Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Designing Games for the Three C's

One on the best projects I have found to incorporate all of the Three C's (Thinking Critically, Communicate Clearly and Work Collaboratively) is to have students work in groups to design a game to teach one of the topics we are learning.

I use this assignment primarily in my Anatomy and Environmental Science course, but it could be adapted for any subject.  In Anatomy I have students work in groups of three or four to create a game to teach the anatomy and physiology of the Digestive System from the mouth to the Anus and all of the organs and processes in between.  The Environmental Science students design games to teach a Cycle of Nature: water, carbon, nitrogen, food webs from various biomes.  I teach in a three block schedule of ninety five minunte classes.  I provide students with 30 minutes each day to work with their groups on their games.  Students typically have about three weeks to complete the games, about six class periods.   

Think Critically
Students are asked to design a game with specific rules and an ultimate goal of winning, while focusing on the development of a game that is a teaching and learning tool. Students need to understand the vocabulary, structures, inputs, processes and outcomes of the systems involved. The game must be fun to create a desire to play in order to create the repetition necessary for others to learn from the game play. Students must think critically about how to create a game that will be enjoyable so tha people will want to play it repetitively to increasethe effect of the game as a learning tool.  I encourage students to create games that have variations so that the game can be adapted for various levels of students as a means of introducing the subject, reinforcing learned material or in review for an exam.

Communicate Clearly
Students struggle with the creation of a clear and concise set of rules for their games. They need to communicate their vision for the game in directions and rules that must be prepared for an unknown audience. Most students have little difficulty in verbally explaining how to play a game, but ask them to write the rules and explanations out in a cohesive manner and this can be a cause for great angst for many students.

Working Collaboratively
Coming to a consensus on the game design, delegating responsibilities and producing a finished product demands nothing but a collaborative buy in from the members of the group. Then each student must trust that all aspects of the game come together on Game Day, board, cards, pieces and rules in class and on time.

Game day takes place in our dining hall.  Groups set up their own games and play them for 10 minutes to make sure  games are functional and everything is in place.  They then move about the room playing the other games and grading them.  Students grade the games based upon the effectiveness of the game itself, the effectiveness of the game as a learning tool, and the production quality of the game.  Once students begin playing other games, they are not allowed to return to their own game for any reason. I encourage students to play the games with members of the other groups to maintain perspective and avoid comparisons to only their own games. 
Students will play and score between four and six games during a one hour period.

During the debriefing at the end of the day, I am always amazed at how many students want to be given the opportunity to improve their own game after seeing what others have done and what they might have done to enhance their own.  That is when I see the real learning take place as students evaluate their own work against the work of the peers and demonstrate an honest desire to improve upon their end product.  I typically also see a more focused production quality of the work that is turned in following these projects in both courses.

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