I love board and card games. They are incredibly fun and social. They get me to think. They give me an excuse to hang out with friends. And, best of all, they get me off of the screens!
Board and card games also give me an opportunity to learn by playing - a part of education that seems to be frowned upon in today's world.
This year I have used games in the classroom as often as I can. There are a few games I regularly use in my classroom. This blog will explain two of them: Settlers of Catan and Blokus.
Settlers of Catan
This game is great for math and social studies integration. Students begin by exploring the map which represents different geographical features and resources. I explain that the number value represents the die roll needed to produce a resource from that land. Each land tile produces a specific resource. Recalling their knowledge of dice and probability, they have to determine what are the best locations to settle.
During this game students are faced with many challenges that early explorers faced - acquiring resources, controlling trade routes, and finding quality places to settle. They quickly learn that the 'best' settlement areas are quickly claimed by rivals. If their settlements aren't productive, they need to come up with creative ways to meet their resource needs, either through diplomacy or settling less desirable areas.
Students also learn that as the game goes on, the relative value of a resource changes.
Four students start - only one will win.
What resources, number values, or trade routes did they control? How did they start and finish the game? Was there a missed opportunity or a great play by an opponent? This is a great way to tie students back into tracing settlement over periods of time, the randomness of probability in short experiments, and long term goal planning.
The Boston Globe recently published an article about Why the US is falling behind in Math. In it the author discusses the lack of logic curricula as a key reason.
Blokus is a chess-type game (abstract strategy - no luck, all information is given) so players constantly need to think ahead. It develops a student's geometric and spacial reasoning - being able to see how certain pieces fit in the negative space - as well as developing logic with tactical thinking and strategies. The students learn what pieces are most important to play early, mid, and during the end game.
Students also just take their pieces to 'fill the space' to make a perfect square or rectangle. They all do this - I'm convinced that it is built into their DNA.
This is my favorite game to watch the learning happen. Games are relatively quick so they get to play multiple times. Students go through specific learning stages with similar reflections after each time they play the game. These reflections include where to play, what pieces to play early, and how to recognize and build "escape routes."
You can't stop red, you can only hope to contain her. (They didn't)
With all this reflection, students think I'm trying to build master players. The truth is that many of these reflections tie right back into our 'regular' curriculum. Did you use your resources wisely? Did you take your time? Were you thinking and planning ahead, or were you just making decisions in the moment? How did these decisions work out for you?
I really enjoy these games because of their multiple tie backs to different learning standards, but also due to the fact there is not just "one way" to win. You can't memorize the 'answer' because there isn't one solution. This ties back into The Globe's article - students need to think creatively, logically, and two-steps ahead to achieve victory.
There are other games I use on a regular basis in the classroom as well including Dominion, Dixit, and Ticket to Ride. What games have you used and how have you successfully implemented them in your classroom?