Game Enlightenment

Game Enlightenment is part two of a dual posting in honor of #TabletopDay, written by my wife and professional educator, Sarah Smith. To read part one, written by me, click here! -Melvs

Albert Einstein says, “Play is the highest form of research.” When I see quotes from Mr. Einstein, I always think that it might be slightly cliche to use them in my writing, but this just fit my perspective on gaming so well.

I truly believe that that through games we re-create ourselves. Through games we become able to do something we were never able to before. Tabletop games will always have a place in my classroom. Teaching through hobbies is a magical opportunity. I am honored to be a part of this community.

-Sarah Smith

Being a fourth grade teacher, I am constantly trying to find ways to appeal to the minds of learners. Today, more than ever, our learners yearn for new ways of thinking. So many of the strategies in teaching that have been used are timeless and will continue to be important. I will in no way negate the greatness of memorization, repeated exposure, pencil on paper, standard algorithm, or proper spelling and grammar. Yet, I find myself along with many of my colleagues, attempting to pull every learner’s mind into the crave of enlightenment.

checkers

Playing games seems to be one way to inspire young learners. Board games, card, interactive sport games, and role playing games are proven ways that teach learners how things work. There are many strategies and skills that come from play. I want to address, that I also think unstructured play can be great for learners as well. Going outdoors and using imagination is simply amazing. But, in this piece I would like to stick to the “structured” form of play that I have had the pleasure of introducing in my classroom, and at a very recent dual school event. A few strategies, that I have experienced both for myself and observed with learners, include things like mental math, re-reading, problem solving, note taking, perseverance and collaboration. Ask any gamer, and the strategies would most likely go on and on. The skills that I have observed include interacting appropriately with others, using expansive language to communicate thoughts, goal setting and organization of materials. The increase in these strategies and skills have resulted in learners wanting to participate even in undesirable subjects. They experience increased reading and math levels. There is an obvious increase in classroom comradery, goal setting, and above all else FUN!

forbidden island

 

I have used games in my classroom from teaching Kindergarten in an inner city charter school to my current fourth grade classroom in a rural community. In all of my years I have been able to use a variety of games to teach life and academic skills, and how to have fun while learning. Last night was our first Mother/Son game night, that I organized with a group of parents at my school. It was one of most invigorating events I have organized this year. Playing games is always enjoyable for me, but to share it with learners and parents was like watching your D20 land on a critical hit!

game 2

The evening was a series of fun “carnival” like games in the gym, pizzas, snacks and conversations in the cafeteria, and (my biased favorite) tabletop games in the library. When you walked into the library it was a series of moms and their sons conversing with other moms and sons on goals and strategies of the games. Some of the most popular games were Forbidden Island, Machi Koro, SmashUp, King of Tokyo, Ticket to Ride, Chaos and Alchemy. There were of course some standards as well, Checkers, Candyland and Connect 4. My husband, Kevin Smith @sharndm and friend/colleague Shane Johnson @mrshanejohnson8 ran the room with ease. I have to say, I was super impressed with the amount of kids that were able to just pick up the goals of the games. Shane is the gifted instructor at our school, and I have seen him utilize his classroom for a way to use tabletop games to guide learning through multiple intelligence styles. Many of his students attended, and it was very obvious that they have made great strides in communication skills through tabletops. The evening ended in raffling off some games, a donated laptop computer, and lots of smiles. I drove home on cloud Valinor.

machi koro

I truly believe that that through games we re-create ourselves. Through games we become able to do something we were never able to before. Tabletop games will always have a place in my classroom. Teaching through hobbies is a magical opportunity. I am honored to be a part of this community.

-Sarah

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Big Games, Small Learners

I can think of no finer subject on International Tabletop Day than stories of our younger generations being introduced to the joys of tabletop gaming! Many of you know that I spend at least one afternoon a month volunteering at my local library, teaching teenagers how to play, and run, Tabletop Roleplaying games. This isn’t a story about me though, I want to send up some accolades to the duel efforts of my wife, Sarah, and her co-worker Shane on their efforts to bring the joys of gaming to their students at Wright City West Elementary, here in Missouri, and find ways to encourage learning through these games as well.

shanes room

Just over a year ago Sarah began helping Shane develop a board-gaming curriculum in his Spectrum classes. See, Shane works with their district’s Gifted program. The only experience I have with children in such programs is having been in one myself. Many times these kids are incredibly bright, but may lack some of the social skills that make utilizing their gifts, in an effective manner, difficult. Shane has spent countless hours figuring out how collaborative board gaming, and even games where one needs to strategize against multiple opponents, into ways to develop social skills and analytical strategic reasoning. I think most of us realize, deep down, that tabletop gaming easily accomplishes these duel needs, and likely more. Personally I keep pestering Shane to write a piece for the blog with even more details surrounding his excellent program.

Shames room

Shane’s students love Machi Koro. Both the original & Bright Lights Big City

Sarah, being something of a board gaming guru herself, spent plenty of time introducing Shane to games she loves playing. Letting him know what she thought might be a good fit for his students. This wasn’t really enough for her though, she really wanted to devise a method to bring her love of gaming to the student en masse. She came upon an idea through her work with the Parent\Teacher committee that she helms as the teacher coordinator for the group. The last two years they had put on a successful Father\Daughter Dance but had never done anything for the mothers and the sons of their school. Sarah saw this as a perfect time to inject some gaming into the equation. She pitched the idea of a Mother\Son Game night, and the group took to the idea and I have to say, last night was a big success!

For a first time event, there was a large showing. Obviously games of all stripes were on the agenda, like the physical games in the gymnasium, but Shane and I ran a room with tables littered with board games for people to enjoy. One of the challenges we faced was the fact that the event was only going to last for two hours so we had to pick games we owned that would allow for multiple plays within that time frame. I ended up mostly helping introduce people to Gamewright’s Forbidden Island. I’m happy to say that both groups survived the sinking island and flew off to victory. Shane did a lot of floating around, assisting with multiple games and I spent a bit of time helping new players learn Iello’s King of Tokyo. Even got to help folks play a little of Michael Iachini’s Chaos and Alchemy (a game I was fortunate enough to playtest way back when!)

One of the best things about our board game room was hearing parents talk about how they had never known games like this existed. They expected the board game room to contain all the board games of their youth, and while we did provide games like Connect Four, Operation, Candyland, Sorry, etc., they typically wanted to try their hand at the new stuff. It is a testament to Sarah’s investment into this idea that many walked away intent on discovering more “games like this”. Especially because they could see how much their kids loved playing these new games. I sincerely hope we’ve created some burgeoning gamers out there!

game night library

The library for the Mother\Son Game Night!

Sarah has told me she wants to build on this, make it more than just a thing done for Mother\Son night, she trying to think on ways to build it up! Perhaps dedicate a full Saturday to inviting the families of surrounding communities to play games at one of the school buildings. The thought is fanciful of course, lots of logistics involved there, but it’s certainly a wonderful idea I’d love to see come to fruition. If anyone has the drive to see it done, of course, it’s my wife.

I just can’t wait to see the different ways Sarah and Shane bring tabletop gaming into the lives of their students. I know Shane wants to learn more about tabletop role playing games next, he’s only dabbled, and I’m excited at the prospect of assisting him in that goal. I know through personal experience that kids and teens can learn a lot from games like Dungeons and Dragons, thorough my work at the library, social skills, reading\writing, and arithmetic. It’s all there, packaged in a fun way that encourages collaborative teamwork as well. I’m only an amateur in the field of “teaching” with these tools though, in the hands of experts like Shane and Sarah it could do some really cool things.

-Melvs

If you enjoyed this article you are going to love Sarah’s. She delves into what teaching through learning means for her. I urge you to check it out!