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Using Board Games to teach 21st Century Skills in the Classroom

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This is my Master's thesis from Columbia University which covers Using Board Games to teach 21st Century Skills in the Classroom.

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Using Board Games to teach 21st Century Skills in the Classroom

  1. 1. Using Board Games to teach 21st Century Skills in the Classroom Jeet Samarth Raut Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts Instructional Technology and Media Columbia University 2014
  2. 2. Analysis As the industrial revolution model of education grows more and more outdated, measures must be taken in schools to insure that they deliver more useful skills in an engaging manner (O’Rourke, Rahman, and Taylor, 2007). Needing to prepare students to the demands of a more knowledge based economy; new educational standards were introduced, known as the Common Core (Porter, McMaken, Hwang, Yang, 2011). Forty-four states have adopted the common core model. With such widespread acceptance, there is a window of opportunity to scientifically test new methods of instruction across schools of differing resource levels. With the new Common Core standards finally emphasizing 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, and problem solving, schools have to also find ways of teaching soft skills, which employers are currently focused on (Dede, 2009). Board games are a tool that addresses many of the Common Core skills in a financially viable, and accessible way.
  3. 3. An efficient implementation of board games as educational intervention would take place in 5th and 6th grade public classrooms in states that are employing the Common Core standard. The Social Studies Common Core standards for 5th and 6th graders (early American history, and ancient world history accordingly) afford content skinning onto a board game that would allow it to feel like a natural game and not “chocolate covered broccoli”(Linehan et al., 2011). This is important to make the engagement of the board game highly motivational, and not simply a guise of a standard educational activity with a thin game layer placed over it. By using a board game, we can teach communication, collaboration, and problem solving in an engaging way (Pöllänen and Vartiainen, 2011). The game itself would take about 40 minutes to an hour to play. It could be easily integrated in a lesson plan, or be a stand-alone activity when children would have free time. The physical aspects of the board game would be diminutive to save space, and would minimize the number of necessary components to allow quicker set-up and take-down. A group of 4 students would be able to play the game in the space of a small table. It would be a collaborative game, so the children would have to work together to achieve the game goals. By pairing the board games along with other activities in a learning unit, the teacher could form a complete multimodal curriculum (Moreno and Mayer, 2007). In terms of technical requirements, the board game would require very few. A video explaining the game to the teacher will allow the teacher to teach the students how to play the game more efficiently, and rules cards will also be included to minimize the amount of potential rules questions the students may have. A video would also enable the teacher to see ways of qualitatively grading the communication
  4. 4. aspect of the game, as well as demonstrating the game’s place within the history curriculum. The teacher would go around to students and make sure that they were trying to play correctly. It would be played after a corresponding history lesson during regular class time, and could be played many times Learning Goals The primary learning goals would revolve around the 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, and problem solving (Dede, 2009). Since many low and middle cognitive level tasks have been automated and computerized, many new jobs in the economy focus on these tasks, it’s important to focus on them in primary education. While 21st century skills as a whole is a buzzword, there are specific skills that the Common Core standard is hoping to address. Being able to parse complex situations is becoming a more necessary skill, so complex analysis is important to ensure longevity in the workforce. Each of the 3 Common Core skills (communication, collaboration, problem solving) could be evaluated separately. Beyond the scope of k- 12 education, professional development specialists are currently using games to improve the communication, collaboration, and problem solving skills of managers in the workplace (Wust & Kuppinger, 2012). Providing an earlier exposure to these games will benefit students entering the workforce in interview activities such as case studies. The secondary learning goals of the game revolve around the social studies content. By forcing the students to move beyond a simple understanding of historical events, and into complex ones, it will better address the social studies literacy Common Core standards (Common Core, 2012). Beyond the 21st century skills and
  5. 5. the content, the greatest affordance that a board game offers is engagement, and in turn, motivation. Social cognitive theory describes that learners use cues from others, especially their peers, in their environment, as opposed to purely autonomous actions. Modeling their behavior on the behavior of others motivates them to be involved, in order to avoid out-group exclusion (Pintrich, 1992). Another motivational model that is applied in the study of games is the ARCS model (Keller, 1987). Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction are a central part of any well-designed game the blends content with mechanics and dynamics. Games can also empower their players and let them know that they can overcome challenges in a risk free environment (Dweck, 2008). The effects of games on low SES students are especially profound, where games have shown to increase working memory (Mackey et al., 2011). These combined factors make board games a motivational method of instruction for 21st century skills. While there are educational board games that already do exist, most are not interesting to the students, and focus more on attempting to purely teach content. Focusing on 21st century skills, the mechanics and dynamics of how the children interact is the highest priority. There are some popular resource management board games that could potentially be used for education. Settlers of Catan is a very popular resource management game where players have to collaborate in order to compete with each other. The objective of the game is to gather victory points through a variety of different tasks. Having goals that don’t require one strategy allows players to evaluate different strategies and weigh options more than more familiar games such as Monopoly (Lorenzo, 2013). Settlers of Catan is also has some distractors; mainly
  6. 6. that it can take a considerable amount of time to play. With games lasting up to 3 hours in length, it is not ideal for a classroom. Some of the strategies can also be fairly complicated as well. Having a game that delivers similar mechanics and dynamics as Settlers of Catan, but would be quicker to play and easier to understand, would be more realistic for the classroom. A shorter game would also keep the children engaged for a longer period of time. An engaging, history themed board game that required it’s players to communicate, collaborate, and be efficient at problem solving, would be an helpful way to tackle the mission of the Common Core. Design Content Analysis The common core history requirement for middle-schoolers focuses on American History, as well as ancient Western history. For the first game, ancient Western history (Greco-Roman from 600 B.C. to 400 A.D.) will be the backdrop of the game. The goal of the game is to make the ruler of the city as happy as possible through appeasement. Players will collaborate and compete to gather appeasement points (similar to victory points in Settlers of Catan) by constructing buildings. While they manage their resources and laborers, they will also have to deal with major events that take place during the time (wars, droughts, diseases, etc.) to understand the severity of those events.
  7. 7. Board games are a great medium of education for teaching communication, collaboration, and problem solving. They intrinsically require the aforementioned skills, so it comes across as natural, and not a forced exercise. Children are also familiar with board games. The board game is a collaborative/competitive resource management (German- style board game. German style board games offer players different win conditions, and often encourage player collaboration. This is different from many board games found in the United States(Monopoly, Risk) Media Selection The media that the activity will be delivered through is a board game. As stated in the analysis section, board games offer a low cost and accessible method of interactions that isn’t dependent on the technological specifications of a classroom. The game will consist of a board, laborer tokens, resource cards, and event cards. The game could be bundled with publisher’s textbooks as an additional activity in a learning unit. Project Description Major components The created game will be called Acropolis. Each of the players plays as a Greek businessman who is trying to build as many buildings as possible to win the favor of the city ruler. The game will make use of the MDA framework, and as such can be summarized as having the following characteristics divided within the three different categories of the framework:
  8. 8. - Mechanics: dealing, resource distribution, project undertaking and completion, auctioning. - Dynamics: negotiation, collaboration, sharing and cooperation. - Aesthetics: project/investment failure, long and short term planning Theoretical Framework Acropolis employs various motivational models (ARCS, social cognitive theory), as well as various principles, which create good games (Gee, 2005). First, identity. In Acropolis, each player becomes the manager of multiple resources, trying to finish construction projects. This empowers the player to stand by their decisions, and also motivates students who may feel as though they are not given as much attention in class (Oyserman, 2009). Second, interaction. In order to accomplish projects, players inevitably negotiate and cooperate. While players watch each other’s resources and search for common ground, abundant interaction is necessary to win the game. This combination of communication and collaboration is vital component of the game, and addresses 2 of the 21st century skills Third, risk taking. Acropolis incorporates this element into the game through the placement of laborers (which are sources of resources) by paying them with money. For example, a player can place all of his/her laborers to metal, stone or wood, thus becoming a more specialized producer in that area. By doing so, the player might be able to acquire a higher ground position during negotiations depending on which fields
  9. 9. other players place their laborers. Players receive additional laborers throughout the game to allow for a change of strategy and adaptation to the current dynamics of the game: alliances, conflicts of interests, or other situations that arise throughout the game. Investment in projects that cannot be completed on a single round also incorporate a risk-taking factor. This element was crucial to our design, as it represents one of the main problems within the construction world which we are trying to address, i.e. that of miscommunication and lack of planning when taking on projects, and the wasting of resources that this leads to, as players have a limited amount of time to complete projects (maximum of four rounds). Risk taking and planning addresses the final 21st skill of problem solving. Fourth, agency. Each player allocates human capital (i.e. laborers) to the resources, which that player deems most important. By investing resources in projects, players make those projects their own. Fifth, freedom. Beyond the basic mechanics of the game, what makes the game fun and interesting are the dynamics that arise during the negotiation phase. Players are faced with the freedom to failure through incomplete projects. Eric Zimmerman's theory on stylized behavior describes how the rules in a game stylize the actions and behaviors of players in a peculiar way. So Players have the freedom to play as selfish, or as giving as they want (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004). Each separate Age brings forth new manipulations to both laborers and resources. This is to represent the introduction of new technologies and make players adapt their strategies so that a single linear strategy won’t always garner the most
  10. 10. appeasement points. “Emergency” cards were included as a way to simulate unexpected or pressing matters that must be addressed (e.g. natural catastrophes, foreign invasion, lack of food) in the real world, some of which have direct consequences on players, such as loss of laborers or resources. Players often do not have enough resources, but the problem has to be solved. This is where negotiation dynamics become very important. Players can negotiate cooperatively, or competitively while balancing to cooperate for common good, and compete for individual success. The goal of this game is to win the most appeasement point (which represent public good). This is how Acropolis addresses the premise of managing organizations for common good. While playing Acropolis, players are also faced with “mandatory” projects, which they must complete before moving on with other projects. Facing various problems to solve, players negotiate and cooperate, and sometimes face conflict between public interest and maximizing their own benefit. Through this process, players learn about the hurdles of management and collaboration. The design of the game is currently taking place. Research must be done on the specific history content that the common core follows in order to incorporate that information into the game. After that, playtesting the game with board gamers in Learnplay to see if the mechanics are solid and unbreakable. Afterwards, implementation into classroom and other learning environments will be key to understanding if the game has widespread classroom merit.
  11. 11. Information Architecture Acropolis will be created in the same manner that other games are created; an extensive iterative game creation process that has many checks along the way to ensure that the final product is effective and desirable. This is especially important for educational games, particularly in the content area.
  12. 12. Implementation The history teacher will lecture about history as they normally would. After the lecture, one group of 4 students would be taught the game, while the rest of the class would perform their regular learning activities. The teacher would help with the first turn of the game, and the students could take over to finish the game after that in about 30
  13. 13. minutes. The following day, a different group of students would be able to play. The game would be simple enough to understand and play through quickly. By rotating different educational activities(including the game), different aspects (the 21st century skills, historical content) can be learned more efficiently(Moreno and Mayer, 2007). The game would be a piece in an overall history curriculum, with a bulk of the other activities and instruction curated by a major textbook publisher(Kaplan, Pearson, McGraw Hill) Evaluation Evaluation would first begin with playtesting the game. After testing the game with older experienced board gamers, playtesting would continue extensively with children to make sure that the rules are easy to grasp, and that the game could easily be played and completed in the standard class activity time. Students would have to rate how engaging they found the game. After comparing the pre-test and the post-test between a control group who does a more standard history activity (role-play, worksheets) and the experimental group (playing the board game), running multiple regression analyses comparing the amount both groups felt engaged with the test scores. In terms of measuring 21st century skills (collaboration, communication, problem solving), it would be up to the teacher to do an observational evaluation. Students could rate each other on collaboration; by acknowledging the other player they felt was the most helpful. A key mechanic of the game distributes extra points at the end of the game given by the players on who they thought was helpful. This serves as a way to measure collaboration. Since the game minimizes luck, the
  14. 14. player’s score at the end of the game could be a measurement of problem solving skills. The Teacher would have to observe the negotiation mechanic between the players to qualitatively rate each student’s communication skill. Conclusion With the introduction of the Common Core requiring that 21st century skills be taught in classrooms, new methods of teaching involving content, 21st century skills, and ways to motivate students become very valuable. Board games provide a possible solution to address all three simultaneously. A quickly playable, engaging board game that ties content with strategy is desirable. Content pre and post-tests provide a direct method of testing if students are learning the educational material, while teacher evaluations of student’s interactions provide a method of evaluating 21st century skills. Teachers would implement the game after they finish lecturing as one of several educational activities. This provides a new method of teaching and engaging students material. The limitation of the project is that it requires significant user testing, and training for teachers to ensure it’s implemented properly.
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