Saturday, September 14, 2013

Games in Things

By Erin Quinn
As mentioned in our Recipe section, creating a safe culture in your classroom is important for future creative work. I teach an option class for grade 7s called Creative Problem Solving. It’s a course that’s locally developed by my school board, and focuses on the creative process as a method of solving real life problems. I’m very excited for the opportunities this course is going to afford my students, but before we could get into really meaty issues, we needed to spend some time developing that collaborative, safe culture.

I started with a great activity I’ve used before from an organization called the Institute of Play, the GameKit. The Institute of Play is a fantastic organization that aims to bring play and games into schools. Being a strong believer that learning should feel like play, I am right on board with their mandate. It doesn’t hurt that they create top quality resources for teachers and school personnel.
I used the first activity in the GameKit called Find Play in Things. On a table, I laid out several supplies: a bunch of red plastic cups, some elastic bands, paper clips, yarn, two-sided math tokens, and twelve sided dice. I asked the students to get into groups of about three or four students. Then I asked them to come up and select three items - they could take as much or as little of the three items as they wanted. Now came the fun part: Invent a game using all three items.

An important thing to note is that these are the only instructions I gave them. I didn’t say, “you must have at least three rules in your game, you HAVE to write them down, and NO MAKING A MESS! AND NO MAKING NOISE! AND NO HAVING FUN!!!!” Okay, I’m being a little facetious right now, but some teachers’ instinct would be to put limitations on the games. Resist this urge and just let the kids go with it.

My students happily set about this task. What happened at that point was something pretty remarkable, and one of the hallmarks of design thinking: the students biased toward action. Instead of spending time discussing what they might do, the students took their materials and started prototyping right away. They lined up cups in rows. They drew game boards on the whiteboard desks. They rigged up slingshots using paper clips and elastic bands. And when the sling shots didn’t work, they tried another approach.




My students spent a good part of an hour prototyping their games, adjusting as things didn’t work, and trying again. Without knowing it, the students experienced the divergent-convergent pulse: when something didn’t work as planned, students had to go back to the drawing table, come up with other possibilities (diverging), and then deciding on another route to try (converging).
Next class, we are going to try playing each others’ games to see how they work and if they’re fun. Feedback from users may cause them to have to go back again to try something new. If a game is too hard, or too easy, their players will tell them this, and the game designers will need to try another approach.

What’s great about this activity is that it is such a simple activity that gives students a taste of the creative process, and many of the seven strands of creativity.
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