Education Adventures: Math and More from D&D for Students

Education Adventures is a column written by educator Megan Hardy. Through the Outschool program, Megan teaches a series of Life Skills courses using fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. During the six week campaign, heroes head out to save the land from an evil ruler, facing challenges and battles and making friends along the way while learning logic and critical thinking. The campaign is designed specifically for children ages 9-14 and highlights problem solving, logic puzzles and team work while participating in a grand adventure. In the Education Adventures column, Megan shares insights and lessons she learns through teaching D&D for students and their experiences.

D&D for students D&D for kids Education Adventures
[Illustration by Gloria Pizzilli]

Value in D&D for students

I teach my classes via the educational website Outschool. People often ask, “Why run your classes there? What educational value is there to playing a game?”  

My response is always the same: Dungeons & Dragons provides some amazing educational opportunities, and it does it in a way where the kids typically don’t even realize it’s happening.  This column will address the educational aspect of D&D when it comes to kids. As a mom of four, this is a big deal to me. The ability to learn while having fun both removes complaints and helps with retention. So let’s roll the dice and see if we score a critical hit for education.

First, Dungeons & Dragons helps with math skills. Any experienced player can tell you that. Specifically, it helps with quick addition and probability. Almost everything you do involves dice rolling and then adding on your modifiers. For 8-11 years especially, this can be a great chance to get them to really work on doing math in their head. The game can move fast, and they have to add quickly. I have seen kids who struggled with this the first week of class, have it down by the end of class. I always offer to help students with larger dice rolls.

“Your spell does 8d6 damage, sure I can do that.”

The first few sessions usually they have me do it, but by the end of it they really want to do it themselves. Doing math is way better than having me roll badly for their damage. Every week they are doing lots of addition, and not even realizing they are getting the practice. Also, I hardly ever see kids using paper. This is all math they do in their head for the most part.

However, addition is just one area where math factors in. They also start to get an understanding for probability. How likely is it for a spell or attack to hit the opponent they want to hit? What’s the likelihood they will succeed on a skill check? You will be amazed by how fast kids figure these things out. During the first session of any given class, everybody wants to roll for everything. As the weeks go on, they realize they are better at certain things. They become skilled at understanding their chances for success vs. chances of failure. That creates a basic understanding of probability. Sure, you could use worksheets to get the same result, but worksheets are not nearly as fun as crushing a skeleton. Also, this leads to better teamwork. Understanding that someone else has a better chance of success often means that someone who would normally take the lead will step back and say, “Why don’t you try?”

Who knew learning a basic math skill could lead to better teamwork?

Finally, if you have a student who is struggling with measurement/spatial skills, this game is great. Students constantly have to measure their distance from opponents, locations and each other. I had one group get attacked by zombies. They were in search of aid from a group of tabaxi. They measured the distance to the tabaxis and how far away the zombies were. They then took into account the zombies speed vs. theirs. They made a decision to outrun the zombies and get help from the tabaxis and go back and fight. These was a big decision for the group, that came about by using measurements, probability and comparisons. They used math to save themselves, and I don’t think they even realized that’s what they had done given the amount of laughing I heard.

More than math from D&D for kids

Math isn’t the only educational skill kids get out D&D. Let’s look at writing and reading for a moment. I have had several parents message me and say their kids, who aren’t normally big readers, devour the books. Students often tell me, “Ms. Megan, look! I have the book!” I have students tell me they spent the week studying the Monster Manual. The kids love the game, so it’s not work or learning for them. It’s all fun and it’s something they love to do. This makes them eager to learn more. Though these books are designed with adults in mind, kids love them. If you have a child interested in D&D, give them the Player’s Handbook and you will see their reading skills and vocabulary improve.

Also, creating a backstory builds in a natural way to work on writing. I have had students who didn’t want to do a backstory because they thought they were not good enough at writing. However, when they hear their classmates tell their backstories, they suddenly become motivated and can write multiple pages. I have had parents use the backstory writing as a creative writing project for their homeschooling. Not only are they pleased with the results, they will often say,“Wow, they spent hours on it without complaining.” Because they are invested in their characters, they will happily do the work. That personal investment and the desire to really be an active part of the game is a great motivator.

So far I have addressed math and reading/writing. These seem pretty obvious. Now let’s look at the not so obvious ways D&D can be educational or used for education when it comes to kids.

If you have a child who loves D&D and hates history, why not create a historical D&D campaign for them? I had one student who wanted to know if they could fashion a makeshift weapon in a specific way. I was debating it, when another student piped up that he had done a paper on the Vikings and they did something like that. We then took some class time to discuss the history of several weapons used in D&D. The kids were so happy to exchange what they knew and talk to their teammates about it that they failed to realize they had just basically all given impromptu history reports. If your child wants to become a pirate rogue, use it as a chance to do some real research on pirates. If your child wants to be a paladin, have them research the Middle Ages to learn about knights.

Then there is science. You might ask how D&D can help with science.  There have been several times during my classes that students and I have discussed “the science” of their spells. For example, we have discussed the effect of lighting on metal. I have had students passionately argue using their knowledge of human anatomy that there is no way skeletons should have a plus to their Dexterity. I even had one student do research to come up with a design for acid-proof armor, that was all based on science.

Does this take away from the magic of the game? Of course not. The kids are still having fun casting spells and being mythical races. For them, however, they love using their knowledge to provide fun explanations for what is happening. Isn’t that the best way to get kids to learn? Let them find something they enjoy and are passionate about and use that to let them explore all sorts of learning. D&D is a perfect vehicle for learning like this. It’s a wonderful tool for parents to help guide their children down new educational paths.

I am a mom of four and spend my days running D&D classes for kids. Few things offer so many different opportunities for learning. When learning is fun, kids retain that knowledge better and want to come back for more, so why not pull out a character sheet and start your child down the path of epic adventures? And if they learn something, along the way? Even better.

Dungeons & Dragons classes

  • Visit Megan’s Outschool page to find out about all the Dungeons & Dragons courses she teaches, as well as other classes like Medieval History: Feudalism in an Hour, Beyond Salem: Witchcraft in Colonial America, Cthulhu and Other Lore of Lovecraft, and more.

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Education Adventures: Is D&D Right for My Kid?
Education Adventures: Teamwork and Conflict Resolution for Healthy Growth
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Follow Megan Hardy:
Megan Hardy is a homeschooling mom to four kids ages 3-13. She has a geeky family and uses their geek loves to enhance children's education. She's taught several classes in local co-ops from history for young teens to early elementary science. Her personal background is in history, with a Bachelor's Degree in history with specific focus on European history. She has also studied literature and mass communication. All of these tend to be channeled into her teaching style. She is also a mom of two special needs kids, and has learned how to build lesson plans around individual needs. She believes learning is a fun process when approached through the window of something the child already loves whether that is gaming, comic books or anything that has captured their mind. You can find parent reviews of Megan's courses and information about upcoming classes through her profile page at Outschool.com. She is happy to answer any questions parents have through her email at ksukitty1979@gmail.com.

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