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.