Board Games are Elementary
by Brian Mayer
I am fortunate to have a job that I love. This rare alignment of the cosmos is due to a work environment that supports creativity and vision which is spearheaded by my supervisor Christopher Harris. We are librarians, well... technically I am a library technology specialist and Chris is the director of the School Library System for which I work. He is one of the rare administrators that has a vision and provides the freedom and support for his employees to develop and see an idea through. This is how our game library came about (http://sls.gvboces.org/gaming).
Over the last year and a half the game library has grown to over 75 titles of professionally selected learning resources. That is to say, we have ALOT of great board games. During this time my focus has been on researching and developing purchasing lists, aligning board games and the gaming experience to national learning standards (http://sls.gvboces.org/gaming/node/23), and carrying around BIG bags of games to use with kids in schools. My entry point is the school library, the heart of exploration and inquiry. We provide these gaming resources for loan to over 50 school librarians to use and implement as another learning tool to help students connect with the curriculum and grow as learners.
While the librarians are information specialists, my colleagues and I will step in as the gaming experts, helping to introduce and implement the games successfully in the library and classroom. This year’s focus has been on gathering resources for the primary and elementary level students, grades Pre-K to 6th grade and we have hit it out of the park with a great selection of resources. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a whole day working with classes of students from 2nd to 6th grade. The students were thrilled with the level of engagement that the games brought, while the teachers and administrators loved the curricular content and skills being utilized.
The format of each visit differs depending on the needs of the school librarian and classroom teacher. Sometimes we will be working with multiple copies of a single game that complements a particular skill set or unit of study. Other times I bring single copies of multiple games for a variable class experience. In this case, the students rotate between games similar to the station activities that take place in the classroom. When working with younger students, I will often run these center based gaming experiences to keep the student’s attention focused and their minds engaged.
Below I have listed and briefly described a handful of games that work well with primary and elementary level students. There are a good number of online retailers that carry these games if you are interested in picking them up for your class or library. One retailer of note: Funagain Games (http://funagain.com) accepts purchase orders, which is often a necessity for purchasing through the district business office.
As educators, we need to think outside of the box because the educational landscape is changing. Creative thinking, problem solving and flexibility are the new fundamentals for success and games provide a foundation for the application of school curriculum within that environment. Additionally, because generating engagement is so vital in our schools, games are one of the most valuable tools that we have at our fingertips. They create meaning and context for so many isolated pieces that are being learned in the classroom. Imagine a game that provides a meaningful application for Cartesian Coordinates (Oregon by Rio Grande Games). You don't get that from a worksheet!
Day of Games List:
Castle Knights, Together We Are Strong by HABA
A wonderful cooperative game of communication and teamwork as students work to erect towers within the castle walls before the arrival of the king. The device used to construct the towers is an elastic center with four strings attached that, when manipulated, stretch and contract the center band. With up to four students at the helm, coordination and cooperation are the fare of the day.
Max by Family Pastimes
Another wonder cooperative game, Max allows very young students the opportunity for team engagement as they work together to help three neighborhood critters get back to the safety of their tree before Max the neighborhood cat catches them. Each turn, students can roll the die to try to move the animals, but if any black pips are showing they have to move Max. While the choice of which animals to move lies in the hands of the student rolling the die, it is the input and the decisions of the group that will win the game.
Number Chase by Playroom Entertainment
This is a great little game that has students applying mathematical concepts such as range, number sense and relations as they work together to discover the secret number. One student mentally selects one of the cards numbered 1 to 50. The other students take turns guessing what that number might be. If they are wrong they get to flip that number over and ask a question that will help them make more educated guesses by narrowing down their choices.
Syllable Rally by HABA
Students are taking a tour of Europe, hoping to be the first to collect the most postcards from each of the capital cities on the board. While this may start to sound like a game of geography, it is in fact a very strong ELA game due to the way in which students move around the board. On their turn, students flip over a card to reveal an image from which they select one word that represents something that they see. They then move the number of spaces equal to the syllables in that word... brilliant! Because they need to land exactly on the cities to collect the postcards, they must strategically choose which word to use (i.e. bike, motorcycle, or highway).
Suitcase Detective by HABA
Science takes center stage as students use deduction and inquiry to determine which items have been stolen from the suitcase. In Suitcase Detectives, players take turns playing Percy the Pilferer by removing two shadow silhouette items from the suitcase. Once removed, the remaining items are shaken inside the suitcase and the lid is opened to reveal the mass of items overlapping, intermingled, and slightly distorted through an opaque screen. The students have cards featuring all of the items that were in the suitcase and, under the pressure of time, work to discover which items were removed through deduction and a little luck!
Giant Blokus by Educational Insights
Exponentially larger than its cousin, Giant Blokus provides a game experience that has students developing spatial and geometrical skills. Like many abstract strategy games, Blokus is deceptively simple with a deeper level of strategy just below the surface. Students take turns placing geometric shapes similar to Tetris pieces on a large grid board. The rub is that the piece they play must be touching one of their own pieces and can only touch their own pieces corner-to-corner. This easy, but limiting, rule makes each placement important as students strive to have the least pieces left over when they run out of moves.
7Ate9 by Out of the Box Games
Fast and frenzied, 7Ate9 addressees the need for rote familiarity with the basic principals of math in an exciting manner. Each student has a deck of cards comprised of a closed set of numbers from 1 to 10. Each card features a plus/minus modifier that indicates the next card that can be played on the stack. From the go, students simultaneously race to play a card to the pile until one student has exhausted their deck. 7Ate9 not only helps students develop a reflexive application of basic math, through the use of a closed set it creates a unique environment that raises the bar for engagement.
Tumblin’ Dice by Ferti
Tumblin’ Dice takes dexterity and multiplication and marries them with a huge waterfall of wood. Students each have a set of six-sided die which they take turns rolling, shooting, scooting or flicking from the start platform onto the scoring boards. The boards are a series of steppes that get shorter, narrower and more valuable as they progress. Each step serves as a multiplier for any die that lands on it, so a die roll of 4 on the 3x step would yield a score of 12 for that die. Each student takes turn playing one of their die, making nothing final until everyone has gone because often dice already in play are shifted or even knocked off the board. Math becomes something the students strive for as they work their way towards higher multipliers to raise their score. This game can be easily modified to increase the level of multiplication the students are working with by using sets of 8, 10, 12 or 20 sided dice.
Quiddler by Set Enterprises, Inc.
Quiddler is a fun take on the classic game of Gin played with letters and blends. Students play a series of hands, with each hand increasing the number of cards in play. Students draw a card and attempt to arrange the cards they have into a word or several words. The first player who is able to use all of the cards in their hand, minus their discard, can lay them out. Each other player gets another turn before scoring and starting a new round. While not groundbreaking in its mechanics, Quiddler does allow for students of different levels to interact and play together. Each hand, when scoring, the player with the longest word gets a bonus as does the person with the most words. So students with a strong vocabulary base can play alongside students working on building theirs up with the same level of fun and engagement.
In addition to running the great web site Library Gamer (click here to read), Brian Mayer is a Library Technology Specialist for a school library system in Western New York with a penchant for gaming. He has have written several documents aligning modern board games with both the AASL’s Standards for 21st-Century Learners and NY State Curriculum, and has written on the subject for several publications and serve as a gaming and libraries consultant for national and local workshops.