April 10, 2014

Board Games

I have no data on this, but I would guess that the number of teachers who have their students create board games is pretty high. Why not? It’s a fantastic, multi-layer project that can demonstrate a great deal of student learning. I have done board games for literature topics, social studies, and a number of other topics.

Creating a board game forces students to think through a process. They have to draw on prior knowledge of games to create their own. The research on the project can be a lot of fun for the kids. But they also have to think about design. How the board will look. How it will connect to the topic. What will be used for the tokens. Students really have to think about a big picture. Sometimes the written directions are the most difficult part for the students. That’s where they find out if their ideas for directions will work or not, and then they get to go back and make changes as needed. The final product is always a chaotic day for teachers, but the students get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I doubt they realize how much learning is happening.

Recently, I got to work with students from Pepperdine University who are a few short weeks from having their teaching credentials. The day was focused on maker education, and their project was a board game. I kept my directions simple. They were required to make a board game on any topic they chose. Since they are all going to be teaching different grade levels and subjects I figured they could make the project personal by selecting a topic, or topics, that they find relevant. They were also required to include a QR code, a simple circuit, and at least 1 3D printed item.

The beginning of a great game.

The beginning of a great game.

All of the materials they needed were available in class. That included computers, wires, LED bulbs, conductive paint, scissors, glue, a die cut machine, paint, paint brushes, printer, foam board for the base, and anything else I had laying around my room.

Watching the process they went through was fantastic. You could see Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, and a number of other learning theories play out in real time. They worked together to come up with a plan, and then executed it. I realize that they are adult learners, but the creativity and diversity in how they accomplished the project was intriguing and inspiring.

A math game based on Frozen.

A math game based on Frozen.

By watching them I learned several things on how to improve my instruction to my fourth graders. The first thing they did that I would have never thought of was use the school’s die cut machine to make the layout and spaces on their boards. They looked beautiful. I’m not sure what my school’s policy is on having students use the die cut machine, but I’m going to find a way to use it with my class. The vocabulary alone is a geometry lesson embedded in this project. I was also reminded to give the students time to think through their task before getting started. Having an initial plan can go a long way in getting the project complete.

A minion coming to life.

A 3D printed minion coming to life.


I’m looking forward to seeing what my 4th graders come up with when they are presented with this project. The college students had a good time and came away with a solid example of how maker eduction can be based in standards and yield fantastic results.

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