Based on the waning enthusiasm I mentioned in my previous entry, I decided to change the pace this week. When the students arrived, I allowed them to get started as usual, then shut off the lights, put a picture up on the projector and declared “As you are working your spells in the Sea of Yarra, a dragon swoops down, grabs you and flies off.” Then I presented a scenario in which the dragon drops them in a specific location and described what they find there.
What they found was a letter from a desperate wizard the dragon had captured earlier and dropped into a maze. Their task was to get the wizard out of the maze using a specific set of instructions. Then a bigger maze, and a bigger one. After that the dragon got bored, looked at them closely (showed a picture of a dragon eye here) and presented them with new tasks and puzzles, related to the game of battleship (and structured as common search and sorting algorithms, though I didn’t tell them that until the end). The overall task was related to algorithm development. We eventually consumed two whole 85-minute periods covering this material. (The dragon ended up dropping them back on their ship, declaring “You’re to clever by half to have hanging around…begone!”)
As a change of pace, it was entirely successful; as a curriculum element, somewhat successful. For next year, I plan to do more role-playing of the dragon and provide fewer instructions and hints. I think they could have gotten to the answer with less information from me, which would have been more powerful in the long run. But I’ll definitely include a few dragons or other pace-changers in the storyline next year; it was quite fun to present and the students declared it quite enjoyable, too.