A Quick Look at Microscope as a Teaching Tool

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Over the last few weeks, I’d been trying out Microscope with older students, to help broaden their perspectives and illustrate concepts of world-building. How did it work? Read on to find out!

What Is Microscope

If you’re already familiar with Microscope, you can skip this part. If you’re not, Microscope is a tabletop game in which players create a setting (bookended by specific time periods), then develop more time periods, events and scenes within it in round-table fashion. There are no dice rolls; instead, players come up with locations and characters that they feel most naturally (or, in our case, unnaturally) fit in the game’s world, to further flesh it out.

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Microscope in a nutshell

Overview Of Sessions

Before I begin, let me just say this isn’t a review of the game itself. Rather, it’s my take on Microscope’s pros and cons within the classroom.

I used the game with two classes — one with 4-5 participants, another with 6 (I’m included in both tallies). Below, I detail the setting created in each class:

Class #1

We explored a setting in which dinosaurs roamed the Earth. We had fire-breathing herbivores, ancient aliens that were non-sentient and an impending asteroid that would soon create a time paradox.

Class #2

We explored a setting in the year 6666, where demons and humans co-existed. Part of the setting focused heavily on the first relationship between a male demon and a female human. Then things started to get wacky when we started bringing in historical figures (e.g. Rommel) to wage wars against demons. Think of it in the style of Futurama.

What Went Great

There was much laughter to be had. This first point tops my list when I think back on what made Microscope so much fun. More often that not, this was a result of the wacky ideas that we had come up with. The improv-heavy aspect of Microscope had led to a lot of unpredictability.

I also witnessed much out-of-the-box thinking in the creation of scenes. Students would come up with actors and set-ups that I didn’t anticipate. We had some hilarious plot developments as a result.

What Didn’t Go So Well

Downtime was quite heavy with both classes, but its effects were most felt with Class #2. Not everyone was fully engaged, and the pacing would sometimes slow (or things could get awkward) when someone came up with a cast of unusual characters.

It was also difficult to get a serious game going. Granted, we didn’t really have an initial agreement on this, so it was ‘anything goes’. A side effect of this was that players didn’t always feel invested in the characters, though the exact reasons are still speculative. This was more prevalent with Class #2.

Teacher’s Takeaway From The Sessions

Will I continue to use Microscope in the classroom? Heck yes! Microscope implicitly offers plenty of educational value in subjects like English, Social Studies and History. It is a glorious toolbox for teachers.

Going by the past several sessions with students, I feel Microscope works best in a learning environment, if the following things are taken note of or executed by the teacher:

  • Conduct a trial run first, so that students can get a feel for the game’s rules and flow
  • Establish a contract and expectations with the learners: what do you want out of them, and the game on the whole?
  • Keep the group size small. This definitely depends on the students’ profiles, but generally, I found that 4 worked best, 5 was pushing it, and 6 was one too many.

All that being said, using Microscope as a teaching tool was a real treat, and I’m looking forward to future sessions with students. If you hadn’t heard of it, I hope this post has been informative. If you want to check it out, its product page can be found here. Have a good week ahead, and I’ll see you guys again two weeks from now.

-Jim
(Facebook/Twitter)

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Teacher Shaun

Teacher Shaun

...is a self-professed geek and lover of all things old-school. When he's not playing Fallout or Deus Ex for the nth time, he can be found sitting in front of his laptop hacking away at his keyboard, typing blog posts like this one. He also runs a little company called Swords & Stationery.
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