Make a Game Out of Learning

April 6, 2015

In MIT’s Education Arcade, classic game consoles line the office corridor; rafters are strung with holiday lights; and inflatable, stuffed, and papier-mâché creatures lurk around every corner. When I stopped by recently, the arcade’s director, Eric Klopfer, and creative director, Scot Osterweil, talked enthusiastically about the surging interest in educational video games, now used by nearly three-quarters of America’s grade-school teachers, according to one survey.

But these optimistic, play-loving game gurus have come to despise the biggest buzzword in their field: gamification. Read more.

Dividing for resources in Stone Age

August 5, 2013

ImageStone Age is a 2-4 person worker placement game created by Michael Menzel and published by Hans IM Gluck and Rio Grande Games. In Stone Age, players take turns building their civilizations by collecting various resources and trading them for huts and civilization cards, each of which earn the players victory points during or at the end of the game. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game is the winner.

Each player begins the game with five wooden workers. Going around the table, each player places one or more workers on the circles next to the resource they wish to collect (see image below).  For the purpose of this article I will focus on gathering food, wood, brick, stone, and gold.

After all workers have been placed, the action phase begins. Each player in turn will resolve all their workers on the board.  Each worker placed at a resource station allows the player one die to roll towards paying for that resource. The active player rolls the dice and adds them together.  The total of the roll equals how many points they have to spend on that particular resource. Food costs 2 points, wood is 3, brick 4, stone 5, and gold is 6.

ImageWe began playing Stone Age just before my son entered the third grade.  I knew he would be learning basic division and felt Stone Age would be a great way to reinforce what he was learning at school.  We played three games together and during each game my son would use his fingers, ask me to do the division, or just guess.  I needed to find a way he could perform the division himself.

I took out a bag of counters and placed them on the side of the board.  I told my son each time he rolled for resources to add the dice and count out that many counters.  Then divide those counters into ‘complete’ groups – a complete group being a group containing counters equal to the cost of one resource he was collecting.  I then told him to take one resource for each complete group created.

He was collecting gold at a cost of 6 points per piece.  He allocated 3 workers to the resource and therefore rolled 3 dice. He rolled a 6, 5, and 3 for 14 points.  He counted out 14 counters, then divided them into 2 complete groups with 2 left over.  He looks to me and says “Two! I get two!”

“Correct!” I respond.

“14 divided by 6 equals 2!” he continues.

“Yes! … Wait! No!” I blurt out quickly, hoping I got there fast enough before he committed that to memory. I had to teach remainders quicker than I thought.  So I explained that the extra counters were called remainders and since they do not form a complete set, they are not part of the arithmetic.  I told him to subtract them from the total points and he will have the proper equation.  ”So 12 divided by 6 is 2?” he asked.  ”Exactly,” I said (this time being correct).

For the rest of the game he needed very little of my help.  He was excited to play and use the counters.  As we continued, I made sure he stated each equation out loud. Towards the end of the game, I taught him the fact families.  After he finished grouping the counters he said, “30 divided by 6 equals 5!”

“Very good,” I replied, “now what is 30 divided by 5?”

He squinted his face thinking about it for a bit. “6?” he said, a little unsure of himself.

“Yes,” I replied, “whenever you divide something by a number, you can swap the answer and the dividend and still have the correct answer. So if 30 divided by 6 equals 5, then 30 divided by 5 equals 6.”  His eyes lit up – he understood.  I then asked him what 6 times 5 was, he thought for a bit and said, “30?” “Correct,” I said, “you can multiply the dividend by the answer and you will get the number you are dividing.”

The next day my son asked me, “Dad, how did you like the game last night?”

“I love that game,” I said, “how did you like it?”

“I liked it a lot, it’s a great way to learn math!”  I smiled and nodded in agreement.

We played another game a couple days later and I began to notice something.  When we first started to play Stone Age, he always sent his workers for food and not much else. But now he was beginning to gather all types of resources.  It dawned on me that he sent his workers for food not because he didn’t understand the strategy of the game, but because he didn’t want to deal with dividing by anything other than two.

But now he has a powerful tool at his side. The counters give him independence. He is free from the need to constantly ask others for help.  This freedom allows him to explore all the options and strategies the game has to offer. This, in turn, increases his enjoyment of the game, his score, and the confidence he has in himself.

How do you use Stone Age to educate?

Have you used Stone Age to teach a concept to someone else? Leave a comment telling us what you have done and we will update this post for future readers to enjoy.

New Scientist: Kindergarten coders can program before they can read

July 29, 2013

ImageGoing back to school to meet the 4-year-olds who are learning to program computers thanks to a new graphics-based coding language

LORNA is 4, going on 5. I’ve never met her before, but her eyes light up when she sees me. She rushes over, blonde curls bouncing. “I’m going to sit on you!” she declares. I demur, so she climbs into the chair next to me. “I weigh forty pounds!” she exclaims.

I hand her the iPad I’m carrying and the silliness melts away in an instant. A teacher helps her load up an app, gives her a quick tutorial and she’s off, pulling at icons, stringing instructions together, building animations. Lorna is on her third day of learning to program a computer. Read more…

Sources and Methods: The Ancient Viking Game Every Intelligence Professional Should Play

July 25, 2013


On August 3rd, the village of Fetlar, Scotland (go ahead, try to find it – I’ll wait), will hold the Hnefatafl World Championships.  With a population of 86, Fetlar might seem an unlikely place to hold the world championships of one of the world’s oldest games.  The truth is Hnefatafl, or “King’s Table”, is nowhere near as popular today as it was in the days of the Vikings.  In fact, for the 250 or so years that make up the Viking Age, Hnefatafl (or games very similar to it) was the chess, the checkers, the go, and the Nintendo for the Norse.

Today, only dedicated tabletop gamers have ever heard of it and many of them have never had a chance to play the game.  That is a shame for it’s an extraordinary game with a number of lessons embedded in it for the curious intelligence professional.  Read More…

A Gamer’s Education joins Troll in the Corner

July 11, 2013

I am pleased to announce ‘A Gamer’s Education’ has joined ‘Troll In the Corner’ to bring our articles to a wider audience.  You can find our first article ‘Dividing for resources in Stone Age’  here…

Unboxing education through gaming, playing, and making: Lucien Vattel at TEDxIndianapolis

June 5, 2013

Trailblazing education and game development visionary Lucien Vattel is at the forefront of a nationwide crusade to revolutionize learning in the classroom and beyond. As the CEO of the Los Angeles-based interactive curriculum creator and digital publisher GameDesk, Vattel is transforming the traditional school model into a hands-on, digitally-charged ecosystem for students to discover and nourish their greatest gifts, while embracing STEM skills through game-based learning.

June 5, 2013

MinecraftEdu is the collaboration of a small team of educators and programmers from theUnited States and Finland. We are working with Mojang AB of Sweden, the creators of Minecraft, to make the game affordable and accessible to schools everywhere. We have also created a suite of tools that make it easy to unlock the power of Minecraft in YOUR classroom. Read more…