Harrisburg Academy, a private preschool-12th college preparatory day school, has a long and rich history that dates back to 1784. When Michael Gamon began at the academy in 2012, he wanted to grow the already strong music program. He pushed to make strings an integral part of the academy’s music program, and violin became a required course for elementary school students. Realizing that some students simply weren’t interested in playing the violin, Gamon came up with an incredibly innovative and thoroughly modern way to engage all of his students — he created a role-playing game similar to Dungeons and Dragons!
He converted the curriculum into a series of quests and challenges. The game is called “Novice to Ninja” and encompasses seven books that students explore from year to year. Because this is the first year, only Book 1 has been revealed. “Musical selections became a way to cast spells, and our skillful execution determines our success as a class,” Gamon explained. “Technique and scales have become ways to break spells, solve riddles or gain the necessary skills to increase our power.”
Gamon oversaw the building of set pieces of the game's land of Vitula (the old Latin word from which violin is thought to have derived) as well as a website. He later introduced miniature figures to the game — all of this added to the action and excitement of the story, which motivates students to be engaged and prepared. “Role-playing games are not about winning — they’re about a communal experience,” Gamon said. “Because solving the challenges is as much about applying the correct information at the correct time as performing well, everyone has something to contribute.”
Not surprisingly, the response from students has been overwhelmingly positive with “students drawing connections between logic, literature, science and music,” Gamon said. “My advanced students have been active mentors to other students because the focus of the game is on the skill of an entire class, not an individual’s success or failure.”