Thursday, January 24, 2013

My New Religion Resource for 2012-13: Witness, A Role Playing Game of Christian Faith

Letting their Light Shine -- Candles are a key element of role play within the Witness curriculum. Students face both mundane and moral choices as they encounter the Word of God in a weekly classroom setting.
When I became involved in our local Catholic home school cooperative, I had no idea how much I would enjoy teaching, how much work is involved, or how many graces I would receive from this experience.

We are well into our second year, and again I am teaching religion (3rd, 4th/5th, and 7th grades), as well primary Latin (2nd & 3rd grade). In addition, I teach Kindergarten and Pre-K religion in a Montessori-style catechetical program known as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Watching my daughter grow from an unruly 2-year-old to an almost well-behaved 4-year-old at mass has been a true journey of faith and hope. Just today, she sat quietly at mass, with only one minor outburst ("Look Mommy, he's holding a paten!"). Given that I helped teach nomenclature for the altar, I was proud to see that her time in the Atrium (the CGS learning environment) was paying off.

For me, teaching religion has been more rewarding than I could ever imagine. I began the school year with the admonition of James 3:1 in mind:  "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly." If that doesn't serve as ample motivation, perhaps religion is not the subject to teach. So I set out to give God and our children my very best this year.

As soon as I knew which classes I'd be teaching, I began preparing.  We have some great materials -- the Faith and Life series from Ignatius Press, and the Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism.  These are wonderful resources that present the faith in progressively greater depth from year to year, and align wonderfully with the liturgical year.  I've also incorporated several well-made videos on the lives of Catholic saints (e.g., Padre Pio, Clare and Francis) and others who have yet to be beatified but lived lived lives of great faith and virtue, such as Blessed Mother Teresa and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. And I again incorporated last year's favorite, Boys Town, as we studied the life of Fr. Edward Flanagan. Lastly, I couldn't resist presenting the adorable classic, Miracle of Marcelino to my 3rd graders.

Still, for my 4th and 5th grade class, I wanted something that would bring last year's classroom challenge ("I dare you to be saints") to life in a fun and imaginative way. I searched, but was unable to find a resource that would translate the  knowledge the students were gaining into a tangible, albeit virtual, reality in their minds.  One day I realized this resource had yet to be written, and perhaps God was calling me to write it.

We had spent the last few weeks of the 2011-12 school year in a basement, and I couldn't help but think of the early Christians gathering in dimly lit catacombs to study, live and pass on their faith. And that's how the idea took root within my heart. I wanted a resource that would fit within our existing curriculum in compact, fun and imaginative way.  Much of the content was written as I prepared during the summer. The rest is born weekly, as a result of our classroom application of the materials.  

The students' responses have been encouraging, and other classes have even asked to take part.  My third graders have already begun reminding me that next year will be their turn to play Witness, just like their older peers and siblings this year.

As the school year progresses, the choices each character faces become more intense, as do the challenges for me as a writer. I can't even begin to describe what it's like to see my words come to life in the classroom, as students bring their own imagination and creativity to the assignments.

With roughly 12 weeks to go in our school year, the final chapters of our story remain to be written.  Much depends on the roll of the dice and the choices each student makes. Students greet me with great anticipation each week, "Are we doing witness today, Mrs. Hunt?"  Time will tell whether this resource accomplishes the long-term goals I have in mind for it, but for the present, my students are fully engaged and eager to participate.

As the school year draws to a close, I will post updates and photos from the classroom. Ultimately, my hope is that God will be pleased with the effort, and that four special students will live their faith more intensely and grow up to become great saints!