zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Educational Games

Image by Jesse Elliot
My wife hates it when I do this.  And she is right, I should not disparage games like Following Directions, or any number of games that just sound boring!  Following Directions might be an incredibly fun game, despite is rating of 2.0/10.0 on BoardGameGeek.  Who am I to judge?  The simple fact is that the title of the game was written to appeal to teachers and parents, and not to students.  That’s the problem I want to address as our thoughts turn to the upcoming school year (at least in my little piece of the cosmos).

 We have a tendency to divide the world of games into two camps: games that educate vs. games that entertain.  The first are almost universally seen as worthwhile (though I might be the lone exception to that rule), and the second are seen by many as an indulgence (particularly when played by adults).  Very few games, maybe just chess, are seen as both, though most people I know have only a passing knowledge of chess.   However, that division is a false one that is largely brought about by the laser focus our culture has on academics.  Not only do our kids have more homework at a young age, but heaven forbid they play a game that is just for entertainment!  We even turn sports into hard work!  How do we know that a game is educational?  One glance at Following Directions makes it pretty clear that it’s not fun, so it must be educational.

Unfortunately, the kids have exactly the same impression.  Whether or not Following Directions is fun (and I really have no idea), the simple fact is that it doesn’t pass the cover check, and that’s all the kids need.  Children tend to be incredibly influenced by cover art and other (missing) glimpses of the Awesomeness Factor, including the title.  What results is a game time that requires effort just to get the kids to play!   There are ways around this problem.

Promotional Image from Jolly Rogers Games
The first is to find games that have at least a fairly cool name and a nice look.  At the very least, it can’t be boring.  This is less important if the class is all involved in the same game and cannot really see artwork; my wife has had the after school program playing exciting games of 20 Questions for Kids and was asked to bring it back.  Bananagrams makes a great, short word game.  I would love to see a game of Founding Fathers used to teach about the writing of the United States Constitution.  Art Shark is a solid game that shows off classic works of art and their artists, reinforcing the history of art.

Another approach is to re-theme a game so that it has more relevance to the classroom.  Play Risk, but with a map of the United States, teaching geography.  Play memory, but make it so that you pick three cards, and must make a math sentence out of them.  (Hey! I just thought that one up!)  One of the easiest games to do this with is Trivial Pursuit, by making up your own set of cards.  Break the classroom into four or five teams and you are set!

Lastly, expand your idea of educational.  Personally, I think that most game teach some very important life lessons that are key to success.  Most games teach kids, “be patient, and wait your turn”.  (How many video games teach that?)  From games, kids learn that sometimes you have to make due.  My dad would say you must “play the hand your dealt”, and he wasn’t just talking about cards.   Games teach that sometimes you don’t get to “have it all”, you must make tough choices.

And if you must play Following Directions, for heaven’s sake please disguise it.  Lose the box and call it “Traffic”.  (“Oh no kids, the words ‘following directions’ on the backs of the cards is just what you do with the cards…”)  The game board actually is pretty well done.  And who knows, maybe with a teacher that shows a little enthusiasm, the game is actually fun!

It’s Your Move!

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