Why Everyone Should Be Playing Board Games

If you aren’t playing board games (home or school), then you are missing out!  I can already hear your eyes rolling as you say something like, “I used to play Monopoly every Thanksgiving with the family, and if I am remembering correctly it was pretty boring.  Why would I want to play board games now?” That’s more than fair, but hear me out. Games have come a long way since 1935.     

Family time helps make lasting connections. 

Let’s start with the obvious reason board games are great for a family activity: it gets everyone around a table having fun. According to a study performed by John Hopkins University, students who have a positive relationship with their parents do better academically.  We know, as parents and educators, the positive effect of showing interest and simply spending time with a child can have.  Playing games and having fun will help to build memories and connections  

You get immediate feedback from other players. 

Personally, I love when you do something amazing and hear everyone at the table say, “ooh and ahh.” Who doesn’t love to hear, “Job well done?”  All of us love to get an “atta boy “ or job well done from time to time. Playing games gives us an opportunity to give earned and sincere praise to our children. 

According to Dr. Dewar, praise helps children feel like they can keep trying after failure, and continue working on challenging tasks.

Gratifications in accomplishments lead to increases in self-esteem. 

Many games are challenging and often take time to become really good at them.  Providing a challenge for your kids to overcome, helps them to build self-esteem through achievement.   Self-esteem earned by doing something that was hard is lasting. 

Playing against other people provides a greater challenge than playing against a computer. 

I love video games. I started playing them on an Atari. Video games have a problem though:  they can get predictable and at points boring. Playing with other people can prove to be more challenging as other players have the ability to adapt, be spontaneous, be irrational, and at times unpredictable.   

Tangibility, it is satisfying to move pieces around.  

Game play helps tap into and builds that kinesthetic enjoyment.  In the world we live in where everything is going digital, there is something satisfying about physical interacting with a game.  This is something a screen simply cannot do.   

Learning from mistakes

This is a hard lesson in life.  Mistakes can be costly and hurt sometimes.

Games provide an opportunity for students to take risks and fail while the cost is  “inexpensive.” Board games allow kiddos to learn how their choices affect their results in a safe environment. 

To quote Micheal Jordan, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.” 

Practice creating a plan to accomplish a goal, and adapting to changing conditions 

One of the greatest strengths of modern board games is the large decision space they provide players.  This forces players to come up with many creative and clever ways to solve whatever problem the game has thrown at them.  Often it takes a few rounds for a plan to come together and as a result this players must think about how their actions will affect them a few rounds down the road.    

But, as the famous philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Every man has a plan, until he’s punched in the face,” and many of our plans will not withstand initial contact with our advisories.  Most modern games require you to adapt under pressure as your initial plan unravels. 

Long term planning, mental plasticity in the face of adversity, and the cause and effect relationship of one’s actions are lessons we all want our kids to learn.  

Strategic thinking and problem solving

As a teacher I have always held the philosophy that teaching children to think is as important, if not more important, than the content in the curriculum.  Years from now, I am pretty sure my former science students won’t remember how to calculate the specific heat of an element, but I know they will still be able to identify a problem and logically work toward a solution.    

Games provide ample opportunity to hone this skill.  Over and over in most modern games, players need to identify the problem standing in the way of their victory, evaluate the options available, and how they are going to execute it while having fun (not that finding the specific heat of an object isn’t fun!).  Furthermore, the difficulty of the challenge often increases as the game progresses, encouraging the child to learn and try new strategies.  

Cooperative game play builds compassion and teamwork.

Many modern board games are cooperative, allowing you to play together with, instead of against, your family and friends.  Playing games like this provides an opportunity to practice their social skills, promote patients, and explore how to interact with others.  Children will need to explain what they want to do, ask for help from other players, and most importantly learn how their choices affect how others react.  

  • Did they demand someone else’s help or ask nicely?  
  • Was their tone angry or kind?  
  • Did they wait patiently for their turn or rush and pressure the others? 

They get to see how their behavior affects their enjoyment as well as the enjoyment of others

Children also develop compassion as they learn to understand others’ struggles with the same problem.  Kids can see someone else not get the cards or rolls they need to succeed and feel empathy because they were just in that same situation.  Showing support and helping to make people feel better or seeing how the criticism they gave hurt someone’s feelings is a valuable lesson. Kids can develop these social skills within a safe environment because at the end of the day, it is just a game!  

Playing games provides of the benefits we look for when we teach literature.  

Children get the chance to live and learn vicariously through the experiences the game provides.  It allows kids to be the brave heroes risking everything to save the world from a pandemic, rush into a burning building to save the residents, or rescuing the king as a tiny mouse knight from an evil scorpion.  Children can learn the elements of an well-developed story and apply those skills both in and outside the classroom.

Ultimately when it comes to board games, just like family dinner, it is less about what is on the table and more about who shares it with you.  

Phase 2: 3D Printed Board Games

After my kiddos suggested that we purchase 3D printers for our classroom, I was honestly a little nervous. I thought the idea sounded cool, but I didn’t know the first thing about 3D printing. I knew: 

  1. I love to learn and am pretty competent with technology.
  2. I teach an amazing group of students that thrive when challenged.

Because of these factors, I knew that together we could make it work!  

Thus began Phase #1 of researching and buying two 3D printers, choosing a program to teach my students and I how to build 3D objects, and creating a unit plan where that allowed for differentiation, levels of complexity, and that was also engaging. You can read all about Phase #1 in my blog post HERE.

Phase #2

After my kiddos had a strong foundation, I knew they were ready to take what they learned to the next level by creating their own original designs. And what better way to do that than creating their own board games. Why board games? Well, there are several reasons:

  • My family loves board games (not monopoly but more modern games like Pandemic Legacy).
  • My students LOVE board games just as much as I do so I knew had would have buy-in.
  • Board games would allow kiddos to have a lot of choice (theme, characters, rules, etc).
  • Game pieces could easily be 3D printed.

The first step was for students to evaluate different board games and come up with several lists:

  • Essential elements needed by all board games.
  • Elements Liked
  • Elements Not Liked

Story and theme was determined to be the number one element needed by all board games. Skill vs. chance, mechanics, playability, ascetics, and cooperative vs. competitive we’re also listed.

Students spent weeks planning their board games with their teams. Along the way, I provided guidance as I conferenced with each group.

Teams had to complete a planning guide with their game’s story, rules, game pieces , and a first draft of what their game would look like. This is also the stage where kiddos had to determine which game pieces would be 3D printed.

Once the first draft and planning guide were reviewed by me, students divided responsibilities and began working.

One requirement was that all students in the group had to design at least four 3D printed game piece on Tinkercad. Some kiddos felt more confident with the technology but it was important that ALL student spent time with the software creating their own original designs.  

Other jobs and responsibilities were…

  1. Making the game board
  2. Creating the player’s guide
  3. Decorating the 3D printed game pieces with paint, 3D pens, or whatever else they wanted to use. 
  4. Designing and making the game board.  
  5. Creating all the other non-3D printed game pieces like cards, tokens, currency, etc.

I purchased blank game boards and game boxes because I wanted to make this experience as authentic and personal as possible.  

This process took my kiddos about a month meeting daily for 35 minutes.

Time management was definitely the most difficult part of this unit for students. It took them two or three times longer than anticipated to do just about everything.  

The 3D pieces they created though were absolutely amazing. I was so impressed but the originality, creativity, and ingenuity of their designs.

Once all the games were done, we invited my kiddos’ families to come in and test out the games. Players were asked to rate the ascetics, story, mechanics, and overall playability of the game.  

I only heard amazing feedback! Some games definitely played better than other and were more thought out, but everyone who played agreed that the effort and creativity of these games were off the charts!

I broke my scoring rubric into three sections. The first assessed the game development and process, while the second section looked at the game as a whole. I included the feedback given by families at the game board night as well as my own thoughts. The final part only evaluated the 3D printed game pieces groups created.

In the end, students walked away from this project with more experience making 3D printed objects, as well as practiced engaging in explanatory writing, working cooperatively, and creating a final published product!

After this unit, my students had all of the skills necessary for our last and final 3D printing unit: PINBALL MACHINES!

3D Printing: Game Changer!

I am always looking for new ways to challenge and provide unique learning opportunities for my students.  I had some extra money left over from fundraisers I had held earlier in the year, so I asked my classes to brainstorm a list of items they felt would benefit our program.  In order to add an item to the list, students also had to create a plan of how the technology would be integrated. Items such as iPads, Lego EV3 robots, and 3D glasses made the list.  Ultimately, a student suggested 3D prints and after some research on my own (because I had no idea how they worked or even what they costs), our class purchased two 3D printers!  These printers have since become a stable in my gifted and talented curriculum ever since!

Why 3D printers?

3D imaging is an amazing tool to expose students to new learning opportunities while at the same time meeting their unique needs.  The concept of turning 2D drawings into 3D images will become tangible for students in a way that they would not get to experience otherwise.  In addition, kiddos will have the opportunity to use their imaginations and creativity in a way that will help prepare them for the 21st century!

Choosing a 3D Printer

3D printers range in price from a few hundred dollars to thousands.  After doing a lot of research, I decided to purchase the Afinia H400+ because cost effective, the printing area is enclosed (no burned fingers), it has a non-heated removable print bed and

allows multiple users to send print jobs from different devices to the same printer.  An added feature is that it accepts both MLA and APA filament, which is wonderful when you purchase whatever filament is on sale at the moment.  This unit costs only $599 and is shipped fully assembled!  Check out this quick overview video by Afinia:

Afinia is also a good choice because it provides lesson plans and a variety of challenging and complex curriculum packs for students to complete using the H400+ printer.  For example, students can learn about electric motors, gears, kinematics and basic principles of physics by building their own derby cars or they can participate in the engineering design cycle by making their own working flashlights.

Integration into the Curriculum

I ultimately created a curriculum that gradually gives more control and ownership to students. 

Here is the breakdown:

  • Phase 1 – During this phase, students will learn the history and current innovations of 3D printing and learn the 3D printing software.
  • Phase 2 – Working collaboratively in small groups, students create their own board games where all of the game pieces are 3D printed.
  • Phase 3 – In pairs, students construct their own tabletop pinball machines that include 3D printed obstacles that are designed exclusively by their own imaginations.

This article will explain the planning, logistics, and helpful strategies I have learned for Phase #1.  Giving students a solid foundation before moving on to more complex concepts/skills is so important!

Phase #1 – History & The Fundamentals

I always start out any new unit with a research study of the past, present, and future applications of whatever they are learning in class.  This includes bridge building, space, robotics, animation, 3D printing, and much more.  Students have the freedom to choose whatever modality they would like to share what they learned but it must include what technology is used, the history of its development, how it currently works, how the tech has changed over time, and where it is projected to go in the future.

The next step was choosing the platform I would use to teach students how to design objects using 3D printing software.  The Afinia software is ok, but I found that using a more user-friendly program like Tinkercad is perfect for students to learn how to design 3D printed objects, plus it is FREE.

After exploring Tinkercad, I identified a series of modules available that I felt would give students the essential skills necessary to someday create their own designs.  This included using the movement tools, adding shapes, grouping objects, making holes, etc.   Each module gives students step-by-step directions that are interactive, allows for students to back up if they make an error, and most importantly fun!

After entering my class list and inviting students to join, I gave each kiddo a checklist of modules to complete.  As students finished each item, I checked their work and gave them a sticker to place on their checklist.  You can find the checklist HERE.

Since I have classes of 25-35 students, I allow students to print four different objects that they created instead of all 15.  Obviously smaller objects are faster to print but the larger objects like castles can take up to two hours.  My goal is to always have everything printed from the day before for kiddos when they arrive to class the next day!

This is a good time to talk about filament.  A roll of filament lasts a long time.  I initially purchased 5 rolls of white filament and was still using them a year later.  You can find inexpensive filament on Amazon. As our projects became more complex, I purchased additional colors like lime green, sky blue, magenta, and powder pink.  But honestly, white is an amazing color because you can always paint it whatever color you want!

During this unit, students work at their own pace.  This allows kiddos who easily grasp the mechanics of each module to keep pushing themselves while those who require additional time have the opportunity.  Of course there has to be a point where you move on to a new study and this unit has to end.  For those kiddos who have completed all the modules early, I allow them to several other items they would like to design and print from the modules available or they can create an original object on their own.

I cannot tell you how much of an impact these 3D printers have made in my classroom.  My students and I went from not knowing a thing about 3D imaging to integrating it into at least one unit every single year they are in GATE. You can access my complete 3D printing unit HERE

This is just the first phase of my 3D printing unit!  Please check back to see Phase #2 where students work in groups integrate their own original 3D printed designs into self-created board games!

Let me know how you use 3D printers in your classroom by commenting below.

Digital Choice Boards: Game Changer!

I love choice boards!  They are an amazing differentiation tool to meet the needs of all of my learners while simultaneous providing choice and student ownership. 

Choice boards can be integrated across the curriculum.  Check out this Fraction Enrichment Choice Board I used in my own 5th grade classroom:

Each choice board is adaptable to meet the needs of your classroom and/or unit of study.  There might only be enough time for students to complete a couple of activities, so you may choose to have kiddos choose activities in a 3-in-a-row format.  Or you can assign a point value to each activity and learners have to complete a predetermined amount of points to receive full credit (i.e. choose activities total 10 points or more).  Other teachers might assign all of the activities to be completed.  It is completely up to you based on what works best for you and your students!

DIGITAL CHOICE BOARDS

Integrating technology has become an essential element in many classrooms and many classrooms are mandated to integrate more digital learning by their districts or states.  My district has adopted Google Classroom as the primary means to expose students to online learning.  In order to continue to provide differentiated learning opportunities for my students based on their readiness, interest, and learning profile, I created digital choice boards using Google Slides. 

The activities are completely paperless and involve using technology tools for students as they show their understanding of the topic of study.   

In the 6th grade activity below, students follow the hyperlink to an external website where they create their own digital fraction dice to complete the activity!

These boards also allow teachers to integrate activities that tap into each student’s multiple intelligences and learning styles.  Recordings, diagrams, typing, and a variety of digital creation tools allow students to fully maximize their learning potential and finally allow teachers to utilize the amazing technology made available by their districts!

If you are considering using digital learning menus in your classroom but are unsure if it is a good fit, here are five reasons why you should make the switch:

Reason #1

Each choice board can be modified based on your students’ interests and readiness.  Create text boxes for each activity option in your boards so that you can rearrange, swap out, or modify the activities so they are different every time. 

This will allow you to make changes for those students who need enrichment or for those who require IEP/504 accommodations by making quick changes to their assigned menus.  You can also provide additional technology tools or links that will help these students be successful in meeting their individualized goals! Here is an example activity from my EDITABLE 4th Grade Digital Interactive Beginning of the Year Math Choice Board that includes a description of the project, a link to the tools needed to complete the activity, as well as editable text boxes to make changes/adjustments as needed.

In this 5th Grade Math Digital Choice Board activity, students have a link to a specific website to find numbers with decimals as well as the tokens needed to identify the composite and prime numbers.

Reason #2

Providing feedback can be a challenge when students are working on their choice boards.  However, digital choice boards in Google Drive makes giving feedback so quick and easy.  As learners are working on their activities, you can check their progress from your own teacher computer and provide valuable feedback anywhere and at anytime.  You could be in a doctor’s office, at home on your couch, or even during one-on-one student conferences in the classroom:  it doesn’t matter.  You can access their work whenever it is convenient for you!   Check out this scoring rubric from my 6th Grade Beginning of the Year Digital Choice Board.

Reason #3

Of course, digital choice boards allow you to use LESS PAPER!  This is not only eco-friendly, but the time you spend making copies can be used for the hundred of other items on your to-do-list.  In addition, you won’t have to worry about students losing their work, and learners will also have access to their choice boards at home if they have Internet access.  This will not only be beneficial for students but it will also help create a strong home/school connection as students easily share their choice board activities with their families.

Reason #4

Student work is in ONE place!  The boards that I created in Google Slides include the choice boards, graphic organizers for each activity option, as well as the scoring rubrics for both student self-assessment, as well as teacher-assessment.  Students are able to showcase their knowledge using a variety of different tools and resources that are intuitive to use and easy to insert into the slide.   This provides an easy way to keep kiddos accountable all in one place!

Here are examples of two interactive graphic organizers that have helped me easily monitor the progress of my kiddos:

Reason #5

Choice boards through Google Slides is a great way to choose the digital tools and resources students use to showcase their understanding of each standard/skill.  By creating hyperlinks to pre-selected websites and applications, kiddos can safely, quickly, and easily access the most appropriate resources for each activity!  Here is an example from my 5th Grade Digital Beginning of the Year Choice Board:

I LOVE LOVE LOVE choice boards!  Creating digital boards with interactive graphic organizers allows me to continue to meet the needs of all of my 21st century learners in a way that is easy, efficient, and beneficial for everyone.

Take a look at some of the EDITABLE digital beginning of the year review choice boards I have created and are available on my Teachers Pay Teachers store:

I hope you find these resources helpful and a great addition to your classroom!

Choice Boards – Key to Differentiation

Wouldn’t it be nice if the students who walked through our doors came prepared with all the content knowledge from previous years they were supposed to have? If this were the case, teaching would be a lot easier.

At times our job as teachers can feel extremely overwhelming, if not impossible. How in the world can we possibly be expected to teach 25 to 35 students at different levels and abilities?   I asked this same question to myself over and over again during my first years as a teacher. I had implemented a variety of differentiation strategies just like they taught me in my undergraduate program like leveled readers, centers, and literature circles. However, I still didn’t feel like it was doing enough.

I then started doing research and discovered the world of learning menus and choice boards. Choice boards are an amazing graphic organizer that enables students to choose how they will learn or show their understanding of a concept or topic.

Here is a list of 10 reasons why choice board are a great tool for any classroom.

  1. Effective and Easy

Choice boards are by the far the most effective and easy ways to differentiate that I have found. There are so many wonderful resources available to help teachers plan meaningful activities to learn and showcase their learning like HERE.

  1. All Content Areas

What other resource can you use to differentiate across all content areas?  I have integrated these boards for units on space exploration, the Oregon Trail, measurement, and even as an alternative to standard reading logs. No matter what you are teaching, you can create a choice board to match.

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  1. Empowers Students

Choice boards are an amazing tool that empowers students through choice. Students are able to take ownership of their own learning because they had the opportunity and freedom to choose which activities to showcase their understanding of the content or topic being covered.   I always put in a “Your Choice” option for students. This way if they have the freedom and flexibility to create their own activity if none of the options appeal to them. Before students can begin on the activity they created, they must complete a project proposal graphic organizer to help them plan out their activity. Students then must present their proposal to me for approval. This way I can help them polish their idea or get them on the right track if they are completely off base.

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  1. Highly Personalized

Based on the interest, learning preferences, and readiness of my students, I can create personalized menus that include activities at the DOK levels and learning styles that meet my students’ needs.   This is extremely powerful because I have the power to

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  1. Instant Engagement

According to Morzano, one of the most effective ways to engage students is to give them choice. Students will find more meaning and will be more focused if they are given the flexibility and freedom to choose how they learn.    

  1. Content, Process, and Application

Choice boards can be integrated into the content, process, or application portion of any lesson. The content can be differentiated through accelerated, remediated, or enriched content

  1. Time Flexibility

Depending on the amount of time that is available, choice boards can be used for a single lesson, a whole unit, or even as a homework assignment. I loved using choice board as apart of my Weekly 5 reading centers (my way of adapting The Daily 5). There were choice boards for the writing, vocabulary, and word work centers.   For each center, student had one day to complete one of the activities on the menu. Other menus I have created, students have had an entire month to complete it like my Independent Choice Board Project I created to replace reading logs.

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  1. Set High Expectations

Students can help create the choice board and/or scoring rubric with their teachers so that they are active participants in their own learning and can set high but attainable expectations for themselves. This definitely helps students develop their metacognition, which is extremely important

  1. Many Types of Choice Boards

Teachers can choose from many different choice board formats like learning menus, tic tac toe, 2-5-8, baseball, and many more.   Click HERE to find dozens of examples.

  1. Scoring Rubrics

These menus can be evaluated using scoring rubrics that can be applied to every project imaginable.   I created my own activity and presentation rubrics for the and pretty much use them for everything. You can also give students more ownership by asking them to create the rubric together as a class.

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There is no doubt that integrating choice board project into my classroom has been a huge game changer. All students, especially gifted and reluctant learners, have benefited because they have developed a greater sense of ownership, the ability to work at their own pace, and the freedom to choose or design activities based on their own interests and readiness.

Now that I am the gifted and talented resource teacher at my school, I collect choice boards across all grade levels and subject areas. This way if teachers come to me for help, I can pull out a surefire way to meet the needs of all the students in their classrooms that is both effective and easy to implement.

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