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Using Game Design & Gamestormers to Teach Any Subject

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When I present ideas about how to design games to various organizations and educators, a common question pops up: but how does game design fit MY subject area or age level?

Incredibly, game design and playful learning integrate seamlessly into teaching just about anything. In game design, the maker focuses on one goal – creating a fun and thought-provoking system full of interesting choices. When trying to teach a skill or piece of knowledge, learners want to know how this new understanding fits into a larger system, what decisions the information might influence, and how it might be intriguing to them personally. Sound familiar?

Below, I’ll share a few of my favorite ways to incorporate game design and playful learning into any subject, and how you can utilize our new board game, Gamestormers, to do it!

1. Create Concept Cards

One of the best ways to have learners demonstrate their understanding is through making connections between terms, ideas, people, and information. In games, we often represent the relationship between these concepts as abilities and options listed on cards within the game world. Combining these two ideas into one makes for a fantastic method for students to think critically about what they are learning.

To implement this practice, find a good blank card template to use online or print out, such as the Gamestormers Blank Card Template. Then, have your learners choose a handful of concepts from the most recent unit to connect with each other. As the students decide what concepts to turn into cards, they can begin brainstorming what each card might do for its ability and how it interacts with other cards. Some good brainstorming questions might include:

Once learners finish their cards, they can write, reflect, or discuss their rationale behind the abilities and powers they gave each concept for its card, and how the various cards affect each other.

2. Use Visual Dice and Cards as Assessment Prompts

It is really easy to fall into the standard assessment involving multiple choice questions, essay questions, and short answer prompts. However, getting students to apply what they have learned to visuals and related concepts can serve to not only challenge their understanding, but also their critical thinking and creativity as well. One simple example would be providing a number of rich images and asking students to use vocabulary words in a sentence about one of the image options. With tools such as visual dice, such as the five found in a copy of Gamestormers, students could roll a set and choose 1-2 image results to connect to a list of terms from the unit.

Beyond using image dice, a number of games such as Concept and Pictures come with boards and decks of cards with visual cues that could be used for playful assessment. In addition, Gamestormers features 139 unique cards with visuals that students could use as inspiration to connect to various vocabulary terms or important historical figures. Using the images with the cards can help students think outside the box in how to connect their vocabulary to the visual. These types of questions can easily be integrated into an assignment, quiz, or test.

3. Design a Board or Card Game

If you want to have students truly engage deeply with a subject, there is no better way than to ask them to teach the concept to others. However, we often default to the tried and true “create a presentation” medium for students to practice delivering information they have acquired. Instead of always relying on the same assessment, what about giving students the challenge of teaching through game design or simulation?

One big roadblock for students designing a game to teach a concept is the process of game design. Thankfully, GamestormEDU created a step-by-step process along with a student workbook that walks both learners and the teacher through the journey of designing a game. Students quickly learn how to create their overall game goals and objectives, followed by the essential game mechanics that help players reach their goals. From there, learners design the necessary game cards, items, boards, and rules necessary for the game to function as a whole system.

Another big concern educators have about students designing games is inspiration – how do students find a starting point? A great entry point would be to have students try remixing an existing game’s rules to change how it plays, or reskinning a game’s theme to match the content of the course. If students want to discover different game mechanics and come up with original game ideas, they could also play Gamestormers, our game where you design a 5-card game to win the game. During the playthrough, students discover different game mechanics they could implement in their own design, and they gain the experience of aligning a game story, mechanics, and items into a cohesive experience.

Closing Thoughts

Assessments exist to allow students opportunities to demonstrate mastery of content and skills, and game design provides a fantastic way for students to show they understand relationships, essential qualities, and key features of a number of topics. Using games as assessment tools help push students to think critically and creatively about the content in new ways, as well as a familiar and fun medium. We owe it to our students to give them playful assessment opportunities, and game design meets this goal in spades.

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