It’s 8 a.m. and you’re teaching to a room packed with 60 students. Most of them are hiding in the back with slumped bodies and eyes that you still haven’t made contact with because they’re nearly closed. As you try to engage them in talk that they’re not even going to remember about a war or scientific discovery, some of the students are drawing comic strips or unappealing caricatures of your face in notebooks that have become sketchpads. A few will appear to look at you because the clock is right behind you, but secretly, they’re hoping that if they stare at it a little longer, the next hour will suddenly dissipate to five minutes.

In settings like this, some students who are not interested in the class subject or have difficulty understanding the lesson might tune out. Because of this concern, more and more teachers are changing their approach to help these students become more engaged during class. Reacting to the Past (RTTP) is one method that has been introduced by Barnard College. RTTP is a role-playing game that allows students to become scientists, astronomers or historians in the classroom. This game demonstrates the process of reaching a conclusion and introduces the concept of scientific progress to students by permitting them to assume the role of historical figures. By allowing students to debate on topic matters from their viewpoints and interpretations, they are forming a connection with the topic at hand. As debates and discussions on whether Pluto is a planet or not keep going, students playing on their strengths of communication, persuasion or analysis become not only interested but passionate about the material. Suddenly, the frequently asked question, “How does this relate to me?” becomes answered.

Instructors seem to agree that this new approach to teaching is refreshing, since it allows a teacher to be “…more of a coach and less a dispenser of information,” as Taz Daughtrey, a lecturer at James Madison University, puts it. The different components of interacting with the subject matter seem to not only engage students who are tired of long lecture classes, but also add a new mix to the traditional teaching techniques many instructors have felt boxed into.

Although met with high praise, the RTTP method does face some challenges. Since the game requires students to come into a character, often times this new persona is one that a student does not agree with. Also, introverts might prefer a lecture class, since they may struggle with coming into character. Either way, this new method seems to be helping some students keep their heads off their desks.