Interview with Kade Wells, Dungeons & Dragons Teacher!

While at SXSW, I had the awesome opportunity to chat with Kade Wells, a D&D teacher who has been using the game in classrooms for 10 years!   Find our talk here where Kade shares his XP on the whys, hows, and whens of where to start!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

My name’s Kade Wells, and I’m a teacher in the Harrisburg School District in the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. 

I’ve been teaching for 10 years, and I’m most known for using Dungeons and Dragons in the classroom for that amount of time with many great success stories.

I currently teach 7th and 8th grade Advanced English, and I’ve been doing that for the past 5 years.  In the years prior to that, I taught in a Title One district in Houston.  And that pretty much covers it!

When did you get into Dungeons & Dragons?

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was 10 years old!

It came to me from one of my brother’s friends who was 4 years older than me.  He went to a private school, so he was leaving our little tiny community of 1,100 people and came back with this game. 

I had always been a very imaginative kid; as soon as this was introduced to me, it gave me a frame upon which I could hang my imagination and make it make sense. I became so incredibly excitingly ecstatic that I learned everything that I could while he was on Christmas break and taught it to my friends.  

That was where it all began.  

That was 34 years ago.

I know my D&D, haha!

One of the neat things about what I do is that for some of the kids that I teach, their origin story years and years later will be me using it with them in the classroom. 

I’ve seen people who were very hurt in their own ways, and D&D was the thing that kept them alive in some cases and provided community.  I just can’t ever say enough about how much this saves people.

What is your one favorite game moment from all your experiences? 

I mean… I can pick a campaign!   My friends Matt and TJ and I played a world domination campaign where I was Craglin the Cold, the creepy ice wizard albino drow, and my friend TJ was Igslaire Silverblade, who he was dedicated to making the coolest human fighter than anyone had ever seen.  

We were always trying to stretch our character builds, and he said we were overlooking the fighter.  

They were both evil.

As just a bit of a segway with this… One of the things that I noticed in my class is that I have really good kids, and they often want to play evil characters.  The psychology of that is very simple.  We want to be able to fantasize about what we don’t get to do.  In my class, they don’t get to be evil, but they always try to walk the line anyway. 

Now, with no holds barred for myself and TJ and Matt, Matt created this world that was fully homebrew, and TJ and I decided to see if we could destroy Matt’s world!

We wanted to create a spell call Orbital Dysjunction that would cast the planet out into space where it would be both dark and cold, making both of us happy because Igslaire wanted to cover it in shadow, and I wanted to make it cold!

We ended up with this world domination campaign where we were going continent to continent wreaking havoc on armies, collecting people to serve in our own armies, making evil alliances, and wrecking cities city and world governments. 

It was a super powerful, super high fantasy campaign.  There was a flying citadel, Craglin had The Dragon Crown, so I could control white dragons.  I ended up writing a book for it, which still is sitting there in a file – maybe one day I’ll throw it out there and see if anyone wants to put a stamp on it.  

I can’t never not think about that campaign here, mostly because of TJ.  He came with his own set of problems to life and his character was his therapy.  Craglin was my therapy in a way as well. Neither one of us really fit in with a traditional trope, and none of that ever mattered when we were together. 

That’s such a cool thing about D&D and other tabletop role-playing game is that once you find your people, you’re never alone, ever again!  And my students get to realize that!

Because of that, my one most memorable moment just goes back to the origin of that high school game of Craglin and Igslaire. 

What are 1-3 key skills that you’ve seen develop from using tabletop RPGs in the classroom? 

I know that reading fluency and literacy have been measured in my classroom multiple times, and it’s the obvious one, but it also seems to increase all the other scores across the aisle as well.  There’s reading and then there’s charts, like you’ll see in science, and whatnot in there too.

It makes scores go up on standardized tests.

The social-emotional develop is another obvious area. 

There was a young girl in my class who was very popular and athletic and pretty and kind, and she looked up at me while we were playing and asked, “Mr. Wells, what are we doing?”

I was like, “What do you mean?  You’re going into Cragmar Castle to fight Gundrun Rock Seeker and kill the hobgoblins!”

She just asked, “Why do we do this?”

I thought she was maybe kind of coming at me in a way, so I started to ask her, “Have you had to work with diverse partners that you normally wouldn’t have worked with during gameplay?” 

“Well… yes”

“Have you had to read complex texts and had to apply it to something so you could take action to solve problems?”


“Should I go on?”

“No, I think I got it!”

Another big element is when Dungeon Masters are selected, you watch them go from these really mousey kids into these amazing confident individuals who have this air about them akin to being a quarterback in some ways!

I asked this young girl, who was asking questions at the time, “Have you noticed any change in this guy here?”

Remember, she was popular at the time, and this kid was not, but now he is because of the role he’s taken on to facilitate this group. 

She just smiled and looked at him and kind of covered her face, and she said, “He never used to talk to anybody… EVER!”

It gets into, what is the purpose of intelligence if you keep it all inside of you.  If you’re the smartest kid reading a book in the corner, that’s great, but your intelligence is not going to help anybody.  If you can exhibit your intelligence and prove that you have it, it can open up success after success throughout the course of your life!

Recursive math is also really obvious.  It’s low level math, but it doesn’t have to be.  If you taught algebra of advanced mathematics, you could make those systems into math problems.  We actually have math teachers out on the east coast doing that right now. 

People call certain skills soft skills, but they’re not as soft as we like to think they are.  Those soft skills are the concrete basis by which we show our wisdom and intelligence to the world, so if we don’t have those soft skills, we can’t ever exhibit anything that we know. 

It’s almost easier to say what D&D doesn’t teach!  It covers so many things that it would be easier to try to think about what it actually does not teach, and even that’s hard because it can connect in some way. 

The main ones though, literacy is obvious, recursive math can be simple or complex, and the social-emotional elements are huge. 

I still think, if that never came into my life at 10 years old, my whole life would have been completely, catastrophically different.  To me, that’s the skill.  If it can change your life and alter a person’s destiny by nature of what it is, that’s that’s the profound skill. 

What is the first step for teachers who want to run D&D in their class? 

The first step for teachers is to learn how to play D&D.

That might seem like a given, but it’s not.  

Join a group immediately and get your reps in. 

Then, it’s the logistics. There’s so many things!  

I use it to organize my whole classroom, so I have the kids write on a notecard, their name on one side and their class on the other, and that’s how I do my seating chart.  I build adventuring parties, and I keep personalities in mind as I do it.  You and your best friend may or may not be in the same group together depending on what you each picked.  

That, though, is good for the kids. They know that I did that on purpose for gameplay, but also you’re also looking at varying personality types based on the character types that they’ve made.  Intrinsically, we make ourselves as our characters. 

That method of distribution has ended up being very effective!

I also have them write a person that they prefer not to be separated from so I can keep those connections in mind, but you also don’t want just a group of 7th grade girls in one group who all know each other.

Then, you need your resources.  Terrain can add up, but dice are really cheap now on places like Amazon.  

For miniatures, what we do in our school now is to utilize our tech department to print their characters from Hero Forge, so my kids leave my room with their own printed mini at the end. 

Getting materials can be kind of a pain, but the way digital resources are working now, if you spend $130 on Roku TV to play on there, that can cut out all the other materials that you would need.

The D&D educator license being free also gives you a lot of options to open that up, and those are pull down menus (in D&D Beyond) – for people who are not 34 years into the game like myself, that can really help speed things up a little bit. 

Then, you need to train Dungeon Masters. 

That is an absolutely crucial thing that you cannot get away with skipping. 

What I do is I take the 4 Dungeon Masters for about 4 weeks to play through the game that they will play with their peers.  So, they will have gone through the reps to see what I do while I metacognate during the game to explain why I’m doing things.  Like, with early players, I give three choices or options for decisions until about Christmas time when they can start just generally answering on their own. 

In the beginning, you have to really guide them, which is why it’s so necessary for teachers to learn how to play if they want to use it.  Which is why we run the teacher training program, which is so useful and rewarding!

Thank you Kade for sharing your XP, and it has been great getting to chat with you about D&D in the classroom!

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