Selling the Drama: the First Day of the New Year

We are now three weeks into the start of a terrific school year and I wanted to take just a few moments here to reflect on what day one looked like for my group of new Operation LAPIS recruits (that is, my two new Latin 1 classes.) Each year that I've run LAPIS in my classrooms, the initial presentation has become more straightforward and more "in-character." This year I attempted to stay entirely "in-character" -- as Demiurge Omega, the representative from Project ARKHAIA's Mission Control, for the entire time during the first day of school. It was unbelievably fun and, using the first few weeks as a comparison to the past, it worked incredibly well. Selling the narrative -- the ARG layer which is so important to Operation LAPIS -- is vital, I'm finding, to the initial buy-in of the students.

As the students filed in, I said very little to them. Only the "splash screen" with the Project ARKHAIA logo was projected up on the board. After the bell rang, I moved to the center of the room and begun moving down the list of students, calling them each by their name -- except adding "Recruit" before hand. Recruit Johnny. Recruit Beth. Recruit Cameron. The confused looks that they exchanged with one another was priceless. When roll was called, I began the "initiation process", which included a series of automated computer-terminal-like slides processing the new recruits. It concluded with asking all of the new recruits to rise and swear an oath to Project ARKHAIA. I was shocked to see every student immediately rise and prepare themselves to swear the oath without any delay. So much of the success hinges upon students willing to suspend belief, if only for a moment, and allow themselves to pretend to be recruits on a mission to save civilization as we know it.

With the oath sworn, and another series of automated slides pretending to analyze their responses, I begun discussing some of the more intricate logistics of the Operation. I discussed how we (Project ARKHAIA) have infiltrated Google and customized some of the components to fit our need. A few days later I actually prove this to them when we explore how to easily add macrons (long marks) in a Google Doc -- the "Insert Symbol" menu item has the omega character located next to it. The other major component is, of course, Edmodo, for the collaboration and discussion portion of the Operation.

Since our first day is comprised of shortened periods, it works out perfectly to give them enough information to spark some curiosity without overloading them with the sheer number of various components and aspects to Operation LAPIS or practomimetic courses in general. The key is to scaffold in the components over time, rather than trying to explain everything at once -- something important that I've learned over the last couple of years.

As the clock ticked down, I handed out their New Recruit Startup Guides and explained their first two missions:

  1. create a Google Account and initiate contact with the Demiurge -- so that I can set up their first two documents in Google docs
  2. create an Edmodo account and greet their new (and permanent year-long) teammates, in the process finding out which character they will be controlling in the immersions

I've never had a 100% success rate with new recruits on the first night. Inevitably there are always a few in each class who either forget or just don't create the accounts. That changed this year. By 8pm, all 46 new recruits had created their accounts and introduced themselves to their teammates -- excited and a little confused about how different this seemed from their other courses. In years past I've also lost a handful of students over the first couple of days who decided that all of this felt too uncomfortable being so different from business as usual in school. Not only did I not lose any students, I actually gained a couple whose friends convinced them that this was the class to take (although that means that they broke the secrecy instructions...but I think I'm ok with that.)

What I'm continuing to find is that the more the students see me "buying in" to the narrative (that is, not breaking from character as much as possible), the more that they will continue to do so. The role that the teacher plays in a practomimetic course is much different than that of one in a traditional classroom and that perception shift (from a student's perspective) needs to happen, and continue to happen, starting with day 1. When they see me as a facilitator and guide (sent from Mission Control), rather than an instructor, their attitude and approach to the activities shifts in a positive direction -- something that the 100% success rate indicates. Even as I'm writing this now, after three weeks, I still see nearly 100% participation each night on the new immersion episodes. This, frankly, is uncharted territory based on past experiences. Selling the ARG narrative in a way that I haven't before, I believe, was vital to making this happen.

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