True Boardgames in Schools

Since we are on Opinionated Gamers I would like to offer my opinion about using real board-games in school’s activities, something I actively doing in the last 7 years, part for fun and part for job. I’m also teaching teachers how to use boardgames in their work. I don’t like educational games but I discovered designer games are really a great tool if properly used and schools could be a real nice place to make population aware of our fantastic hobby.

Last week I have concluded the last board-games project with schools for the 2013/2014 year (actually I still have to make in June the two-days finals of Ticket to Ride’s tournament in a school involving something close to 60 students from 7 to 11 years old). I’m working in a quite small city (Modena is something less than 200.000 inhabitants) but I would like to share with you some stats I consider really promising:

I have done this year more than 100 hours of lessons (including some games-lab in the afternoon) teaching bordgames to more than 500 students from 4 to 18 from in 9 different schools. I have used more than 30 different games in a wide range of complexity from Viva Topo and Dobble up to Small World and Takenoko. I’m really happy about this year results, both in number and quality, hoping to increase in the next season.

Before going to my opinions and the conclusions I would like to suggest to gamers interested in using real board-games in school a book: Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning Through Modern Board Games by Brian Mayer and Christopher Harris. I just red it but I really like the approach and structure and I think it has been really great to have it when something close to 7 years ago I started my activity with schools.

Some typical questions I’m used to answer during my courses.

Are real board-games a good tool for teachers ?

Yes, they are. It is not easy to persuade teachers and school’s managers to introduce games in their activities but, after looking what real board-games can teach to students, no one feel sorry about the decision. Designer games are amazing tools in teacher’s hands but, unluckily, most teachers are not aware of this and there is no specific training about using games in (Italian) teachers’ education.

Why not using educational gaming ?

I think that activity with games has to be fun to be really efficient. Most educational games are designed by good educators but usually poor designers. On the other side really well designed games can teach much more really capturing the attention of the kids. Designer games are demanding, usually well-designed, engaging so kids/students are immersed into the activity using (and training) their skills.

What real board-games can teach ?

Strategy and tactics are need in almost all the real-life activity starting from courting down to negotiation, research, management and relationship. There are studies in neuroscience about the Executive Functions (like working memory, …) that show how this can be improved by appropriate training and I think boardgames could fit.
Collaboration and social skills can, obviously, taught by games and also how to manage victories and defeats. In early ages games can improve attention, teach base math and improve relations.

Some expedient to use designers-games in schools

I’m trying to use designers games without changing rules in my activities but there are some expedients I discovered can really improve the experience/result. First of all I’m used to make kids play in team (2-3 person, no more). Second I usually to try to play the game with less than the maximum players lowering the downtime, Finally, since most of the activities in the classes has to take no more than 2 hours including rules explanation and debriefing I’m sometimes changing the end-game conditions. to So a typical Ticket to Ride game could fit 8-12 kids (4 teams of 2-3 kids each).

I don’t really know if opinionatedgamers readers could be really interested in this topic so I stop here. If there is interest I’ll write something in the future going in the details with a typical “lesson” for kids in the primary school age.

Good play

About Andrea "Liga" Ligabue

Andrea "Liga" Ligabue is a game expert contributing to many games related international projects including Gamers Alliance Report, WIN, ILSA Magazine and Boardgamenews. Member of the International Gamers Awards Committee is coordinator of Play - The Games Festival and founder of the project Ludoteca Ideale.
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5 Responses to True Boardgames in Schools

  1. ggambill says:

    Thanks for the article! I’m most definitely interested. I have just started a large scale pilot program in my school here is the US that was inspired after speaking to Brian Mayer on my show, so we share that common background. I have been using games in my math classroom, like Incan Gold for division with remainders, and Numbers League for basic operations, along with Washington’s War in social studies and Dixit and Rory’s story cubes in Language Arts. My results have been mixed so far, with some ideas and concepts really taking hold, and some slipping away. I used Can’t Stop to teach probability, for example, but it wasn’t until I started playing the kids in team vs. teachers that I started to see some learning. Getting them to incorporate their knowledge into their gameplay is the real challenge. Most kids here in the US see gaming as an entirely social activity, and not a competitive one in the way they view video games. This really surprised me, and it’s been something I’ve been working on. Getting them to make the shift in paradigm is not easy. Boardgames = social activity and fun! video games = strategy and competition where you work to get better. Just some thoughts to start. I’d love to keep this thread going! Thanks again for sharing your experience!

  2. Very cool! I’ve been doing something similar in my homeschool community. We have 10 week classes that parents teach, my class was Math in Games. We played some educational games like Blokus, but also played games like Martian Dice (teaching probability) and Mascarade (deduction skills). The students (aged 10-14) absolutely loved it and many of them bought the games that we played. The parents said it helped their kids realize that math was fun. Board games should be used in schools more, either inside class officially or through clubs. Hope that this idea can spread more!

  3. Andrea: You are certainly on to something here! Do you do this just in your local district or on a larger basis? I think for this to really “get the word” out is to try an establish a specific place where teachers of all levels can find ways to use these in their classrooms. I think it would have to involve getting teachers of different levels and subject areas to be included in the process. I think you are on to something bigger here than you realize. Feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this further.

  4. I realized that this topic is of some interest so I’ll try to continue posting articles about games and schools. Of course working in “local district” like I’m doing is just the beginning and I hope in the next year to have the possibility to make a broader project.

    @boardgamesandbeerpodcas I’ll try to contact you but it could be also nice to have the discussion starting here, so someone else interesetd could partecipate.


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