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Managing In-Class Gameplay

Arana Shapiro

Co-Executive Director and Director of School Design
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Managing Game-Based Learning in the Classroom (Transcript)

Ameer: Managing game play is just like managing other learning activities in your classroom. You'll know you're on the right track when you see your students helping each other, having fun, and reflecting on what they're learning.

Teacher: So mark it first, good, good.

Student: So I get one, nine, so yellow gets one and I get one number, it's only the mushroom. So I only have one <inaudible> oh, that's the nine.

Student: So you got those.

Teacher: Who's the game master?

Student: I am.

Teacher: Okay, then Cole, you shouldn't even be doing this.

Student: Sorry.

Ameer: So how do you manage game play? Step one, think about how you manage your classroom. A game isn't some sort of special zone where anything goes. Before using a game, think about rules and procedures you already have in your classroom. Leverage those to manage game play. For example, what are your rules for cleanup after an activity? Review those rules with your students and apply them here. Step two, everyone plays a role. Depending on the type of game you're using, you may want to create student roles. One role may be a material manager who hands out, organizes and collects game pieces. Other roles could be a time keeper, note taker or scorekeeper. Step one, be a facilitator not a firefighter. Even if the answer to a question is a simple yes or no, guide your students to discover the answer on their own, and if several students have the same question, stop game play and have a quick class discussion about that question. Step two, iterate and improvise. If there's a common concern that develops, go ahead and make changes to the game right then and there. Who knows, you might create a unique game that opens up new learning for your students. Step three, be a cheerleader. Support students in their learning through game play. Keep an eye out for great moves or successful strategies that occur and share them with the class. Step four, wrap it up. Plan ahead for the possibility that your students might not fully finish the game by the end of class, so make sure you're clear on how you'll return to the game. Gather feedback. For example, ask your students what they learned from the game, what they liked and disliked, and what they might change about the game. Thanks for watching. Now go ahead and try it in your classroom. Next, to learn how to assess student learning during and after game play, check out the video on game assessment.

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Playing games in the classroom often gives students a unique opportunity to learn, practice, and demonstrate their understanding of ideas in engaging ways. But for a teacher managing a classroom, gameplay can sometimes seem like a recipe for chaos, and a sure way to lose control.

Here's the good news -- it doesn't really matter what kind of classroom management style you have. Games in the classroom can still work for you. Whether you prefer a quiet and controlled classroom environment or are comfortable with "controlled chaos," there are several things to keep in mind that can help your students unlock the power of gameplay without derailing the rest of your period or day.

Here are some strategies that we've seen teachers use for classroom management during gameplay.

Regular Rules Still Apply

Teachers will often be tempted to treat gameplay like a special time because of the energy that a game can bring to the classroom environment. And then, after the game is over, it's time for students to go back to "regular learning." One of the main problems with this strategy is that you've inadvertently told your students that the "regular rules" for "regular learning" don't apply right now.

We encourage teachers to see gameplay not as a special time in the classroom, but rather as part of the critical learning that happens every day. If you, as the teacher, can shift your focus, you can help students apply what they know about your classroom behavior expectations to the game space. Be clear that you expect them to uphold classroom norms, even while they are at play.

Assign Student Roles

Great classroom games require everyone to participate. In the beginning of the tutorial video above, you may have noticed Alicia briefly step in and ask the students who the "game master" is while she is observing them at play. By giving the students roles, she has minimized the potential for any disagreement due to lack of clarity, or any misbehavior due to boredom or nothing to do.

As the teacher, if you can create an atmosphere where all students feel like they are participating and being held accountable for their participation, you'll decrease the potential for management problems to occur.

To see more of Alicia's classroom playing the board game Caterpillar, check out her post and video Challenge Is Constant: The Caterpillar Game and Real-World Math.

Facilitate, Don't Firefight

The role of a teacher during gameplay can't be underestimated but -- and this is important -- it shouldn't look that way! We've seen two common pitfalls when it comes to the teacher's role managing classroom gameplay:

1. When the teacher tells students how to play at the beginning of class and then sits back and lets gameplay happen without any intervention

2. When the teacher refers constantly to the "rules" of the game and talks a lot about "right and wrong" and "yes and no."

Try to think about facilitating gameplay in the classroom the same way you would facilitate a great conversation. The goal is to have the students discover, make connections, and build new and improved understanding. Don't be afraid of stopping gameplay to share something great that a group of students has done, or inviting one or two students to help a group that is struggling. Your job is to maintain a bird's-eye view of what is happening so that you can share best practices, dispel common misconceptions, and help students build on each other's understanding.

Wrap It Up

We've all been there: the students are engaged, the game is still going, and the period is almost over. What do you do? Sometimes our instincts tell us to just let them play, right?

In our experience, by letting the game run to the end of the period without any wrap up or discussion, you have stolen some of the most valuable learning time from your students. Remember, you can always go back to a game. It's much harder to go back to real-time student reflections. Always wrap up with time to discuss and gather feedback. Talk to students about what they liked and disliked. Ask them about their learning. Give them time to share the experience that they just had. By allowing them to discuss, you are allowing them to transfer the learning from play to practice.

Game-based learning is more than just picking the right game for your classroom. It’s about designing a meaningful learning experience for your students. For more about this approach, check out "Rolling Out" a Game and Using Games for Assessment.

How do you manage gameplay in your classroom? Watch the video above for our tips, then share your own in the comments!

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Scott Bedley @scotteach's picture
Scott Bedley @scotteach
Teacher, Creator, Un-Maker, Foodie, Global School Play Day

Arana, what a great list of how to manage game play in any classroom. We all know that students learn best through experiencing, such as playing games, and this a great resource for any educator wanting to incorporate it into their classroom. Thanks for sharing!

Karin's picture

Thanks for these helpful tips! I really like the idea of student feedback after each game - that's a great way of getting feedback and understanding what they enjoyed in the game and how to improve it etc.

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