The largest barrier that I've had to overcome in the first semester of Operation LAPIS has been the most prevalent (and most disheartening) belief held almost universally by my students: "I don't have an imagination."
Without even beginning to unpack the significance of that statement and consequences of that deep rooted belief, it should take most people by surprise. After all, how could it possibly be that a class full of 14-15 year olds could claim that they have no working imagination? I'm going to be 29 in a couple of weeks and I have a far more active imagination than I probably should.
Having no active imagination makes it hard to exist inside of a simulated role-playing experience. It makes trying to think or act like Roman next to impossible if you can't actually imagine yourself thinking, or acting, like a Roman. It makes imagining yourself at Troy, on the Capitoline Hill as Romulus is about to kill Remus, or in Pompeii as Vesuvius is erupting a very challenging task.
The fact of the matter is this: all of the above is true. However, there have been brief glimpses that for some of these students, their imaginations are at least awakening ever so slightly. In one episode, while they were being chased through the forum by some bad men, one of them had the idea of knocking over some merchant carts as they ran by in order to slow down those in pursuit.
That may sound insignificant at first but when I read that post, I was overjoyed. Parsing those words carefully it suggests that the student is now picturing a bustling forum, filled with merchants hawking their wares. He's made concrete in his mind the type of commercial activity that takes place there and imagined himself inside of that space, able to interact with the carts and, yes, even knocking them over.
Another anecdotal example of their imagination beginning to come alive happend just last week. The Recentiī were immersed back to Aeneas' ship where, with Juno and Venus encouraging him, he's debating whether or not to stay permanently in Carthage. Their prompt was to convince him to stay or to go; it was up to them. They were given access to various support materials, including summaries of relevant passages in the Aeneid and summaries of the history between Rome and Carthage. The more savvy ones immediately picked up on the connection and were debating how to convince Aeneas to leave -- fully aware of the animosity between the two civilizations.
However, something curious happened with one student. As a little bit of a back story, each Recentius team had just (in the previous mission) decided on a class (profession or specialization in game terms). This particular group chose a poeta for their character which has the unique ability of being able to call on the Demiurge to help provide them with the perfect line of poetry to convince a character to do something. This one student was the first (out of all the groups) to ask to use their new found ability.
One thing that I feel like I must note here. This student hasn't demonstrated the greatest level of proficiency so far but he's been one of the most active and engaged participants. I praised him for endeavoring to use his ability and his group went back to discussing how they would handle this mission. They continued to debate and shortly the volume levels started to rise. We were taking some class time for this mission and eventually they called me over. The student asked, "Mr. Bal... they don't think it's possible, but I think it is... are we allowed to use our ability to convince someone who isn't actually here in the immersion to do something?"
Stop the presses. What's he getting at here? Intrigued, I said "Certainly anything is possible, what did you have in mind?"
He continued, "Well, Aeneas probably won't leave on his own, he seems to like Dido. I want to use the perfect line of poetry to pray to Neptune to convince him to make the winds blow Aeneas away from Carthage and towards Italy."
Absolutely you can.
Not only has he understood Aeneas' feelings towards Dido, the significance of Aeneas staying versus leaving, and the implications of such a decision, he's also taken on an ancient mindset with regards to the balance of Neptune and seafaring in general.
Imagination is the key to problem solving. And imagination is something that we must foster in our students if we ever expect them to become the problem solvers of tomorrow.