Classical Studies alumnus wins Teaching Excellence Award

We are pleased to share that Classical Studies alumnus, Jessie Craft, has received the 2021 SCS Award for Excellence in Teaching Classics at the K-12 Level

Here, Jessie reflects on his life since graduating from UNC Greensboro and how he developed the skills that have made him an award-winning teacher:

Family of four sits on steps

Jessie Craft and family

I am in my ninth year of teaching at Reagan High School where I teach Latin I, II, III Honors, IV Honors, V Honors and AP Latin. I live in Winston-Salem with my wife, Silvia Tiboni-Craft, an Italian Studies professor at Wake Forest, and my twin daughters.

In my Roman Daily Life class as part of the Initial Teaching Licensure program at UNCG, I used Minecraft to help me visualize the House of the Mosaic Atrium for a class project. During this process I realized that I had stumbled upon something really compelling that I might one day use in my own classroom.

In my second year of teaching, students began helping me rebuild Rome on a 1:1 scale in Minecraft. Although they loved bringing their research to life in Minecraft, the project lacked a key element–Latin. I remembered learning the most Latin in my UNCG classes when I was actively engaged in the language and in a pleasant atmosphere. It was then that I joined the ideas of Minecraft and oral Latin to create Latin language videos. These simple videos consisted in slow, comprehensible Latin acted out in Minecraft to help students establish meaning and comprehension. For instance, when they hear canis latrat they both see and hear a dog barking on screen.

My more recent work revolves around immersion. I have created downloadable Minecraft maps which contain Latin language RPG style quests that students and teachers can complete together. I also host a server of the Roman Forum full of Roman themed characters, some programmed with simple conversation and others with quests to be completed, and all of the dialogue is in Latin. In each case, students are incentivized by basic game mechanics to learn the language necessary to negotiate with characters and advance through the quests.

When I am not using Minecraft to supplement instruction, I speak to students in Latin and have them read as much as they can such that they take ownership of the language in a meaningful way. Future plans are to improve my abilities to help students take agency in their studies and deepen their Latin learning, and I am always looking around the corner for new technologies that will help me produce better visual content for my Latin language videos.