Welcome to Teaching With Games

Welcome to Teaching With Games

It's my guess that those cutting-edge artists who attack tradition secretly believe tradition will survive to enshrine them as the wild and crazy geniuses who destroyed it.

- Brad Holland

That Cutting Edge Is Sharp

Sometimes I loathe the cutting edge of education.  It’s full of utopian dreams and passing fads that waste my time.  Those who live on the cutting edge seem to value practical experience less than a controlled study, and they exhaust me as they flit from one new thing to the next.  

On the other hand, I’ve always been open to innovating and experimenting in my classes.  I don’t mind taking risks. But I don’t want to innovate for its own sake or reinvent the wheel every year when the old wheel still does the job.

A few years ago, gamification and Game-Based Learning were on the cutting edge for some education reformers.  Accordingly, I was reluctant to get on board. I fundamentally believe that my class should be rigorous and that my students should take their learning seriously.  I was fine with an occasional review game, but I couldn’t justify taking the time to make games a central feature of any unit. As games became more popular, a lot of what I saw reinforced my skepticism. It seemed like people were playing classroom games for the sake of including games and not because it led to deeper learning.

Most games that I saw were either boring or didn’t enhance student learning. They were touted as promoting the “4 C’s” that are all the rage in education (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication), but there’s a fifth “C” that’s more important to me: content. I’m not going to play games just for the 4 C’s; I’m there to teach.

Then I discovered Reacting to the Past.


This amount of engagement is addicting

In 13 years of teaching I have never seen my students so engaged as they were when playing a Reacting game.  In brief, Reacting to the Past is a series of historical role-playing games designed for use in college classes.  Reacting has been described and its accolades have been sung in many places online, so I won’t repeat them in this post.  If you teach college classes, you need to check it out!

Reacting opened my eyes to the power of teaching with games.  Most inspiring was how much my students came alive outside of the classroom.  Other teachers remarked that my students were continuing the game’s debates throughout the day, students would discuss topics with me outside of class, and I even had parents inform me that one night they overheard their son arguing with a friend about their political agreements made in class that day.  

Seeing your students so engaged is addicting.

I want to capture that magic more often, and I want to do it with my high school students as well as those in college classes.  There are a ton of classroom games out there, but many are missing some of the most enjoyable elements that I get in Reacting games.  I want students to feel the thrill of direct competition. I want to give them good reasons to work together outside of class. I want to make them work hard to do well.  And I want them to have fun.

This blog will chronicle my journey of teaching with games and my attempts to design my own.

The Mercantilism Game - All About the Bullions (Part I)

The Mercantilism Game - All About the Bullions (Part I)