BOARD GAMES IN THE CLASSROOM
Casual Game Insider|Spring 2021
Gamers gather around a table to unbox a new board game or bring out an old favorite. Together, they enter into a unique experience of mental challenge, social interaction, and creative play — an experience that draws them together. But can this special experience have anything to do with learning? John Coveyou, founder of Genius Games, insists that it does. Whenever you take a seat around a table to play a board game, “your mind can’t not begin to pick up information about the world that the game is themed around.” Without a doubt, learning is part of the experience, but is it a big enough part to justify using board games in the classroom? If so, how can board games be best used for learning?
Jon Den Houter

GAME PUBLISHERS WHO HAVE EDUCATION IN MIND

Lance Hill, founder of Funhill games, designed Kings of Israel to teach his church youth group the geography of ancient Israel. “I had been dabbling with game design,” he says, “and it popped into my head that a game could probably teach the locations pretty well.”

“The game board is a map of the Northern Kingdom of Israel,” he explains, “and in each round, my youth group kids got a little bit better at becoming familiar with finding the locations on the board. At the same time, I had a special Bible study that I used in between rounds that explained why each location was important in the game. That helped the teens to attach events and people to the locations on the board.”

In the same way that playing any map of Ticket to Ride can teach players the city names and locations, by playing Kings of Israel a person can’t help but learn the names of several important cities in ancient Israel.

For Coveyou, educational value has always been the main consideration, as well. Before he founded Genius Games, he was a middle and high school science teacher who used board games, which he designed himself, as learning activities in his classroom. “We think of a school as a place where students must stop playing so that they can start learning. But why do these pursuits have to be mutually exclusive?” he asks in a 2015 article for Middleweb.com.

Since day one, Coveyou’s vision for Genius Games has been to make games that are both genuinely fun to play, and accurate in the science concepts they present. Based on comments on Board Game Geek (BGG), Coveyou has succeeded. Mike Bialecki, a biology professor for 10 years who has a Ph.D. in developmental genetics, comments about Cytosis (a game Coveyou designed around the theme of cellular biology): “The marriage between theme and mechanics is very strong — so much so that I can see myself using the game to teach students about the endomembrane system.” Another person cheered this post, commenting, “This is one of the most extraordinary statements I’ve seen on this site. [Cytosis is] a highly-rated science-based game that is accurate enough to be used in a college course.”

All of Genius Games’ board games come with a “Science Behind” document, written by Ph.D. scientists, doctors, and educators, which explains the science used in the game. This document can be used by itself as a supplement to classroom instruction or in combination with the students playing the game.

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