A Mission – and a Quest – Institute of Play – Projects and Problems and where they lead us.

A Mission – and a Quest.

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by patrice-photographiste: http://flickr.com/photos/patrice-photographiste/14162884595
creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by patrice-photographiste: http://flickr.com/photos/patrice-photographiste/14162884595

To steal some really smart words – “a problem is like a mission – I have to solve the problem to continue my quest – which is like my project” – or is it the other way around?

“A problem is like a quest – I have to solve some projects which are like missions, to continue and solve my problem”.

Ok – this is actually what I have been trying to grapple with my most recent stint of slightly off topic, but incredibly inspiring reading from The Institute of Play.

I love this idea of looking at school as a series of missions and sets of quests.  I love the choice of words, as their connotations hold an importance to them that permeates great stories and history.  Its as if students were to become Herculean in their school work.  
creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by wallyg

If you think about it. That actually sounds like a really great idea!

So what if…..my art room took on a Quest and Mission schema for learning.  Well is many ways it does – the problem faced is solved through the practice of media, the working through of thoughts, the development of a design.  The quest is complete when students complete a massive task.  This might be a large summative project, or a display of their finished work as a class.

What excites me about the idea of a quest and mission learning platform is the idea that learning is a series of quests – as though learning might come at random instances, or planned events or activities.  I am thinking my way through a Zelda Map as we speak.

Is it a project based, is it a quest, or is it a mission?

I started to wonder if we are simply calling the same things different names – heck I wonder this a lot when it comes to Education.  My way of understanding PBL in its forms is:

A project may be made up of problems – which need to be solved towards the completion of the project

A project may have diverse content knowledge which stems from navigating problems across a range of topics.

A quest is a multi day learning experience that may have multiple sources/nodes of learning.

A quest is a journey of learning in which documentation of the learning process is essential.

A quest is serious, but sometimes the people you meet might make you laugh as you learn.


My Classroom

I have a major problem in my Design Technology class.  My students have been working on a STEM project where they are designing CO2 Dragsters.  We have done the research, taught ourselves a little about drag, aerodynamics, wind resistance and potential and kinetic energy and their applications.  But as a class, we are stuck….

With a pioneering spirit I thought it would be cool to see if I could get a HS student to build the start and finish gate of our CO2 car “racetrack”.  He and I did some research together back in October and we realized it might not be too hard.  Ironically, Abu Dhabi hosted the World Championship event of Co2 drag racing at the state of the art facility at the Yas Island F1 track as part of the F1 in Schools Program.  I was having my track be built of dowels and scrap wood with nails as the puncture mechanism.

Back to our problem – we have built our cars from kits purchased from the F1 in school program – we have a working mechanism to start out cars – but – in all of our test runs the cars fly off of our finely crafted fishing line track.  My class was feeling mystified and after 4 test runs and a ruined car we came to a conclusion.  Our problem was big enough that we needed to turn to experts.  So I turned the problem on my students – their responsibility was to speak with anyone they thought might be able to help us with our problem.  To my amazement my 8th graders spoke to their science teachers, their engineer parents, and I even had one student email another teacher who had posted a video of Co2 racing at their school.  I am floored with the response from my students.  After multiple tests we are close to being successful – still not there…I have asked one of the reps from F1 in schools to come visit our class after the National Day Holiday here in the UAE.  I am really looking forward to hearing what he has to say about our homemade track.  My secret hope is that he will invite us to run the cars out at World Championship track at the F1 Circuit.

Here is one of our tests – take a look at that start gate.


6 thoughts on “A Mission – and a Quest – Institute of Play – Projects and Problems and where they lead us.

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about PBL these days in the context of whole school system reform. As such, I wonder about many things…why, for example, if we know it’s the best way to engage, inspire and learn, we struggle so much with PBL? As I read your post on quests/missions, I’m at once excited and concerned. I love the idea of school as a quest based mission. Maybe it’s even a choose your own adventure type story. Yet, in some ways, we already operate as such. The quest for grades, for example. I know this is not the type of quest you intended, so I am more inspired than anything. I wonder what would happen if we re-imagined school as a more fun type of quest, one that motivated, pushed and inspired students to reach the next level of learning. That would be really cool!


    1. Tara, have you checked out the stuff from institute of play? I can’t tell you how awesome it is. Or I should say seems. I am the beginning stages of giving it a go. They have a cool unit (quest) on Ancient Greece for 6th grade social studies I am trying to get my wife to test run. Maybe take a look at their site and the packets they offer for download and see if there are any interested at your school? I’d love to hear what transpires.


  2. What awesome enthusiasm from your students on the successful ‘launch’ of their CO2 dragster. It’s great to see you giving them a meaty problem to solve (fix the track!) and to have them attack it so heartily. I hope you can share how they’ve documented this quest they are on.


  3. Matt,
    I have also been struggling with all the different names for learning and you hit the nail on the head when you said that maybe we are calling one thing different names!
    For me the dilema is that I do not know if PBL is problem or project based learning. I saw that Scott Cameron used PBL and PjBL in his post http://www.coetail.com/scottafcameron/2014/12/02/problems-here-projects-there-here-and-there-will-go-somewhere/.
    I must say that I am very impressed with your “problem” in Tech class. You are doing it all! Gamification and PBL. Good job!


    1. It is wonderful when we can turn a problem we are facing in class into a learning opportunity. In this case it really is a problem that is stopping us from continuing any further. It can’t get much more real than that.


  4. I think my favorite part of all of this is the fact that your students were so motivated to figure out the answer to their problem that they all went out and independently tried to find out solutions from a variety of sources. That in itself is successful teaching! I hope that you guys do figure out that last little piece. Keeping my fingers crossed for you guys! 🙂


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