Louisville Educators Use Games for Learning
Written by Squire Greene
When we hear about gaming in mainstream media, most often it is either being pitched as a commodity or used as scapegoat to explain larger, more complex societal problems. Games have been stigmatized by many people over the last few decades as a corrupting influence on young people, whether it be the fictional link between Dungeons &Dragons and demonic worship or the explicit content of video games like Grand Theft Auto. Gaming is rarely treated in popular culture as more than a waste of time, a leisure activity for children, or the obsession of a basement-dwelling momma’s boy. However, that is beginning to change. Both video and tabletop games are increasingly being accepted socially as evidenced by a growing number of gaming events and game-centric entertainment, but even more interestingly games are finding their way into other parts of our modern society as well, including education. Surprisingly using games for learning is not a new idea.
Tabletop games have always been used as educational tools. Arguably, their primary purpose in our culture is not only leisure activity, but a tool for socialization and education. Children in the ancient Middle East and Africa played a game we now call Mancala. This game, originally played on the ground instead of a board taught children to plant parallel rows of crops and to avoid placing too many competing seeds in the same hole. Likewise, the game Morabaraba taught children of ancient pastoral communities how to herd sheep. However, we don’t need to look to the past for examples of how games are being used in education. Gaming clubs and after school groups are growing in popularity in our community, and some local teachers have even begun to integrate board games into their lesson plans.
Recently, I was privileged to take part in a Spring Break Game Camp at the historic Cabbage Patch Settlement House in Old Louisville. This program, the brainchild of Patch employee, CJ Duffett, took CJ’s love for gaming and integrated it into a camp where the kids were exposed to all types of tabletop games. Ten kids, from ages 8-12, were taught a wide variety of games, exposed to industry professionals, and instructed on how to build their own games.
“From it all, they learned good sportsmanship,and the difference between cooperative and competitive play,” said CJ. “It reinforced their math and reading skills, and challenged their logical and strategic thinking. All under the guise of fun.”
Cabbage Patch’s Spring Break Camp was such a success that they are planning a larger, expanded Summer Camp in July where the kids may even be challenged to design a game of their own.
However, Cabbage Patch is far from the only place using gaming to connect and educate children in our community. Don Bacon, a Social Studies teacher at Iroquois High School, has a rotating group of 15-20 students that stay after school on Fridays to play in his 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game. He has had so much success and connected so well with these students, he even occasionally has graduates come back for a session or two. Don stresses the positive socialization that takes place in his D&D group. He noticed when he started his campaign his students thought that “they were all individual characters that were doing their own things,” but they quickly had to learn to work cooperatively as difficulty ramped up deeper into the game. He said veteran members of his group now take new students aside, help them build their characters, and learn the rules. These students have become “social ambassadors” and integrate new members into the group.
After school gaming programs are also available at other local schools as well. Greg Korchnak, an eighth grade teacher at Kentucky Country Day, also runs a Tuesday afternoon gaming club. His game club consists of 3-9 students between fifth and eighth grade and focuses mainly on board and card games. Greg said the students in his club have learned a whole variety of vocabulary and agrees with Don that gaming provides a safe environment for children to experiment socially. Greg’s passion for games as a teaching tool is evident; he seems unable to contain his excitement for the topic. He is even taking gaming education one step further and bringing it into his classroom. He has designed a unit for his students around the game Power Grid. In this game players are in charge of running a power company, which opens the door for many educational opportunities about the nature of fossil fuels, economics, and planning infrastructure.
These educators all have one thing in common: they understand the opportunity games can provide for both social and academic development. Tabletop games reach a different crowd of kids, maybe not talented in sports or music, but with the exception of chess, rarely get serious consideration. Gaming clubs, like the ones Don, Greg, and CJ run, allow students to build a positive bond with their institutions. This is important. Young people who have positive experiences at school tend to show up more often and get better grades. They also remember the positive experiences they’ve had and take them into adulthood. Personally, my vocabulary would be much smaller without the games, like D&D and Magic: the Gathering, that filled my youth. I learned a lot about percentages from a 20-sided die, and tabletop gaming helped this shy kid connect with his friends. Games do not deserve the stigma they often receive in some media, but instead a place in our culture as tools for both socialization and education.
Nerd Louisville spoke with Don and Greg during Episode 12 of our podcast. You can hear them talk about gaming & education directly by using the player below.
Episode 12 – Gaming in Education
Disclaimer: we talk a lot about killing orcs. No orcs were harmed in the making of this podcast.
In this episode, we talk with Don Bacon and Greg Korchnak, teachers in Louisville who use gaming in education to connect with students. Don is a Social Studies teacher at Iroquois High School that runs a gaming club for 15-20 students that play Dungeons & Dragons every other Friday. Greg is a science teacher at Kentucky Country Day that runs a gaming club of 3-9 students that mostly play card and board games on Tuesdays. Greg also has begun to bring games into the classroom, integrating games like Power Grid into his lesson plans.
- Introductions: Don Bacon & Greg Korchnak
- Bacon’s After-School Club playing Dungeons & Dragons 5E
- Started with 4-5 students (14-18 years old); 15-20 now with characters now
- Schmoozing the office ladies with baked goods or other methods
- Parental Consent for semi-violent content
- Greg’s After-School Club, mostly playing various card and board games
- A student’s D&D adventure where the teachers were the monster-villains
- Nick wants to play this adventure at home
- Students teaching each other math during the game; Don takes credit from Math teacher
- Games as teaching & learning tools; vocabulary, rules, math, etc.
- How students change based on their role in a game; social interactions within the game
- Cooperation and working together to accomplish a goal; students as social ambassadors
- Games forcing different behaviors for the students
- Creating games out of science experiments & making students make hard choices
- Using games to teach students how to deal with authority and challenges in the fictional world that mirror real life confrontations; social contracts and interaction
- Rules as a mechanism to constrain interactions
- Gaming Clubs as a positive experience that connects students to the school – “Kids want to show up to school so they can play D&D,” Don said.
- Financial resources for gaming at school
- Designing lessons around boardgames; Power Grid – a game Greg will use in an upcoming lesson
- A bunch of teacher nerdisms I have no idea about…
- Positive experiences mattering to kids and having a ripple effect
- Writing game reviews instead of book reviews
- Video games in the classroom
- “It makes learning fun,” Greg said.
- Parental feedback – doing games instead of doing drugs
- Classroom management using game rules
Also, check out our article on Louisville Educators using Games for Learning.
- Mike Pfaff
- Nick Sturtzel as Nobody (cameo)
Episode 8 – Game Camp at Cabbage Patch Settlement House
In this episode, we talk with CJ & Matt who are running the upcoming Game Camp at the Cabbage Patch Settlement House. The Game Camp will run from April 4th to 9th and feature a wide variety of activities that involve learning, playing, and even designing a game.
The Cabbage Patch is a local, non-profit, religious organization that focuses on helping at-risk children with extracurricular activity and educational resources. The Game Camp is in its infancy, but is growing out of a Wednesday “Patch Con” that CJ runs regularly at the Cabbage Patch. The Cabbage Patch believes games are great educational tools.
- CJ Duffet, education specialist
- Matt Spalding, youth & recreation development coordinator
- Overview of the Cabbage Patch in Louisville KY
- In 100 year history of Cabbage Patch, first Game Camp
- Discussion of “Patch Con”, the precursor to Game Camp, where kids have learned to play games
- Games like Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, etc. being excellent educational tools
- The age range of kids at the Cabbage Patch
- CJ & Matt’s background in tabletop gaming, roleplaying games, and collectible card games
- The Firefly system and playing in that game as a captain (not Malcom Reynolds)
- Matt begins roleplaying when he’s four years old, 1st Edition AD&D, Gygax, vampire mind control
- The genesis of Game Camp, bamboo bo staffs
- Parental interaction with the cost of games and donations from local game stores
- Jack Chick, the evil of games, demons, magic, and leading kids astray within a religious-based non-profit
- Local game designers and industry professionals who are coming to Game Camp, including Jeff Dehut of Pocket Dungeon Quest fame
- Designing and developing a game with the kids
- Foe Hunters and Slur Your Role
- Mouse Guard, Burning Wheel, Redwall, Grimm RPG
- Dave Mattingly, Muppets, and volunteers who may want to participate in the game camp
- Field trip to game stores (Heroes Comics & Gaming or Through the Decades)
- Inspiration from a literary camp run at Cabbage Patch
- More on volunteering and aiding in the Game Camp, especially game designers
- A trip to ConGlomeration with the kids and open gaming
- Fluxx card game (“A game that you just follow the rules,” said Matt)
- More on games as educational tools, gamification, brushing teeth
- CJ reflects on getting destroyed in a Yu-gi-oh tournament by a six year old at Something 2 Do
- Plans for an expanded Summer Camp
- Find Cabbage Patch at www.cabbagepatch.org and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cabbagepatchsettlementhouse/
- Mike Pfaff
- Matt McCloud