Can we play or do we have to play in the classroom?

I had not favoured the terms “gamification” and “learning through play” so much until a year or two ago. The reason for this is simple. There are loads of bad games marked by STEM or learning on yourself. These are mainly quizzes. It is almost impossible to find a game which would meet two basic criteria of a good game in teaching: being funny and giving an opportunity for learning.

Teachers have been under pressure for years to examine and mark students within 45 minutes two or three times a week (at least two oral examinations), hold loads of lectures (everything according to the outcomes and standards), organize an activity (project-oriented teaching must not stop), and, to refrain from further enumeration, you probably know what is demanded from you. 

Then, we can pose a question freely – do we have time for a game which would not lead us to the goal (in this case it is the acquisition of learning material)? Well, are there any games which would completely fit in our subject and through which students could learn in another, “untraditional” way?

My answer is no. I am still searching for such a game and I do not give up.

But I rightfully claim that we will not lose much if a class is dedicated to something like this. Syllabuses are overabundant; they demand too much from educators, but we can sometimes relax and we have to relax. It is not terrible if we lose one or more classes, if we reduce the educational part on behalf of the funny one. We will compensate for it and, by the way, we will also learn something, which has not probably been prescribed by the outcomes, but is beneficial in any case.

In a few following paragraphs I am going to present my three favourite games and the reasons why they should be used in the classroom. 

Let’s do it one by one.

Terraforming Mars (FryxGames)

There is no better game which can inspire you to think about the future. This game includes the elements of economy and strategic planning and learning about new technologies of the future and all this is with the aim of a huge scientific venture which asks their players to make a planet from Mars, on which we can live. )

What can we learn? We can learn from economy and the management of income and resources to my favourite part, stirring our imagination and aiming at imagination of the future.

Drawbacks: the game can last longer than 45 minutes. There is also the so-called version, which is played on a certain number of moves, but somehow I find the longer one funnier. You can save what you have done in the game and you can continue the game later or find a computer version of the game, which is much faster.

How should the class be? There should be a discussion about how we imagine the future. This game has inspired me for one of my projects with students on the topic of the colonization of planets.

Dr Eureka (Blue orange)

I did not believe myself that my students would like Dr Eureka so much. They came to school on Friday afternoon to continue playing. The game is simple. You have three test-tubes with six small balls (two red, two purple and two green balls) and you move them from one tube to another until you have the same combination as on the card, and then you receive another card. It is simple and contagious as well.

What can we learn? It is a phenomenal game which demands both the coordination of movement and logical thinking. It is ideal for younger classes.

Drawbacks: the game is more for the development of skills than for learning, but we will forgive it.

How should the class be? Just let students organize themselves.

Jenga  (Leslie Scott)

This is perhaps the most famous game of all the above-mentioned. Loads of tiles arranged in the form of a tower and the goal is to move them to the top.  Jenga has existed since 1983 and it does not lose in popularity.

What can we learn? I usually use this game when I teach about balance although it could also be used in the lesson on friction.

Drawbacks: I would like to find a version of the game which would be more complex in terms of science and less complex in terms of skills and dexterity.

How should the class be? Make students conclude on their own when the tower is stable; when it is possible to draw a tile and when it is not possible; which forces are in the process of drawing a tile; whether something would change if we drew tiles fast, instead of doing it slowly.

I admit that I am still waiting for an ideal educational game which is not a quiz like  Hembizike whose author I am. To conclude with, I would mention a few more games which I would like to have in my collection and which, with certain changes, would be excellent for the classes of learning and relaxation.

Wingspan (Stonemaier Games) is a wonderful  game with birds. If they ever make a version with the birds from our regions, it will be perfect for biology lessons.

Dixit (Libellud) is an indescribably good game , especially for language classes (both Serbian and foreign language classes) because the players are required to describe their card through an association while other players attempt to guess it.

Pandemic (Z-Man Games) I like this game  because all players play together as a team. Each player receives a character that has unique abilities and if you want to win, you will have to decide like a team on your each step.

These are some of the games which you can use in the classroom. Creating a board game is not an easy process, no matter how it seems simple. We, educators, are still waiting for the best one.

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