D&D mostly takes place in a world of fantasy where dragons roam the skies and magic is real. Can we bring science teaching into our games? Yes, but there is no need as science is already present on many levels. Every weapon needs to be forged. Through extensive travel different biomes are encountered. We see that monsters have adaptations. Plants and animals exist, and agriculture is advanced.
In the typical medieval D&D setting science is not a huge theme. However, there are other D&D settings where science matters more. The Eberron campaign setting is a world of magical technology. There are flying cars, skyscrapers and warforged automata. I have never played in this “dungonpunk” setting as I prefer a true sci-fi setting like Esper Genesis that has spaceships and laser weapons. Once you move away from a traditional medieval setting, science plays a larger role, and there are increased opportunities to weave science teaching into your game.
Rather than type out one specific science lesson plan I present three units of science study. Each unit is separated by actions that happen in your game. Each unit has different learning opportunities as seen below.
Unit 1: Visiting the Forge. I need a new armor!
· Materials — Comparing properties of object and materials
· Matter and Mass — Calculate density, conservation of matter using graphs
· States of Matter — Solids, liquids and gas, heating, cooling and changes of state
· Heat and thermal energy — Predict heat flow, temperature changes
· Physical and chemical change — ID and compare physical and chemical changes
Unit 2: Doing Battle! What is the monster in front of me?
· Force and motion — ID directions of forces, How do balanced and unbalanced forces affect motion? How does mass affect force and acceleration?
· Electricity and magnets — Intro to static electricity and charged objects (through spells like Lightening Bolt)
· Adaptations of the monsters — Intro to adaptations, beaks, mouths, and necks, feet and limbs, skins and body coverings
· Animals — Life cycles, Body systems: circulation and respiration, digestion, removing, waste, perception and motion
Unit 3: On the road traveling! I spy with my little eye:
· Classification — ID living and nonliving things, ID mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, ID vertebrates and invertebrates, Describe, classify, and compare kingdoms
· Plants — Classify fruits and vegetables as plant parts, ID plant parts and their functions, How do plants make food? Describe and construct flowering plant life cycles
· Traits and heredity — What affects traits? Use observations to support a hypothesis, match offspring to parents using inherited traits, ID inherited and acquired traits, read a plant pedigree chart, read an animal pedigree chart
· Cells — ID functions of plant and animal cell parts, compare plant and animal cells.
· Ecosystems — Identify and describe ecosystems, ID roles in food chains, How does matter move in food chains? Interpret food webs
· Natural resources — Evaluate natural energy sources
· Rocks and minerals — Erosion, ID minerals using properties, Classify rocks as igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic
· Fossils — Identify and classify fossils, compare fossils to modern organisms, interpret evidence from fossils in rock layers
· Weather and climate — Read a thermometer, collect and graph temperature data, weather and climate around the world
· Engineering practices — Evaluate multiple design solutions to prevent flooding and hurricane damage
· Units and measurement — Choose customary units of distance, mass, volume time
The above was heavily influenced by an older Reddit thread where a HS chemistry teacher broke out their lesson plans to take place at a forge, an apothecary, a mage’s enclave, an Assassin’s Guild and other locations. Critical comments included pointing out how difficult this kind of lesson would be for students who are not native English speakers and people who just do not like role playing games. Check out the original post here.
In the D&D world science works with magic, and the two are rarely at odds. The dice rolls ultimately decide though if the laws of science are applicable. For example, I have presented my players in the past with a water obstacle they need to cross. On the water are giant lily pads. A lot of players will simply swim across, but some daring adventurers will try to jump from lily pad to lily pad to cross the body of water. If their dice roll is amazing, I allow the ninja-like jumping, but if their rolls are average or better, I tell them that they get wet as the lily pad does not support their weight.
As you can see, there are ample learning opportunities for kids to learn science through D&D or a D&D-like role-playing games. Good luck with your D&D learning adventures, and feel free to comment below on how your science teaching experience went. This blog follows Dungeons and Dragons in School?!?, Fantastic/al D&D Lesson Plans — #1 Writing, Magical Math D&D Lesson Plan #2, D&D — Stealthy Social Studies Lesson Plan #3. Next Up: Lesson #5 Art
Paul Lazrow is the founder and one of the Storytellers at Adventuring Portal, an online service that focuses on running live-guided fun, safe D&D games for kids. Find out more at AdventuringPortal.com