded posts in their team forum, piecing together the information from the two maps. Eventually, between the two of them, they discovered in the legend of the charta that the House of Caecilius was indeed on the map, now it was a matter of reconciling the satellite image with the other map. Around 9:50 (50 minutes after everyone else had logged off with their work for the evening completed - we have a 9:00 deadline for the online portion of the class) they finally discovered the location of the House of Caecilius and plotted a course through the streets of Pompeii to arrive at the "gignormous house on the right that would seemingly be hard to miss" (their words, not mine). You could literally see the sense of accomplishment in their words and, as the Demiurge, I made sure to offer them a hearty congratulations for their persistence.

The next day in class we traced through the logic and the thought process that these two students did the night before to figure out (together) where the House of Caecilius was and how to get there. When the rest of the class had that "ah-ha!" moment and put it all together, it was then I revealed to them that their two fellow operatives had accomplished all of this the night before, with no aid from the Demiurge.

I had no intention of spending as much time as I did on map reading skills but thankfully I was able to see that they desperately needed assistance in learning how to use that type of data to their advantage. We talked about why you couldn't always rely on a GPS device for directions and the usefulness in having the ability to read maps. Do you think that we'll be doing more travel activities during the rest of the practomime during the year? You bet.

This wouldn't have happened in a traditional setting. We look at maps all the time, discuss certain features, landmarks, points of interest. However, never before have I required teams of students to get from one point to another as a part of an ongoing narrative. Without the narrative, without the practomime, I would not have had the chance to actively assess the students as they floundered about getting from the House of Sextus to the House of Caecilius on that evening. I wouldn't have entirely adjusted my lesson plan to compensate for a deficiency in a skill that goes beyond the Latin classroom. I wouldn't have even discovered just how little experience they had in reading maps.

And, for those two students, they wouldn't have felt the pride that goes along with accomplishing a challenging task collaboratively as a team.

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