November 20, 2017

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“Board” with the Curriculum: Games can help cultivate important skills in an information-rich setting | The Gaming Life

Deduction and problem-solving, while born of the sciences, have at their heart an approach to life and learning that extends its tendrils to most every facet of our lives. These skills are a vital part of the body of learning.

These skills don’t come from textbooks. They are derived from the realm of experience and application. But when practiced solely in the insular space of experiments and the sciences, they run the risk of disconnect by falling short of making a lasting impression on students. We face a similar challenge with the 21st-century skills that we address each day as school librarians as we look for opportunities to show their value and presence in identifiable places.

To that end, technology is often embraced as an educational tool that is both authentic and engaging, but it often furthers the social disconnect and offers more screen time for our over-saturated students. Board games, however, provide a social and familiar space for students to explore and identify with curricular skills as well as those that go beyond grades and impact their growth as lifelong learners.

The five games below can help cultivate problem-solving and deductive reasoning skills in a dynamic and information-rich setting.

Number Chase. Playroom Entertainment. Players: 2-5. Playing time: 15 min. Grades: Elementary/Middle School. approx. $8.
This game packs a lot of punch in a little box, blending deduction with mathematics in a fast and very accessible way. The game consists of a deck of cards, numbered 1 to 50, arranged numerically on the table. In each round, one student secretly picks a number. The other players, in turn, then try to guess that number. If the number guessed is incorrect, that card is flipped over and a question is revealed that must be answered. Each question is rich with the language of mathematics and helps to narrow down the possibilities by providing additional information such as: “Is it in the range of 10 to 30?” or “Is it greater than 40?” Armed with this additional information, the players are in a better position to make an attempt at discovery. The student who correctly guesses the number gets to keep that card, removing it from play. The first player to collect three cards wins.

Making this work in the classroom: The fast play time easily lends itself to a centers activity, but the game can also be played by a larger group. To help younger players, rather than leaving all of the cards on the table, players can remove the irrelevant cards after each question to make it easier to see the available choices.

The Suitcase Detectives (Kofferdetektive). HABA. Players: 2-4. Playing time: 15 min. Grades: Elementary/Middle School. approx. $25.
This is a fun and challenging game of deduction and drawing conclusions from limited information. The students are hotel detectives attempting to catch Percy who has been pilfering items from suitcases. To do so, they need to determine which items have been stolen. In each round, one player assumes the role of Percy and selects several items to remove from the game box. These items are shadow shapes of familiar items: gloves, a ring, a necklace, etc. Once Percy has taken the items, the rest of them are placed inside a secret compartment that sits beneath a frosted pane. The box is shaken up and opened, presenting a jumble of shapes. The other students must determine which items have been removed. To help, each player has a complete set of cards featuring all of the shadow shapes. When time is up, Percy reveals which items were stolen and for each item correctly guessed, the player moves one space forward on the track. Players continue taking turns playing Percy, and the student farthest along the track at the end of the game wins.

Making this work in the classroom: For younger players, using one set of cards and working cooperatively is a good modification for a successful experience. Additionally, you can decrease the number of items used so there are fewer things to work through. While it is best to give each student a chance to be Percy, the game can easily be stopped at any point to allow for flexibility in fitting into most schedules.

Tobago. Zoch & Rio Grande Games. Players: 2-4. Playing time: 60 min. Grades: Middle/High School. approx. $40.
Another blending of science and math, Tobago is an adventure game filled with hidden treasure, strange rotating statues, magical amulets, and an ancient curse. Students are treasure hunters with clues that take the form of location rules such as: in the largest jungle, next to a palm tree, or not in sight of a hut. Over the course of the game, the students work together to determine where the various treasures are located on the island and then race to be the first to claim them.

All of the players contributing to the discovery of the treasure share in the rewards or risks; some treasure may be cursed! Students can’t just play any clue though. New clues added to the location of a treasure must construct a set of logical rules that do not contradict each other while narrowing down where the treasure is located. To help students visualize this, the game includes colored cubes that are used to indicate the possible locations for each of the four treasures. As new clues are introduced, cubes are removed from the board to help students work through problems as locations become more complex.

Making this work in the classroom: While this game does have a longer playing time, it can be used in tighter schedules by setting up intentional instructional moments. For example, several partially defined treasure locations can be preset and the students must fill in additional clues to help find treasure. Or, have fully realized locations without the cubes placed on the board and have the students work out where the treasure is located and then race there. Add in a document camera and smart board and you’ve got gold!

Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition. Bezier Games. Players: 5-68. Playing time: 30 min. Grades: Middle/High School. approx. $20.
This social interaction game of observation and deduction is set in a European village that has been plagued with werewolves, vampires, and other minions. At the start of the game, each player is randomly given a role that defines their part in the game. The basic game usually consists of most students in the role of villagers and a few players as werewolves. There are a myriad of other roles that can be introduced to add to the game’s complexity. Victory conditions are different depending on what role you receive. In general, both groups are trying to discover the identity of the other and remove them from the game.

Game play consists of two phases, day and night. During the night, the village falls asleep (closes their eyes). The werewolves then wake up and silently indicate to the moderator which villager they are going to remove. Afterwards, the village wakes up to discover that another person has died and the heart of the game begins. The village must now come to a consensus and vote on who is responsible for the crime. There are no rules for this other than one player must be selected and removed. Some wonderful socially organic interactions arise as players try to work out who they can trust and how they can survive. With little more than a set of role cards and a rule book, this game allows for self discovery and growth.

Making this work in the classroom: This game scales wonderfully and, with this edition, can handle very large groups or even whole classes. The biggest modification for the classroom is the language of the game, supplementing: “remove,” “lock-up,” or “disappear” for some of the more graphic words to make it more appropriate for a school setting. Bonus tip: An iPad app removes the need for a moderator:

Zendo. Looney Labs. Players: 3-5. Playing Time: 15 min. Grades: Middle and High School. approx. $50 for everything needed.
A DIY project well worth the investment, this inductive reasoning game is one of many that utilize Looney Labs’ Icehouse pieces—sets of pyramids that come in three sizes and a variety of colors. In each round, one player takes on the role of the “Master” and creates a single rule that structures built with the pieces must follow. The other players try to discover that rule by building new structures and either guessing or asking the master if the new structure follows the rule. If it does, it will receive a white stone, but it will receive a black one if it breaks the rule. Zendo captures the heart of the scientific method and, while out of print, it is easy to assemble with four or five Rainbow Icehouse sets and a bag of black, white, and green glass stones from a craft store. The rules can be found at the designer’s website:

Making this work in the classroom: This game is remarkably flexible for use in a variety of situations. Have students look at photographs of several examples with enough structures for students to work out the rule. For junior scientists, complexity can be scaled back by limiting the rule to one or two variables such as color or size. Bonus tip: For a nice introductory experience that only uses a deck of cards, try Eleusis Express:

Brian Mayer is school library technology specialist for Genesee Valley BOCES, NY.