The Educational Value of Strategy Games

13 09 2009

Your family has gathered around the dining room table and is playing a family game.  “Your turn”, says your daughter eagerly as she looks intently at the playing board then at you.  You know she has found your weakness.  She has learned from you how to solve a difficult situation.  She is excited about using a strategy and applying it and in doing so win a game. Most of us like this family have spent many hours playing board games as a pastime or as a rainy day activity. Teachers have also used games as educational devices or as reward activities for completing class work. We can all agree that board games have always been popular. But, is it possible for teachers and parents to take this fun activity and draw some life changing lessons from them? How can teachers and parents take more advantage of this fun teaching potential?

Some have even called this the Gaming Generation saying that even many video games, despite what many think, can prepare youths for the future. John C. Beck, a senior research fellow at the University of Southern California, and Mitchell Wade, a consultant to companies like Google and the RAND Corporation, have just published “Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever” (Harvard Business School Press). They assure us that by playing video games kids are actually training for the new world of work, not avoiding it. They are learning such lessons as: there is always an answer; you might be frustrated for a while, you might even never find it, but you know it’s there. Players are also learning willingness to take chances (60 percent of frequent gamers, compared with 45 percent of nongamers in the same age group, agree that “the best rewards come to those who take risks”). To add to this is a view that failure is a part of the game as well as a part of life.

If video games have this potential might not classic board games? Many have talked about the educational value of board games (especially Chess), but give little or no guidance on how to make them life-applicable. There are, of course, educational board games designed to teach or reinforce educational concepts such as math skills, historical trivia, etc. However, the games that may be most beneficial are those that teach creative problem solving and critical thinking.  How can we take advantage of this playful spirit and help students draw life applications from these fun activities? I believe it is possible with explicit teaching of strategy with games.

Because of instructive reasons I choose strategy board games, (two person, abstract strategy games) to begin with.  Two person games have face-to-face interaction with real people as opposed to most video games.  But, on the other hand, two person games emphasize strategy over team and social implications of multi-person games. For these reasons, strategy board games may be a more constructive choice than video games and a wonderful tool in teaching important life skills.

I will share more of these ideas in upcoming posts……..

From one thing, know ten thousand things.  When you attain the way of strategy there will not be one thing you cannot see….

if you know the way of strategy broadly you will see it in everything.

Miyamoto Musashi

A Book of Five Rings

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