The Pericles Group

Instructor's Overview

This document, written in an out-of-game style, introduces Latin teachers to Operation LAPIS. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to mail Kevin (kevin@practomime.com) or Roger (roger@practomime.com)!

Operation LAPIS is a two year introductory Latin curriculum. It covers the same content to be found in a very wide variety of Latin textbooks, for example the Cambridge Latin Course, the Oxford Latin Course, and Ecce Romani. From the standpoint of its role in the education of a Latin class, Operation LAPIS takes the place of a textbook, or serves as a supplemental set of materials, to help students reach the learning objectives that are standard in first and second year Latin at both the high-school and the college levels:

  • Read Latin
  • Write Latin
  • Identify key products, practices, and perspectives of Roman culture
  • Summarize key events of Roman history

Operation LAPIS is also an interactive adventure in which students perform their learning as an extraordinarily effective and engaging way to develop and assess their growing skills in the areas listed above. You can call it a game, if you like, and students tend to do so, but it’s also a story, and an ongoing collaborative performance. Whereas books like the ones listed above allow students to follow a story over the course of their Latin learning, Operation LAPIS allows them to play a story about ancient Rome, and, even more importantly, to integrate into their play-performances their growing skills in all the relevant domains. This is Latin-learning as experiential learning, project-based learning, and problem-based learning: students in Operation LAPIS learn Latin by playing Romans.

For example, instead of reading about how a famous Roman, as a young man, was present at an important battle, in Operation LAPIS students, collaborating in small teams, must perform as young Romans who are present at the battle of Cannae and later the sack of Carthage.

How does that work? Operation LAPIS uses some of the most important and compelling aspects of modern digital games–things like role-playing in an imaginary world, collecting, leveling, and questing–in the service of an adventure that has both a digital and a decidedly non-digital aspect.

This gets complicated, but the beauty of the concept is actually in its directness and basic simplicity: students in Operation LAPIS are recruited to save the world by learning Latin. You the instructor will play as an agent of the shadowy figure called “the Demiurge,” who has founded an organization with the purpose of saving civilization by giving students the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to keep the values of the ancient world alive. You will “recruit” your students on the day you begin using Operation LAPIS, telling them that they have been selected to undertake this mission by entering into a text-based simulation of the ancient world in which they must find and decipher the LAPIS SAECULORUM.

You will tell them that they have been divided into teams, and that each team will control a young person of the gens Recentia in the ancient world, taking turns to make the final decision about what their Recentius or Recentia will do in response to the episodes of the story that will unfold before them, and which they will themselves be able to shape.

You will finally tell them that in order to gain the skills they will need to find and decipher the LAPIS they will have to work to attune themselves to that simulation of the ancient world by practicing reading Latin, doing exercises, collecting morphological forms and grammatical constructions, and doing basic research to discover the secrets of the Romans that will allow them to make their way in Roman culture.

The story will take their Recentii from Pompeii to Britain to Egypt, back to Britain, and finally to Rome itself. They will also be travelling in time and in imagination within the story, going back to the Titanomachy and the Trojan War, to Carthage, to Alexandria when Octavian took it. At every point, they will follow the trail of the LAPIS, but they will learn that the LAPIS is merely the Demiurge’s way of expressing the never-ceasing struggle in Roman culture between the forces of traditional authority and the forces of populism; to understand the LAPIS, they will have to understand the complex social history of Rome. They will learn how to answer the question “What made Rome great?” in many different ways, gaining in the process the ability to evaluate our own cultural practices by comparison.

We understand how difficult to conceptualize the above is. The best thing for it is to lay out the materials, piece by piece. The first piece is what we call the TSTT. TSTT stands for “Texto-Spatio-Temporal Transmitter,” which just means that that’s where the students, playing as operatives, interact with the adventure. They do that interaction in two main ways: first, they take turns deciding what their team’s character will do, for example at a Roman cēna; second, they collaborate with their team-mates, doing cultural research and composing Latin, to work out what the student whose turn it is will have the team’s character do.

The TSTT looks like an internet forum; if you haven’t seen one of those, you can think of it as a bulletin-board. The action takes place as you, as an agent of the Demiurge, post what’s happening, and your students, as operatives controlling young Romans, post in response what their teams’ young Romans will do. In a separate place in the forum, the teams collaborate; each student sees only his or her own team’s collaboration. They post about what they think their young Roman should do, and their team-mates respond. Like a bulletin-board, the TSTT can accept posts any time the students are ready to make them; their team-mates can respond when they’re ready to respond. The story proceeds on a schedule, with due-dates for responses to the action in the ancient world, but the TSTT lets Operation LAPIS gain all the benefits both of asynchonrous student-centered learning and of synchronous social learning.

That’s where the second piece comes in: we call it the CODEX. It’s a set of web-pages that have all the things you’re used to thinking of as coming from a textbook: reading passages (which make up important parts of the adventure by giving essential information that the students must have to succeed); grammatical exercises based on those reading passages, to build Latin-language skills; grammatical explanations that give students the “intel” they need to read the passages and do the exercises; cultural summaries that give students the “cultural intel” they need to perform as Romans, for example what Romans ate at a cēna; geographical information from Google Maps to orient students in the adventure. The CODEX is nothing less than a total reversal of the textbook into a completely student-centered learning-resource, and it means that students are always working on the operation for a reason that comes from the operation.

The third piece is a set of a few documents that live on the web and are shared among you and your students. Above all, there is what we call the Operative Dossier, which is like a dynamic report card that only you and an individual student can see: you enter their assessment scores and granular feedback on their work in the operation; the student sees it instantly, and can improve immediately. The dossier is where the rubber meets the road in LAPIS’s ability to deliver continuous formative embedded assessment.

Two official platforms drive most of the activity in Operation LAPIS: Google Drive (a collaborative document and storage platform) and Edmodo (a social learning platform).

All the story elements, including students’ responses in character when it’s their turn to control their teams’ young Romans, take place on the Edmodo platform, which serves as the bulletin board we talked about above. The story is broken down into twenty-eight missions (think of them as books) and further into three episodes per mission (think of them as chapters. To make the content even more manageable, episodes are divided into smaller parts (think of them as scenes), usually two per episode.

You will use Google Drive (formerly called Google Docs) to share your students’ Operative Dossiers detailed above as well as a few other documents vital to student success throughout the course, like worksheets and character descriptions.

All participants (Agent and Operative alike) are required to create free accounts on both of these platforms in order to access and utilize the materials. In addition to being free to use, both services have sound records for reliability and uptime. Furthermore, both platforms are primarily browser-based services, meaning that students can use most devices capable of loading an internet browser. Specifically, these platforms include full support for mobile iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) and Android devices. This inter-operability allows for far greater flexibility in the types of devices that instructors and students can use to connect to and access the content of Operation LAPIS.

Whether it’s game-based learning, online courses, or instruction in general, we firmly believe that the best kinds of learning happens when the students have an active guide right beside them. Each episode of Operation LAPIS provides a beginning for the ancient action, but it’s up to you and your students to continue the story. As your students post their team’s Recentius’ (young Roman character’s) responses, remember that you have full rein as an agent to ‘play’ any other character they encounter. You should feel free to become involved in whatever style you feel comfortable; remember, though, that the more your students see you taking risks, the more open they’ll be to taking risks of their own. The greatest reward that you, as an instructor, can receive is to get so lost in playing the story with your students that you have as much fun as they do, if not more.

Operation LAPIS isn’t any more work for the instructor, at least from our experience. It’s just a different kind of work; one that often feels more important, and more fulfilling, than traditional Latin instruction. We will say that the rhythms of Operation LAPIS are different from the rhythms of other ways of teaching Latin, and that those rhythms take some time to get used to. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you’d like to consult with us about ways to make the acclimatization faster. In particular, you will find very quickly that you could spend all your time helping your students learn in LAPIS. Rather than trying to find opportunities to help your students, as often happens in traditional curricula, you will have to find ways to stop yourself from helping them, so that you can do other things, and above all so that other students can do the helping. This balancing process will seem very difficult at first, but you will quickly realize that in most cases the learning process goes much better when other students provide most of the answers, even when those answers are not necessarily the entire answer you would provide.

We’ll level with you: we’re trying to change the way you think about teaching. We think that teaching really means providing opportunities for students to learn. That’s what Operation LAPIS does, and we think that the more you teach with it, the more you’ll find that those opportunities happen much more when the instructor lets go than when s/he tries to do everything.

Please note that our experience suggests that your results may not be representative of how Operation LAPIS would work if you started it at the beginning of the year. Our experience suggests that students encountering the radical restructuring of their learning that LAPIS represents in the middle of a more traditional curricular cycle tend to be HIGHLY resistant to making the commitment necessary to engage the material. Don't let this deter you, if you want to get a feel for LAPIS; but we hope you also won't be discouraged by the resistance you're likely to encounter from your students. LAPIS can be fun, but fun is not the point of LAPIS, and the commitment to taking responsibility for one's learning is especially hard to find enjoyable when it represents a shift in a methdology students have become used to and upon which they've come to rely.

A full-featured 2 mission trial is available for any prospective instructors. Please contact Kevin Ballestrini to discuss how to get started today!

Operation LAPIS will be priced at $10 per student per year for the 2014-2015 academic year. For large numbers of students (generally, more than 100), we offer special pricing; contact Kevin to discuss the possibilities.

At this time, we are accepting registrations for 2014-2015, with payment, depending on number of student-users, to be due at the conclusion of your trial period. Operation LAPIS runs on a subscription model so that the cost of entry will be low and so that instructors and students have instant access to the improvements we are constantly making in the program.

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