Constitutional Game Design – Game Day!

The build up to game day has been anxiety riddled. Students have been testing their games, tweeking rules based on data, and working on design elements. I have spent the last few lunch periods at the laminator helping to create “real” game cards, while the students have been working in hallways on FaceTime with their distance learning teammates.

The quarter has been driven by competition and relentless learning. In self – selected groups students have charged head first into learning about the U.S. Constitution and game design. The idea was presented by the students as a fun and engaging way to learn about our founding document. Stuck on how to plan for my hybrid classroom in the third quarter of a challenging year I was all out of ideas. Thankfully, my students came to the rescue with a brilliant plan. Let’s make a game!

This simple idea that was cheered by the surrounding students altered the rest of the quarter. Instead of learning in a traditional sense the entire room was gamified. The walls became game boards that tracked student progress. Students generated ideas on the white board walls and all assessments were turned into “Competition Days” where groups competed against each other to showcase their knowledge of the Constitution.

The competitive drive of the quarter kept students collaborating, communicating and motivated. Every group had a member that was either permanently distance learning, or was transitioning through distance learning. In addition to the challenges of learning a difficult concept and understanding the systems that control a complex government student needed to work their way throough communicting with people in different location, how to build and prototype when teammates are not in the same room and maintaining their own self – selcted due dates.

The driving questions that centered our unit were:

How did the design of the Constitution enable power to be distributed?

Are the 6 ideas of the Constitution still relevant today?

This centered our exploration and discovery of government through the lens of systems thinking and 6 unique and separate big ideas. Instead of students being lost on tangents, or struggling with the abstractness of government it gave students a path to follow that they could always come back to. These two questions were introduced in the beginning of the unit and constantly referred to during learning activities and class discussions. To assess student understanding they became their final essay questions as well. Students not only had to bring their thinking back to systems and Big Ideas daily through our day to day class, they also have to write a long form answer to truly show their understanding.

These two questions were also tied to game design. The content part of their game design rubric addressed these two questions. The rubric centered around the function of a game, but had to include these two learning goals. In essence the games forced students to pick a system that their game would address and highlight two of the six Big Ideas. They took their knowledge from the historic documents, the current functioning of those systems and then transform them into a fun and engaging game. The ability to transform information from one medium to another always deepens the understanding and connections that are created. In this project it was not just information or connections but an understanding of the functions of systems. Systems that often confuse adults.

The sketch noting of the Constitution was difficult. The Competition days invited the application as knowledge as we moved through the unit. The essay examines individual knowledge.

Then there is game.

The game forced students to understand systems thinking in an intensely detailed manner. It required that they understood the system, how the system functions and then had to explain the situation in terms of writing the rules to the game. This is almost harder than any other step. The students could navigate the system, but to explain to others is where all of the problems were. This is the step where the most revisions took place.

Students wrote directions they thought made sense. When testing their games they realized that the directions only made sense to them. They knew what they were trying to say, but no one else did. Often, this took several steps of revision to finalize understandable directions for each game. The creation was fun, but the teaching was difficult. Clearly communicating intentions and ideas needed refinement. This was an incredible life lesson to learn that the end of this content rich assignment.

Effective communication is key, but takes time to refine, and must be practiced.

Game Day

Students eager to show off the work of an entire semester quickly fill the room and begin plotting to see where they will set up their area. The games are laid out and last minute changes are made. The students FaceTime their virtual partners, as they will bring them around the room and play each game with them to help further foster our environment of connectedness.

THE. GAMES. ARE. AMAZING.

Not just “Wow, these are great student products!” amazing, but “WOW! You should sell these!” amazing. Check out what 13 year old’s accomplish when creative freedom.

Ballot Battle

Two boys created Ballot Battle to examine the intricacies of a presidential campaign. The game instantly attracted the attention of all of the students. Once the rules were simplified students have not stop playing the game. They play during study halls, in advisory and after school. I was even told that one of the creators plays at home with his older brother to constantly improve the game and make game play more engaging.

Some of the best features are the use of real “political’ language and the real life situations that players face in their bid for the presidency. See the challenge cards below for some excellent examples.

Vote 2 Victory

Vote 2 Victory engaging game that uses the system of the electoral college to pit two presidential hopefuls against each other. All the cards are hand drawn. This student had to create a game all by herself, because her partner was sick. She was able to bring this entire game to life including the fun and real life situations presented in the Action Cards. The goal is to make it to 270 electoral college votes, but you’d better count carefully because if you declare to early your opponent automatically wins!

Ace the Articles

This game begins by student taking an oath to play the game correctly. In a sign of the time we live in the girls provided hand sanitizer to each player! Students must then navigate through the Constitution by answering trivia questions as well as completing challenges that show government systems working together. The game pulls player in immediately and keeps everyone laughing in a great competitive manner. Students love playing Ace the Articles because the questions are challenging enough to make them really think.

The Path to the Presidency

The Path to the Presidency began as a game that students wanted to 3D print a a vertical game board. The original idea was for players to navigate between the levels as they completed challenges to bring them closer to the presidency. The entire game was designed in CAD when the two students creating it found to many issues to move forward. The prototype of the game just did not work and they had to examine which parts worked, were engaging and reinforced an understanding of the Constitution.

The final version of their game is incredible. Their little presidential action figures must use their knowledge and skill to work through the path, answering questions and making decisions about Laws, Military, England, Risk and Conferences. The variety of questions kept students laughing while testing their knowledge of the many jobs of a president.

36 Games…

In total there were 36 games created. Not one was like the other. All were original from their peers and demonstrated expert knowledge of the systems of the U.S. Constitution. We had board games, a legislative version of musical chair, multi-level Jeopardy, and even a high energy game of keep away where two political parties tried to pass bills through committees by out running and out smarting each other. The pictures below only tell part of the story.

This project was a major success. Usually students are tired and weary from so much time studying the Constitution, but this year the feedback has been phenomenal. Students are happy and learning. They are now applying their knowledge of the Constitution in their weekly current events. The real feedback will come in their Retrospectives. More on that next week….

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