500 Nerds Walk Into a Library...

That's actually not the set up to a joke. Rather, this past Friday, 499 strangers and I participated in the New York Public Library's "Find the Future" centennial event. We didn't know much about Find the Future, other than it was an all-night scavenger hunt inside the library. We quickly learned it was much more complicated than that.

Find the Future was equal parts viral advertising campaign and interactive game. There we were, 500 strangers from across the United States, running wild through the library seeking various artifacts such as Guttenberg's bible, Mary Shelley's first draft of Frankenstein and Jack Kerouac's harmonica. Alongside the scavenger hunt, we were participating in an all-night writing event, rushing to complete a book by 6 am.

The experience worked wonderfully as a creative way to bring a diverse group of people into the library and get them excited about the library's incredible collection. More than that, the evening was a celebration of the written word and the formation of a unique, spontaneous community. In the process of it all, we were encouraged to think about our own futures.

Each of us were selected on the basis of a 140 character entry completing the prompt, "In 2021, I will be the first person to...". In the course of the evening, each of us was charged with the task of hand delivering a postcard "from the future" to another participant in the game. In this way the evening became about more than a game, and about exploring the possibilities brought about by the convergence of 500 random imaginations.

I left the event with mixed feelings about an evening based on interaction with priceless artifacts and interesting people that was basically facilitated by Smartphones. It was a bit sad the way many people, myself included, overlooked the opportunity to learn about some genuine literary gems in the rush to play the game. Overall however, my experience at the library was incredibly positive. Afterwards all I could think of was how I might apply the experience of Find the Future to my own classroom.

In theory, it seems like a simple recipe for success. Allow students to collaborate, but throw in a good measure of competition as well. Add to that the opportunity for students to create their own paths through the game, so that the experience is tailored to interests. Most of all, make it educational and fun at the same time. It all sounds simple enough in theory, now I wonder how I can make it happen in practice.

As teachers we often use games as a way to make learning fun and engaging. Whether it's Multiplication Top It or Science Jeopardy, we know the power of games in the classroom. Still, my experience on Friday night has me wondering how I could take gaming in my classroom to the next level. Is it possible to replicate Find the Future with my students? I'm not sure, but I'm hoping to give it a try.


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