There are three types of games that may useful in helping students develop different skills in problem solving/critical thinking as well as knowledge and basic skills. They are:
- Commercial games;
- Specially designed and commercially produced educational games; and
- Teacher devised games designed to fit into a particular topic.
All games have some advantages:
- Obviously, fun, as the children learn;
- Learning by stealth, i.e. the children think it’s a game rather than school work;
- Learning through cooperation with others;
- Learning by observing others;
- Often hands-on, i.e. tactile and visual; and
- Often discussion between participants can lead to further learning.
There are disadvantages/difficulties especially with commercial games and some educationally produced games. They include:
- They are expensive.
- They often take too much time to get a result.
- Teacher must be extremely vigilant with collecting all games and checking all parts have been returned. Otherwise, an expensive game becomes unusable.
- Storage and borrowing practices may present usage problems.
- Time can become an issue in organising distribution, collection, return and storage of games so they are put in the too hard basket.
- Some of these types of games take many hours to learn to play well.
Therefore, games need to be:
- Relevant to the learning required in the topic;
- Easy to learn to play effectively in a short time;
- Time friendly in the busy environment of the modern classroom;
- Easy to store, replace and check;
- Played by as little as two people and up to four to be effective;
- Can be whole class ones as well; and
- Not too reliant on their own consumable items or have consumable items that are easy to copy (with a licence to do so, if necessary).
Teacher Designed Games – Learning By Stealth
In my experience, teacher designed games are the most effective in the classroom. Some have evolved from well-known games such as Bingo and other games of chance.
The advantages of teacher designed games are:
- They are topic specific.
- Cheap to make. Often only photocopying is required.
- Few resources are necessary, e.g. dice and counters.
- Rules can start in a simple form and be enlarged or made more difficult to suit the class’s development.
- Rules can be changed to suit the situation, i.e. flexibility is an advantage if the game does not work successfully initially.
- Time needed is determined by the teacher as necessary.
- Results can be related to the topic you are teaching.
- New ideas can be deduced from the games to enhance the students’ learning, especially in games of chance.
- All students can have success. It does not depend on their achievement level in the subject.
- The games can be used to strengthen understanding in your topic.
I have included below a game called “Buzz” that I saw used by a trainee teacher. I don’t know where it came from but I have written a simple version of what I saw. I have used it, with many variations and complications, when doing relief teaching. You will see it has many of the advantages mentioned above.
Some points to take note of when playing games in class as part of your teaching pedagogue:
- Always play a practice game first.
- Then play your first ‘real’ game.
- After the first game, discuss with the class how they went with the game.
- After a second game, discuss the strategies the students used to increase their chances of success.
- Keep the game simple to begin. As the students master the basics, increase the rules of the game to make it more difficult.
- When the allotted time for the game is over, draw out the concepts that the game is teaching so that the students have learnt from the game.
- Don’t play a game as a fill in. This will create a feeling among the class that games are not to be treated seriously. Thus, you will lose a valuable learning tool.
The game below can be used in the first years in school in a very simple form. As the first year progresses, the game can be made more challenging. Step 9 below gives a simple way to increase the difficulty. In higher year levels, more complexity can be added easily without taking the fun out of the game or lessening its capacity to improve counting in our young students.
Buzz is a counting game you can play with classes up to Year Three. The aim of the game is to consolidate the ability to count with a critical thinking/decision making component. The students are learning to count in a non-threatening context while having fun.
Here is how to play the basic game:
Step 1: Decide on the counting numbers you will use. This will depend on the students’ age level, e.g. 1 – 10.
Step 2: Decide on your ‘Buzz’ number, e.g. 8.
Step 3:Arrange your class standing in a circle.
Step 4: Explain that the class will count one after the other around the circle from 1 to 10. Once the number 10 is reached, the next child says ‘1’ and the count begins again. If a child misses a number or says the wrong number, he/she sits down.
Step 5: Then say what the ‘Buzz’ number is, e.g. 8.
Step 6:Now explain that when this number comes up the child must say ‘Buzz’.
Step 7: If the child forgets to say “Buzz”, the class or the teacher will remind them and they sit down.
Step 8: Before you start the game again, ask the class what they are counting and what the ‘Buzz’ number is.
Step 9: The game continues until there is only one child left – “The winner”. You may need to add an extra ‘Buzz’ number at the end to make the game harder so that you can get a winner.
For further information on Mathematical games in the classroom go to http://www.createspace.com/6069531 where you will find “The Quiz-the Forgotten Teaching Strategy”. Our author, Rick Boyce, has used games during his whole career even though some experienced teachers frowned on their use, suggesting that games were a ‘soft option’ to real teaching. What these teachers did not realise was that the students were learning through having fun and not realising that they were learning. In professional development workshops that Rick presented, he demonstrated games taught to him by other teachers that had the power to develop students’ understanding of difficult concepts.
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