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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Playing Games with my Class Version 1.0

As a kid, I was always drawn to simulation board games.  Many were sports related, such as "Statis-Pro Baseball", "Sherco Baseball", or "Title Bout".  However, there were also some historical games such as "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" and "1776" that made it to my game library and was definitely one of the reasons why I am a history teacher today. Most of these games were from a company called Avalon Hill and usually bought at a store in the Woodbridge Mall.

Starting with my first year of teaching, I attempted to adapt these games to the classroom.  I hope that my students enjoyed their time building a civilization, or fighting either the Civli War or World War I.  

My first "game" became a yearly event at Christian Heritage School, it was the Election Game starting in 1992.  My eleventh grade U.S. History class (and eventually my 12th grade Government class) would be split into two (sometimes three) political parties.  Through ads, posters, and debates, they had to campaign to the other history classes in the school.  That first year we had students represent the three candidates that year (Bush, Clinton, and Perot) and it ended with a school wide townhall debate the day before the election.

The first year I ran the World War I game, I was told by my principal that some of my students were in the lunch room with their maps of Europe pulled out and scouring through books to see what moves and technologies worked or didn't work.  (Most of my former students can tell you that an army better not use mustard gas without developing gas masks b/c the wind can always change direction).  Discovering how effective games could be led me to develop more.  Not all have been successful, but the ones that were successful were well worth the work in designing them.

As a teacher, what I appreciated most about the use of games in the classroom is not just the non-traditional approach of addressing the curriculum, but the critical and creative decisions made by the students.   Where the students took the game was always the best part for me as the teacher.  Since the game was open-ended (although historical factors effected the decisions, the decision DID NOT have to match what was historically done), it allowed for out of the box thinking and some strange scenarios. 

I watched as one student, in his noble attempt to bring about one peacefully united tribe for his class, declare loudly, "We will brutally enforce peace."  Needless to say that even the tribes that agreed to his unity government at first joined the others in attacking his tribe.  

In World War I, Germany and Britain allied themselves because they thought it would be mutually beneficial.  I also saw the Ottoman Empire's collapse and the establishment of a new nation, Goonterland.  The Civil War in one of my classes led to Robert E. Lee getting tired of both the North and South, pulling out of the war, and using the Army of Northern Virginia to establish the nation of Virginia with recognition from the British and French.

Other games have been just to use the ideas of competition and reward to entice students to study.  The idea for this came from my middle school teacher, Mr. Bernosky.  Since year one, I have had a youth basketball net in my classroom for review basketball.  You get a question right, you get to shoot.  I also split classes into college basketball teams and their average score on practice quizzes led to their advancement in a "March Madness" style tournament, and after a few years college football was added.  We have had classroom olympics, review wiffleball, and within the past few years, Wii review bowling.

In the past few months, I have discovered a wealth of information from text and podcast sources on this idea of "Gamification of the Classroom".  Some ideas go beyond what I am doing in my class, other ideas were exactly what I have been doing for 20 years.  

So, this summer, I have been plotting and planning ways to "gamify" my classroom even more.  

Details to Come....

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