There is something magical about my family cabin in Winter. There are no agendas, "to do" lists, or alarm clocks. The way the snow sparkles, the snow birds that peak in through our window, and the cozy fireplace all make for the perfect retreat. However, what I love best is how are family comes together around the dining room table for game play.
This past week was no different. Hours upon hours were spent around our table playing family favorites: Hearts, Dominoes, Progressive Rummy, Hand and Foot, Cribbage and Dutch Blitz. I truly savor this time for so many reasons. However, this year felt different. I have gained a new appreciation for my favorite family past time and I was able to reflect on this experience through a different lense now that I have spent over a year gamifying my classroom.
I love the playful fun that games bring: the smiles, laughter, and excitement. I have found this dynamic to be true in the gamified classroom as well. When students are having a good time learning, the energy is electric and they are fully immersed. However, let me assure you that games and gamification done right extends far beyond that. The challenge, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking that are woven into game play brings a complexity that goes much deeper than points and badges.
My kids were reintroduced to some card games this weekend that they hadn't played in a long time. As I watched them struggle to learn the game mechanics and rules at the beginning, I thought about it through the eyes of an educator. There was frustration and failure, but my kids were challenged. They were not motivated by the rules, but by how to develop their own strategies to master the skills. As my daughter reflected on the card game "Hearts" tonight she said, "I am excited to play tomorrow, because now that I understand the rules I have some new ideas of how I can strategize." Isn't this what we want for our students? We want them to be challenged to persevere through the struggle and failure and motivated to develop their own strategies to attain mastery.
Something special happens when we gather the family around the table with a game. The laughter and excitement that games bring bonds us in a special way. Everyone is completely immersed as they are collaborating and communicating on how to win the game. Let's think about this dynamic in our classrooms. Creating a sense of community is so vital to building a classroom where learning thrives. Don't we want students to laugh and be excited about learning? What would learning look like if students were continually collaborating and communicating about how to master the content? How would it change the culture to have students that supported and celebrated each other's accomplishments?
The game "Snake Oil" has become a new family favorite. In this game, players have to sell an item to "the customer" by selecting two cards in their hand to combine together. The players have to be creative with their sales pitch, thinking about why the customer would benefit from the item they are are selling. The game is hilarious because players are required to think on their feet and come up with convincing arguments with very little time to think through what they are going to say. I love the creativity that comes out when players are challenged to do so in a short amount of time. I have noticed this same dynamic happen in my classroom. When students are challenged to take their skills and demonstrate their learning in a creative way, they blow my mind! Sometimes we put too many perameters on student learning. Give students challenging opportunities to be creative and watch them soar!
Reflecting on all of the various mechanics in the games we played this weekend, made me realize how much critical thinking was required. Let me use the card game Hearts as an example. In this game, players strategically play their cards to avoid collecting Hearts and the Queen of Spades. You are continually thinking critically about what move you are going to make next so you can end the game with the fewest points possible. In the gamified classroom students are also critically thinking about the content. In culinary, they are daily analyzing, evaluating, interpreting, and synthesizing the content and creatively thinking about how they are going to solve problems that arise. Students are not merely consumers of information, they are learning by doing empowered to create their own learning adventure.
This weekend in a wintery wonderland was just what I needed to rest. restore, and reflect. I am grateful for the time of laughter and fun and the memories made. However, the experience went beyond that, and that is what I want for my students. The fun and laughter is important and what memories are made of, but students immersed in a rich learning environment full of challenge, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking is where the magic truly happens.
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.