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Using Board Games in the Classroom: An Interview With An Expert

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In the 6th episode of The Global Classroom Podcast, Meet Craig Thompson-Wood, a seasoned educator from Canada who has been revolutionizing teaching methods through gamification by using board games in his classroom management style.

In the world of education, innovation is the key to engaging students and fostering their love for learning.

One such innovator is Craig Thompson-Wood, a seasoned educator from Canada who has been revolutionizing teaching methods through gamification.

Over the past six years, he has been sharing his knowledge and experiences on his YouTube channel, Teaching with Board Games.

In this blog post, we delve into the mind of this unique educator, exploring his journey, teaching strategies, and how he uses board games as an effective tool for teaching complex subjects.

Craig’s Journey to Gamification

Picture a classroom buzzing with excitement, students eagerly engaged in learning complex subjects through play.

This is the environment that Craig Thompson-Wood, a seasoned Canadian educator, creates in his grade five classroom every day.

With over 20 years of teaching experience under his belt, Craig’s approach to education is unique – he teaches the way he wishes he was taught.

As a child, Craig faced academic struggles which later transformed into a passion for gamified learning.

He recalls his own journey from being a daydreamer with weak math skills to discovering the power of games in developing those very skills.

His personal experience fuels his dedication to making learning more engaging and relevant for his students, using games to teach everything from math to reading.

Six years ago, Craig decided to share his innovative teaching methods using board games in the classroom with the world. Hence, his YouTube channel was born.

Featuring over 500 videos neatly organized into playlists like primary math and reading, his channel has become a valuable resource for educators seeking to infuse their lessons with fun and engagement.

Despite not teaching French, gym, or music, Craig covers an impressive range of subjects, demonstrating the versatility of board games in education.

Through his work, Craig is not just teaching; he is transforming the way learning happens. One game board at a time.

Incorporating Board Games into Lessons

Using board games in the classroom is an innovative approach that Craig has successfully implemented in his lessons.

One of his shining board game examples is the math game, City of Zombies. This game requires students to roll three dice and use the resulting numbers to match a zombie on the board.

The goal might be a number like 37, and the students must practice their math skills – adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, or even squaring numbers – to reach it.

The process is not only educational but also fun and engaging, leading to noticeable improvement in students’ math skills and confidence over time. It’s way more fun than times tables on a bulletin board!

When the pandemic hit and classes went online, Craig found ways to adapt these games for virtual learning.

He continued to play City of Zombies with his students, presenting them with different scenarios and asking them to email their solutions.

He also created an online escape room using Google Forms. In this game, students had to solve a series of challenges to proceed from one form to another.

These innovative methods kept his students engaged, actively learning, and interacting with each other, even while learning remotely.

Thus, board games have proven to be a versatile and effective tool in Craig’s teaching arsenal.

When Craig first introduced the idea of using board games in the classroom like Summoner Wars and City of Zombies, he faced some initial resistance from his school principal.

The concept of ‘war’ in these games was initially frowned upon. But Craig persisted, comparing the strategy in these games to that of chess, a game widely accepted in educational environments.

He invited teachers to “lunch and learns” that were centered on him demonstrating the games and discussing their potential classroom applications. These were offered throughout the year, in August when school started and in January after a return from winter break.

Witnessing this, his principal gradually came around to the concept of board game ideas for school.

Despite initial pushback, Craig’s innovative approach to teaching with games eventually won over skeptics, transforming his classroom into a dynamic, engaging learning environment.

The Power of Board Games in Education

With the game City of Zombies, Craig has witnessed first-hand how using board games in the classroom aren’t just for fun – they can be powerful tools in education.

Despite its limited availability in North America, the game has made a significant impact in his classroom.

It’s a math game that offers a dynamic, fluid approach to numbers, leading to those “aha!” moments when students make connections and grasp concepts.

Another game, Outnumbered, also uses superheroes and math, offering a similar experience. As Craig notes, any game can engage students in reading and math, making learning enjoyable while reinforcing core skills.

Even the first game he used in the class, a simple Jeopardy-style quiz drawn on the chalkboard, had students engaged and learning.

Despite the success, not all subjects lend themselves to gamification. Teaching about puberty, for instance, is a challenge.

However, even science, which can be complex to gamify, has seen some success with games like Cytosis and Cellulose, which teach cellular biology. These are some of the best board games for high school classrooms.

An example of this is a game similar to Sushi Go, where students made compounds like salt, demonstrating an understanding of molecular bonds.

The power of using board games in the classroom lies in their ability to take complex, often boring topics and transform them into engaging, interactive learning experiences.

This innovative approach has the potential to revolutionize the way we teach and learn.

Beyond the Classroom: Craig’s Personal Connection to Games

His personal board game collection, displayed in an expansive room, is a testament to his love for games.

Miniatures that he has meticulously painted sit in a cabinet, board games for learningfill shelves, and game pieces are neatly tucked away in bins. It’s a hobby that Craig finds Zen-like, a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of life.

Craig’s favorite board games aren’t just limited to his personal time; they often find their way into his classroom.

He has found many ways of using board games in the classroom examples. He has gamified numerous subjects, from board games to learn English or other languages and science to social studies.

One of the most unique ways he has done this is through escape rooms. They’re also great for building social skills! While teaching probability, he turns the entire unit into a series of games, making learning an exciting adventure.

One such game is Love Letter, a popular deduction game that comes in a small velvet bag. Despite his initial skepticism, Craig was drawn to the laughter and fun his friends were having while playing it.

Upon trying it, he realized the game’s potential as a teaching tool. The game involves a considerable amount of probability calculation, offering a fun way to teach this mathematical concept.

Another game, Cockroach Poker, is a bluffing game that also emphasizes probability.

Students must guess the likelihood of a card being a certain bug based on the cards they already have and the ones on the board.

These games allow students to engage with mathematical concepts in a practical, enjoyable way – so much so that Craig jokes about taking a field trip to Vegas!

Ultimately, these games go beyond fun, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills among students.

The Future of Gamification in Education

When asked for advice by educators interested in using board games in the classrooms, Craig Thompson-Wood’s response is simple: start small and prioritize engagement.

He suggests subscribing to his YouTube channel as a starting point, where he regularly reviews educational games suitable for classrooms.

Finding the right game can be a challenge given the sheer volume of options available each school year.

However, Craig advises focusing on games that naturally lend themselves to a classroom setting, such as Scrabble or Bananagrams for language skills, or City of Zombies for math.

It can even work for 3rd grade! These games have clear educational elements integrated into their mechanics, making them effective teaching tools.

Another important consideration is the game’s duration. Quick games that can be played in short periods are ideal. They can be used as resources for indoor recess on rainy days, or incorporated into a board game club.

Craig also recommends training a few “ambassadors” in the class who can then teach others, fostering a sense of community and shared learning.

In Craig’s own classroom, a large closet full of games is always accessible to students. On rainy days, the students eagerly pull out games to play, learning even outside of specific curricular subjects.

He emphasizes that even if students are just playing, they are still learning valuable skills.

However, Craig cautions against promises of board games as educational tools that ultimately don’t deliver, leading to student frustration.

A negative experience can sour students on the idea of learning through games, making it crucial to research and understand a game before introducing it to the classroom.

For Craig, the power of games extends beyond the classroom. He encourages parents to play board games with their children at home, fostering a love for lifelong learning. They can be educational board games or regular ones.

By starting young, children can develop a passion for board games that will serve them well throughout their lives.

Final Thoughts on Using Board Games in the Classroom

In the closing moments of the interview, Craig and David delve into the challenges and opportunities presented by online learning during the pandemic.

Craig shares his observations of a notable disparity among his students, with some thriving online while others struggle significantly. He recounts stories of students turning off their cameras, disengaging from online classes, and even sleeping through school.

Despite these challenges, both Craig and David agree that successful online learning hinges on effective implementation and student engagement.

Herein lies the potential of gamification in education. David commends Craig’s efforts on using board games in the classroom, emphasizing how this approach can boost engagement and ultimately improve student outcomes, even in an online environment.

Craig’s final words encapsulate his philosophy succinctly: “Play more games.”

This advice underscores the belief that through play and games, educators can foster a love for learning and help students navigate the evolving landscape of education.

Craig innovative approach towards education serves as a beacon of inspiration for educators worldwide. By using board games in the classroom, he has managed to transform tedious subjects into engaging learning experiences.

His story underscores the power of creativity in education and how out-of-the-box thinking can ignite a love for learning among students. The educational benefits of board games are limitless!

As we move forward into an increasingly digital age, the blend of education and gamification that Craig champions may just be the key to inspiring the next generation of learners.

Shop Games Craig Uses in His Classroom

These are some of the best board games for classroom teaching, according to Craig.

Episode: #6 – “Using Board Games in the Classroom: An Interview With An Expert”

Global Classroom: The Tutor Resource

Podcast Transcript


David Cole
I’m here with Craig. He’s an experienced teacher in Canada. He’s got over 20 years of experience teaching with Canadian school district there in Peel. Six years ago, he decided to start sharing his knowledge of gamification through a YouTube channel as well, and I would love to let him tell you all about his story. So without further.

Kind of when I became a teacher, it’s always been my belief I say it all the time on my YouTube channel as well, is I always teach the way I wish I was taught. I was not a good student. I mean, I’d skipped kindergarten when I was, like, five years old, so I went straight into grade one, and it was the worst mistake my parents ever made, allowing that to happen. And they recognize that later, but by the time you recognize it, then you don’t want to fail the kid and then make it just so they can be back where they I just struggled all through know, back then, they didn’t have Addhd diagnosed, so it was always just craig did not pay attention in class. Craig is a daydreamer. Craig does not focus on his just I had no interest. I had no interest.

And I was always questioning, well, why do I need this? When am I going to use? So as a teacher, I’m always to address those things. Like, I’m always explaining to my students, where would you use these skills, actually, in your life? Why is it important that we know these things? And where possible, I want to gamify it. So make a game out of it, or include a game which teaches some of those concepts and ideas. So they learn through the play of a game and through that. Like I said, if I had been taught in that way, I would have been a much better student right through, because those are the kinds of things that really captured me. My math skills were my weakest because I’d learned to read when I was very young. That’s why I had skipped kindergarten, because I was already a fluent reader by the time I entered kindergarten.

So they said, Just go to grade one. You might as well. Big mistake. My math skills were very weak, and it wasn’t until I became a teenager and started playing different role playing games and things like that, where in the creation of a character, you would have so many points to create a character. And then it was like, okay, well, if I add to this and this, okay, I have 87 points out of 100. So the 87, that’s 13. Doing multiples of this, you’re playing with numbers all the time, and that’s where my math skills suddenly developed. And now as an adult, I feel that my math skills are probably even a little above the average on the typical adult. So it’s all come around because of games and I have such a strong belief and passion for that I want to share that with others.

Which is why I started my YouTube channel like six years ago. Six years ago in what’s the date today? In 17 days? April 22 is my anniversary.

David Cole
Yeah, nice. So it’s almost time for you to celebrate. Are you going to do a special YouTube video for it?

I think I forget every year, so this year I might have to try and remember that. I mean, it’s only six, it’s not like the ten year anniversary or something that’d be really one to celebrate, but we’ll see what I can think up or forget.

David Cole
Tell us a little bit about that YouTube channel. How did you get started? What do you really do on it?

Well, okay, actually this is an interesting story how it got started, because it’s called teaching with board games. It started off when it first started, it was called The Board Game Teacher, but then people were coming thinking I was just teaching them how to play a particular board game. So there’s a board game you want to know about, I’ll teach you how to play it. Well, no, I’m a teacher teaching with board games. So the message got a little bit unclear. So I felt teaching with board games as a YouTube channel was a clearer message as to what my intention is on the channel. So that changed a couple of years ago. But the way it all started is it was something I had been ratling around in my head for a long time. But it was that year that I had finally got down and I started doing monthly goals with my students.

I said, let’s just all were doing monthly goals where it was like every month I want you to have a reading goal, a math goal, and a physical activity goal. And it’s something I still do to this day, and that’s been over six years now because were setting all these different goals. And I said to the students, if you want to do Nitro type, or if you want to do your own YouTube channel, or if there’s something you want to do, of course you can add that extra goal in for yourself too. I mean, the goals are yours, you do what you want with them. I am only insisting on those reading, math and physical activity goals because those are things I want to encourage in you. But so for me, I was doing reading goals. Currently I’m learning the tagalog language, I’m doing tagalog goals.

But at the time then I said, I’m going to start my YouTube channel. I said, I’ve thought about this enough, I need to just bear down and do it. And I actually only remembered that because the other day I was looking at my YouTube front page. And I have a little blurb there at the beginning because I wanted to find out how long I’d been doing it. And at the beginning there, it says, to my four or five class, you guys inspired me to do this through the goal setting. You know who you are. It’s like, oh, right. That’s right. It was through the goal setting that this had happened.

David Cole
This is the page you’re talking about, right? Yeah.

So I think if you click the arrow under the 532 videos, there the little side arrow. Yeah. I think they’ll have the description where I say to the kids, so a huge shout out to my grade four or five class this year. You know who you are. It’s only through our goal setting projects that we have done this year has become a reality. I cannot thank you enough. So, yeah, it was because we had set up that goal setting thing. It finally got me motivated to do it. I mean, I talk about the goal setting thing now, and to me, it’s, like, transformed my life. I mean, doing the YouTube channel, all the books I’ve read that I wouldn’t have read before going to the gym is part of my monthly goals now, too. So it’s just doing so much through goal setting. But yeah, YouTube Channel.

So, yeah, you see, there’s over 500 videos I’m up to coming up on 1500 subscribers. This is something a user had suggested, where I put everything into groupings of what are they called? Playlists, primary math. You can look up a primary math playlist, and I have all the games that would be good for primary math in one playlist. If you’re looking for primary reading, I’ve got primary reading, and I’ve even divided the reading into the language, into reading and writing. So there’s math. I tried to divide the math into different strands of math where possible. So like geometry, spatial sense, probability, number sense, things like that.

David Cole
It looks like you’re over a broad range of subjects, math and reading being the main two here. What do you teach in your classroom?

Well, I’m grade five, so I teach everything. So I teach, like, the only things I don’t teach my French, because we’re in Canada, we do French as a second language. I don’t teach the French, I don’t teach gym. I don’t teach music. That’s it. I teach everything else.

David Cole
Very cool. You got so many different playlists, so different. I love the organization.

I’ve been criticized by my principals in the past about not being organized, but I can be organized when I’m motivated to or when I really want to do something enough. But when it comes to if they walk into my classroom and they see the state of my classroom, they think because it’s not tidy that I’m not organized. Right? Yeah. There you go.

David Cole
Just point under this and say, hey, look, I am organized.

I know where my stuff is. Just because you come in and look at it doesn’t look like it doesn’t mean I don’t know something.

David Cole
Yeah. So I was impressed with this when I first saw your website. So many cool, different ways to teach different board games, different tactics. And you’ve told me when we talked before that you can use these to convert it to some of them, to working with your students when they were online, like during the pandemic or different types of online. Can you tell us about that? How have you played with that?

Well, if you go back, just go back to the previous game you were at. I don’t know. Yeah, playlist. Go to playlist and scroll down to City of Zombies. City of Zombies is the best math game I’ve ever seen for teaching your basic math facts. See, there’s my old one, the board game teacher, because you’re just playing with numbers. You’re rolling three dice and trying to match it to a zombie that’s on the board. And so you roll a two, four, and a six, and you’re trying to get like a 37. Now, I’ve said that like 37, two, four, six. So six times four is 24, six squared. Oh, you can actually because six squared is 36. Two squared is four. Four divided by four is one. So 36 from the six plus the one equals 37. So there you go. I did it.

David Cole
Nice. Did you follow that? I followed a bit of it. Math is not my favorite subject. Okay.

The kids get this.

David Cole
You do it so fast.

When I start this at the beginning of the year with the kids, and I make a goal to play it every day. Now, some days we don’t get to play it, but you see the growth. You see the immense growth in the students by the end of the year, in their math skills, their confidence and everything. Because it’s not just like Flashcards. We’re just showing them a number. They have to roll three dice and play with the numbers, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, squaring this, square root of this, just seeing what they can do to make it to get those numbers. And it’s a cooperative game. So the other students at the table are also helping them. So here’s a video with me playing with some kids in the classroom. But when we had COVID and we all got put online, I was still hoarding these things, and I would show it to them and say, here you go, here’s this situation.

How can you use these numbers to get these zombies? And then they would write in and they’d email with their responses. So it was still a way that we could play online that game to do that. Also one I did was an online escape room. So using Google forms. Using Google Forms. Google Forms has a feature where.

David Cole

Show them the first slide and before they go to the next slide, they have to give a proper response. And if it doesn’t get the proper response that Google Forms is looking for, then it won’t let you onto the next slide. So in that way, they have to have the series of challenges that they have to do slide by slide, or I guess form by form. It’s not Google Slides. They have to have the exact correct response before they go on to the next one. So that’s something I’ve done with them as well, because that was inspired by the online learning, too, because, okay, we’re online. What else can I do? So I was looking up what other things are classroom implementation? I’m not sure if I have it in the playlist, but I did have the ones I don’t even know where that shirt is anymore, to be honest.

Yeah, rocking it. Like I said, I had the classroom ones, and I don’t know if I made those public because it wasn’t really it was kind of more applicable, just, okay, guys, here we go. We’re doing this. It was just more informal. They knew what were doing, I knew what were doing, and just let’s go. Let’s do this. Hey, look at the background. What do you see in the background behind my head? That’s monthly goals.

David Cole
Yes, they’re all back. There.

Accountability. I always say you have to be accountable to your goals, too. So publishing them, having them set in a public place is important so that people can look at them and say, hey, is everything okay? You’re not keeping up on your monthly goals here. This is one’s falling behind.

David Cole
It’s good to make sure that it’s public. I love it. Yeah, I love the accountability for it. Yeah, I put my you told me that this one of these zombies is only available in England. There was another one that you like that is more widely available.

Yes, it is available in North America Genius Games, which is an absolutely phenomenal company for doing these science games. They take things like cellular biology and make it into an amazing board game. Even people who don’t know anything about cellular biology can play this game and enjoy it as a game. But as you’re playing the game, you’re, okay, well, I’m going to go to the ribosomes, and I’m going to do this. I’m going to go to the Mitochondria and get some more TCP, which is the energy. And you can’t help but learn because as you’re playing the game, you’re talking about what you’re doing, and you’re starting to make those connections. I’m talking about ribosomes. While I said my math skills improved, my science was never great, but they have a game. So they got in touch with the designer of City of Zombies, and they did their own spin on it.

And so they did I want to say outmatched, but it’s not outnumbered. Outnumbered and outnumbered. So they took away the zombie theme and skinned it as superheroes. So it’s a superhero game now. So it’s the same idea using the same concepts, but now with superheroes. I’m just looking at my spaces here. I’ve got some games just beside me here. If you hold a second, I’ll just go grab my copy.

David Cole
Sure. It looks like this is the outnumbered game that he’s brought up instead of zombies. Yeah, we’ve got these superheroes on it’s kind of cool.

Oh, there, you got it? Yeah. This one like the thing with city of zombies is that Matthew Tidbury, who is the designer, told me that he couldn’t get the license, but he couldn’t just find a person to the distributor to take it in north America. So he was always limited to just England. Now, having said that, a friend of mine runs a game store in Canada, and she had contacted Matthew and had got him to ship over a bunch of copies. So the one store was the only store in all of north America that actually had copies of city of zombies for sale so you could get it. It was just it would have to be from there. But now outnumbered is available. So if you’re not fussed about zombies or superhero theme, if either one’s good for you, then outnumbered is probably the better choice because it’s more readily available.

The rules are slightly different, but they’re still much the same. They’re both good.

David Cole
I like it. It’s kind of cool to look at the different pieces and see how they work together. I think my kid would love this game.

Number is a more fast paced game. Yeah.

David Cole
That is very interesting. So what would you say is your favorite game so far that you’ve used with your classroom?

Oh, well, city of zombies. Yeah, that’s not even mean because it’s created so many of those moments. And we had a student years ago, his name was sawhill, and we have something now in the classroom that we still refer to all these years later called the sawhill method, because sawhill had rolled, say, double fives. And he says, I use the two fives, use it as one five to get the number five zombie. And I’m like, you can’t. To do city zombies, you have to use all three dice, right? If you don’t use all three, then they don’t count. So he’s like, okay. So like you say he rolled a four five, and he says, the four goes on the four, the two fives will become a five. You can’t do that? He goes, yeah, you can. I said, two fives don’make make a five. He goes, yeah, you square.

The one five becomes 25. Divide it by the other five, it’s five again. I’m like, oh, my god, you’re right. So just things like that where sometimes I don’t see how to reach a number, and the kids see it before I do or they get something else, or the beauty of it, too, is like, I may see, oh, I know how to get the 16. I would do it this way. And they’re like, oh, I get the 16. They do it a different way, and it’s like, those both work. That’s great. So there’s just all these different ways just because the numbers are so fluid in that game. It’s so amazing. It’s just so much fun to see as the kids are making those connections and things. But yeah, that whole Sawhill method is something we still talk about now. So if anybody has doubles, they said they’ll say, okay, I’ve got two fours.

I do use the Sawhill method. It’s a four. And so we know now what you mean when you say the Sawhill method. So it’s named after that kid who had done it first.

David Cole
That’s really cool. Yeah. It’s awesome to see how the kids minds open up when you start working with these different methods. There’s so many different ways that teachers could have worked with me when I was growing up as well, because, again, Add was still pretty new, trying to figure out where’s your mind, where’s your brain? Why aren’t you here in the moment type situations. And there were some teachers who were able to bring me back into the moment using different tactics. Usually it was something very interactive and games would have been there for me back then. They would have been perfect.

Yeah. So much reading and math and things involved in games. And in any game you get those reading and math skills going. And they may not be the best game for that kind of thing, but it’s going to be something, and it’s going to be engaging because kids are playing and they’re learning through the play and it’s fun and they’re more motivated.

David Cole
Do you remember the first time you used the game in class and what it was or what the situation was?

The first game I would have ever used. I know, actually, what it probably would have been a review for a class. And we did like a Jeopardy style quiz show thing. I just drew, like on the chalkboard, I drew the squares and the points and stuff like that. But nowadays you can get that done through there’s like a Google Slideshow somebody did up. And there’s also flippity. Flippity is a website that has a lot of randomization things, and they also have, like I think it’s a Google based one, but they also have like a quiz show, Jeopardy style quiz, one where you enter in your questions and answers and it tallies the points and everything for you. It’s great. Yeah.

David Cole
Is there a classroom subject that you think hasn’t lent itself to your board game strategy?

Yeah, when we teach the puberty class.

David Cole
That would be a difficult operation.

Yeah, that’s actually coming up for us, like in grade five, one of the health topics is the developing bodies as you transitioning through puberty from child to adult and what changes they can be expecting and everything like that. So it’s always like the kids grown and cry, but they need to know, right? Some are going to be harder. I mean, like science is going to be more difficult to gamify and things like I gamify a lot of my science through the quiz shows and things like that, but for a board game, it’s going to be more difficult. But that’s where genius games, they are genius in the way that they do those kinds of things. You tell me that they were going to make one about the covalence between molecular bonds. It’s like, okay, yeah, let’s make they did. They made a great board game about that, right?

David Cole
Just looking at their site there.

Well, they have cellulose cytosis, which is their game about cellular biology for animal cells. They also have cellulose, which is about the plant cells. And it’s same idea, but it’s a different game played in a different way with different things. It’s phenomenal. It’s just like so if I was like a high school science teacher, I would be all over this. I’d be really just like, come on, let’s get more of this games happening. Because it’s just these high level science that they’re teaching through the player games. Like, I played one game with my grade five students. Have you ever played Sushi go?

David Cole
We love that in our family.

Yeah. So this one is very much like Sushi go. What’s the name of atomic a compound building game is what it’s called. And it’s very much Sushi go. It’s just draft one, take it on draft one. Take it, kid. So I’m playing with my grade five and one kid’s like, oh, NaCl, look, I just made salt, right? They’re like, oh, wow, like you’re understanding these things now. You may not fully understand the big thing of what you’re talking about, like the molecular things coming together and so but it was one of their goals. You have different goals you have to do. And one was making salts. They said, oh, n A. And CL, I’ve just made salt. So they understood that. To an extent, they understood that, but they’re making those connections. And to me, like I said, that’s wonderful that they can take such a difficult topic and one that’s traditionally so boring and turn it into something interesting and fun that people would love to play.

David Cole
They’re not just looking at the diagram as a so you have your H here, you got your twos up here, and you got to draw the lines and then get even more complex. I remember how complex it got and my mind just kind of like phased out some of it. But yeah, my son had to recently do something like that on his school, which is totally 100% online school. And they did something similar to what you said, I don’t know if the teacher used that particular game or not, but they were doing something very similar to that so that the kids could get the concept and have fun doing it.

Yeah, cool.

David Cole

There’s other ones, too. There’s one something. The Science Ninjas. I don’t know if I have that game here or if I have it at school.

David Cole
Can you show our viewers your collection? You showed me before.

Mine. The other mess around this wall behind me used to be my games, but we’ve moved it over there. Now.

David Cole
Where’S my finger such a huge room.

Anyway, so over that way you can see there’s like a cabinet where I have all my miniatures that I painted. Then we start with the games. In those bins is just I keep pieces to things. And then there we are, that’s sort of kids games in those two shelves here. And then more games down to the end of the more miniatures stuff behind the couch and everything. And that’s my painting desk there. Like to paint up the models?

David Cole

That’s more enjoyable, to have them painted. It is. To me, it’s very Zen, very relaxing to just sit down and paint, just get into it.

David Cole
That room reminds me of my old bookroom. Before we moved on the road full time, I had a room that was literally floor to ceiling, wall to wall books. Either my wife or I had read every single one of them I can’t.

Get until to get rid of my books.

David Cole
Oh, it was so hard.

My monthly goals. I am doing a lot of reading, so I am going through a lot of books, but I’m not allowed to hold on to them. They have to go after they’re done.

David Cole
You can find a digital version of it if you really want that same book.

Yeah, true. I have to admit, I do have enough space. I take up with other things, so I’d rather have my games than my books.

David Cole
I hear you.

The games I enjoy playing more often than I’d enjoy rereading those books.

David Cole
Well, what is the most unique topic that you say you’ve taught using board games?

That I’ve taught the unique topic. I think the escape room would be the most unique way I’ve done it. Yeah, but the most unique topic? Just trying to think of all the different things we’ve done. Probability, I was going to say, but then probably I guess teaching probability using a board game is pretty obvious when you think about it.

David Cole

So there’s the language, science, social studies. Yeah. Battleship coordinate. Geometry coordinate grids. That’S sort of an interesting question. Like the most interesting topic, I mean.

David Cole
Because yeah, there’s a lot of different ways. It sounds like a lot of topics you’ve taught. How about the most fun? Which one was the most fun for you?

They can all be fun. I mean, depending on how they go some are going to be more fun than others. Like Battleship we usually do as a big tournament. So everybody sort of play they play each other and we sort of narrow it down and eliminate until we get the ultimate champion, the oh. We do like for probability. Probability is a lot of fun because in that one, the whole unit is nothing but games. So I’m using. Do you know Love Letter?

David Cole
I don’t know that one.

Oh, love letter is very common one. It’s a very popular one. The first time I saw it, I thought, okay, this looks ridiculous. This little velvet bag. Actually, this is it. This is Love Letter in this little bag. But the original one is embroidered with the words Love Letter. And I thought, okay, that’s just whatever weird, I’m not interested. But I saw some of my friends playing it and they were laughing and having a great time. I’m like, okay, now I’m curious what’s this game about? I played. I thought, great game. Okay, I’ve got it now. It’s the deduction type game, too. You’re trying to figure out whether people have and you play cards with different effects and things, but through the game there’s actually a huge amount of probability where you’re factoring in and you’re looking at what’s left. And if you’re smart with that probability, it actually greatly increases your chances of winning.

So we talk it all through. Another very good one is Cockroach Poker, which is a bluffing game. Just playing that one again, knowing your probabilities as you see what’s out there, what’s face up and what you have in your hand as people are passing you cards. So if I pass you a card, I’m telling you there’s eight different kinds of bugs like cockroaches, spiders, scorpions. And I pass you a card and I say, this is a cockroach. And I just slide it to you. Now you look at your hand and there’s eight cockroaches in the whole deck. And you look at your hand and you have four cockroaches in your hand. That means that the probability of me actually giving a cockroach is super low. And just say there happens to be the other four cockroaches already face up. Then you know I’m lying. So we talk about all the possibilities.

Like it could be that it is impossible that it’s a cockroach. It could be likely that it’s a cockroach. One of the most fun times I had with that game is where were playing and the kids had we always had to talk through our turn. So if somebody passes you a card and they say, okay, this is a spider. So this kid looks at his hand, so this one girl passed him a card and says, that’s a spider. So he looks at his hand, he says, well, based on the cards I have in my hand, which is what they’re supposed to say, they can’t tell us what they have. In their hand. Otherwise we know. And based on the fact I see this many spiders on the board, I say it is not likely that it is a spider. However, she has never lied all games and before he could say anything, she quickly got the card back.

So it’s this whole x factor of the probability that he had noticed she had never lied, so she wasn’t lying. So therefore he knew that she wasn’t lying again, so it was going to be true. So she quickly grabbed the card back before he made his guess because otherwise she would have been stuck with that. So it’s just fun things like that. And then we do a push your luck thing. We just do a lot of games that involve the use of probabilities to increase your chances of winning and so talk it through. So I guess I’m teaching them to better gamblers. So we’ll take a field trip to Vegas. One of these?

David Cole
Oh, yeah. Just make sure that the people in Vegas don’t know who you are on your way there. Yeah, right.

Oh, no, it’s the board game teacher. Shut it down. Casino’s closed.

David Cole
So did you have any pushback or anything from your teaching board or anything like that when you first started to try to implement this stuff? Yeah.

My principal, when I first started getting into doing all these things, I started off the first big hit I took is because there’s this game I really enjoyed and I thought it was going to be really great with the kids. It’s very much like chess. Use a lot of math skills, tons of reading and everything. It was called Summoner Wars. And instead of using pieces, you have a board with squares. Well, not squares, rectangles. And instead of chess pieces, you have cards. And so the cards you’re summoning them from in your hand and you’re putting them on the board. And then they move around, they attack, they do their things. And the principal is like, oh, no, it’s war. I don’t want war. It’s like, what is chess? Right? Chess is war. What happens when that knight takes that pawn? Is it just knocking him unconscious?

No, they’re killing him, right? Well, no, but it’s not the same. So it took a while for her to come around, and then she was very reluctant when I first introduced the City of Zombies, but by that time she was starting to have a little more faith in me. And then when she saw what I was doing with City of Zombies, she was transformed. She was a believer.

David Cole
All right. That’s pretty cool. Yeah. Did you sit down in her office and play some of these games with her to show her what it was?

What I would do is for the other teachers in the library, I would say, okay, this day I’m having a lunch and learn. So bring your lunches to the library. And I’ll show you how to play this game, and I would show them how to play the game. I would talk about how to implement into the classroom, and she would come by those things and she would see and she says, wow, this one’s really good. This one’s really good. I said, right? I know. I’ve been telling you all along these games are good for these kinds of things. She was trying to steer away from anything that had any sort of violence or war or anything like that, or anybody dying or things like that.

David Cole
That makes sense. I understand that you don’t want to get pushback from the parents too much.

Well, I mean, these are the parents who are letting their kids play Call of Duty at home. Right. Grade five is grand theft auto. So I don’t imagine they’re going to get too much pushback from playing a board game with zombies, with imagined violence. Well, the zombies, yeah, the zombies are very cartoony and everything.

David Cole
They play is that plants versus zombies at home, I’m sure, too. They’re very cartoony there, too. All right, that’s cool. So have you ever made your own game? It sounds like you’re really into playing games. Have you ever tried to make your own?

I’ve tried. It sort of came in waves where I would do it and I kind of, like, come to hit a wall and I’m like, I can’t think of what to do, so I kind of relax for a bit and then, oh, I think of this. And that makes it a little more progress, and it kind of inspire me. Again, it’s never materialized. Of course, I’ve got more ideas cooking in here all the time, but sometimes you just look at some games and it’s just like they’re so ridiculously simple. It’s like, how did I not think of that? Do you know code names?

David Cole
I love code names.

Yeah. So what a basic concept?

David Cole
Super fun.

Yeah, exactly. It’s like a great game. It’s so simple, it’s so easy to introduce, so accessible, and great for ESL.

David Cole
Yeah. Another game that’s simple that you wish you had thought of was compatibility, if you remember that from the was a really good one. It’s kind of like code names, except you’re playing with your partner to try to determine how compatible you are. We played it with our parents, both sets of parents, and we ended up winning over both sets of parents. But yeah, you throw down an idea and then if you guys can pick the same kind of cards, then you’re more compatible. It’s how your brains work. Or if you can guess. Okay, I know that they picked that version or whatever it was, and so you know what your partner is going to pick. It might not be what you would pick, but you know what they would pick. Very simple. Very simple concept. Similar to code names in some ways.

Yeah. And there’s actually a cool story about a girl. She’s the youngest board game designer ever. Not youngest international board game designer ever. She designed Sleeping Queens, which is enjoyed by a lot of the primary students at my school. My junior students still love it. You can see how she got the idea. She’s six years old, the designer. Yeah, it’s like a deck of cards. And in the deck they have a card describing the story, how she just said trying to go to bed one night, and dad was putting her to bed and she’s like, daddy, I got this idea for a board game or a card game. He’s like, that’s nice, sweetie. Go to bed. And so the next morning, woke up and there she is teaching her younger sister how to play it. And the dad looks at and thinks, I think you’re onto something here.

So they went with it and yeah, she got published and now it’s like, boom, it’s everywhere. So it’s very simple game where you can see how she used like a regular deck of cards, use the face cards as other things, so everything has a counter. So the queens are all sleeping, hence the name face down. And they’re worth the points. The kings can wake up the queens, but then you got dragons, knights who try to steal the queens from other people, but the dragons will stop you. A potion will put the queen back to sleep again, but the wand will stop that. And the number cards are just nothing. They’re not good. But what you do with the number cards is you use them as mathematical equations to get rid of them. So if you have like a one, three and a four, we say one plus three is four.

You just got rid of three cards and get three new ones. Trying to get those better cards. Yeah, it’s a really neat game. And like I said, young kids, I haven’t met a kid yet who doesn’t love it. And playing with some adults, they’re like, well, can I use the two like a squared? Like I have a three, two and a nine, because I say three squared is nine. I said, if you can explain it and it makes sense, I don’t care what you do with the numbers. That’s the whole point of the game, right?

David Cole

So it was interesting to see even adults playing because I think I just bought it for the classroom and somebody said, what’s this? And I told them, so I said, oh, let’s play it. Okay. I was like at a board game meetup on that night. That one’s a very popular game, too. But like I said, it’s interesting because it’s youngest board game designer, international board game designer ever. I think that’s hard to beat at six years old.

David Cole
At six years old, yeah. I don’t know that you’re going to get somebody younger than that, but who knows? Well, then, what kind of advice do you have or could you give to some teachers watching this that are inspired and want to incorporate it in their physical classrooms, their online classrooms? I mean whatever.

Well start off look at my YouTube channel subscribe. But there are so many new games coming out every year so it’s hard to stay on top of everything and being aware of all the games. But this is where it’s good to use a resource like that and to see how you can use that. Look at maybe if you see a game there’s some games that are obviously going to lend themselves better to a classroom setting. Things like scrabble, banana grams. Word on the street are very good language games. City of Zombies is very good for your basic masculine. So games that have that obvious element into it are going to better than one that’s going to be a little more difficult to see. Okay, what’s the connection between this and how am I going to use this? Or games also games which are quick. So trying to find simple quick games to play that are going to maybe just start to get a collection of different kinds of games.

And even if they’re just in the classroom as resources for an indoor recess on a rainy day or something, it’s just good to have those as well and take the time to maybe even play with the kids or do a board game club or something so they know how to play the games. Or take the time to teach maybe a couple of ambassadors in the class who can then start to teach the others as well. So that way other kids learn how to play it. Kids I find my students are always loving to learn how to play new games. I’m showing them new games all the time because we don’t always have the time to play games all the time. I try to incorporate as much as I can but having them there accessible. Like I’ve got a big closet in my classroom full of games and the kids are always pulling them out.

Like today was raining so games were coming out and they’re playing because even if it’s not through a curricular subject then just the fact that they are playing they are still learning. So rather than just doing an indoor recess where they are just drawing or I suppose there’s benefit to that too. But I mean they can be doing more work on math rating skills through the play of a game. So that’s good. But for incorporating into the classroom, just try it, do a little bit of research into what you’re getting and see how it’s going to work. Some games are going to promise to be good but you can’t always do. I know that some have looked on my channel, it’s just like they try to make it sound like oh, this is a fun math game. I’m thinking like there was a one fraction fortress and it’s just like this trying to build this tower, this cylinder out of these fractional pieces.

But fractions as pie slices is not great and it’s just not really teaching a lot. So some try to make it fun, but it’s just going to frustrate the kids. And if the kids are getting frustrated, that’s where you really want to make sure that you’re stopping. Because the last thing you want to do is get them playing a game to the point where they’re frustrated, then they don’t want to play anymore. And the next time you introduce another game to them, hey, let’s learn with this one. No, no, they had that bad experience, that bad taste in their mouth. They’re not going to trust the games anymore and they may miss out on a good opportunity, especially if it sours them for playing on family nights. And encourage parents to play with kids at home too. That’s something I talk to parents about a lot is doing a regular family game night because that’s a great way, a fun way to just work with your kids at home and get the parents on board with it too.

Just through playing games and learning through that at home, continue that learning at home. Because if kids get hooked onto board games at a young age, they’re lifelong learners.

David Cole
Okay, yeah, I do get that. The more you play on board games, the more you want to explore new games. It’s a different type of addiction than the online the video games are for the kids. I think that sometimes it flips a different switch in their head. Video games can be very educational as well and can be used that way. But it’s a different switch because there’s a lot of different hand eye coordination that might necessarily might be needed. Some board games require some of that as well. But most of it is a lot of thinking and wrapping your mind around a different concept.

Right. And with video games too, you’re often playing with somebody in another location. You could be playing some random person. And sometimes the people feel very free to just be completely awful in the way that they’re speaking to them because they feel safe hiding behind their screen, that they can just say the most terrible things because they don’t have to face that other person. Whereas if you and I are sitting across from each other on the table, I’m not going to be as likely to do that. Not that I would be like that on a video game, but those people who would be that way on a video game are not going to be that way if they’re sitting across from that other person.

David Cole
The worst you might have in a board game is somebody just always blocking your move. Their strategy is stopping you.

Well, the famous table flip where somebody has had enough and they either swipe everything off the table or they just flip it all up. Yeah, there’s always that possibility, but I’ve never actually seen an actual table flip.

David Cole
Closer. Who really got that way once or twice, really close, but most of you walk away. Yeah. So I was also curious as to how much of a percentage of your class, because you’ve got a certain set of standards I’m sure you’re supposed to meet and get your kids ready for the tests. It might be a little different candidate, I’m not sure. But how would you incorporate these board games? And do they take up the entire class or the fraction of your class?

Oh, well, yeah, fraction, because I can’t gamify everything. Some of the learning has to be done. You have to just pick up a book sometimes and read that. We’re doing novel studies. We’re writing letters. We’re working on speeches right now, so there’s a lot of other things we do as well. But the games are just I mean, too much of anything is not good. Right? I don’t think that gamifying absolutely everything is going to be the answer, but I think adding it in there and just allowing the kids that opportunity to learn in a different way is good because games aren’t going to work for some kids at all. So while some kids are really good learners through reading, some kids are going to be really good. Just those different intelligences. Right. Some kids are just going to learn better through gameplay. I think a lot of kids will because it is more motivating, but still, it’s not going to reach everybody.

So you still want to make sure that you’re doing other things, and some things are just better done in other ways. It’s just another tool in the toolbox, and I think it’s one that teachers need to reach for more often.

David Cole
I love that idea. Tools in the toolbox. And along those lines, this kind of reminds me that you and I were talking about board Game Arena, which is another tool that I like to use. And I’ve started to try to incorporate even with my ESL students, get them access, get them online, and then we can both play games virtually together. It’s a really cool tool. Lots of different things. I was just playing with my son earlier. Lucky numbers, teaching math. It’s highest to lowest type stuff, but it’s very simple. But it’s also a fast paced game. You can finish it in two to five minutes, depending on how fast you are. I mean, there’s classic games. There’s always new games coming on here all the time. One of my favorites is a Zool. I haven’t figured out how to incorporate that with one of my students yet, but it’s one of my favorites.

David Cole
Have you ever used board Game Arena at all?

I haven’t used it because I haven’t played it enough to make it worthwhile for me to get the membership. I have played it with friends, especially again during COVID I had a couple of friends who did have memberships and then they said, hey, do you want to play? I’ll host. I’m like, oh yeah, sure, let’s do it. I mean, they could host so I can play even though I don’t have a membership because they’re hosting. But I haven’t used this because I have a lot of things in my classroom that I would use because to do this would be, I think, a little more tricky with a class setting. I would rather try and do things in person.

David Cole
It might because when you have games that are two to four people and you have a classroom of 15 to 30 people, I’m not sure, it might be a little bit more difficult to set up breakout groups for certain things like this. But I know when I teach group courses, it’s usually no more than four, maybe six students. And this is a great way to talk through it, especially since I have the premium account or my wife has a premium account and I can set up however many people into a game. Then you and your student can talk through a game. If you’re teaching math concepts, you can use a game that is math type concepts. Most any game can work for English or any kind of language learning, as long as you’re willing to talk through all the moves, talk through the whole game with the student and kind of work through it with them.

David Cole
And then there’s some reading involved as well, which is great.

Now, have you ever played BLUEKIT or Cahoot?

David Cole
Nope. Kahoot? Yes. I’ve never tried.

Those are those are other ones that I also did when were online in the COVID thing. But Cahoot is like your typical game show, right? So they have a thing with the four answers and who gets the answer the fastest. Blue Kit, I think, is very similar to Hoot, but I think it’s better than a Cahoot because rather than just everything like, you just have always chasing the leader. So Blue kit is Blooket and it just has different ways to play the game. It has different games. So those are the Blue kits. So each person will have one of those animal or dragons or whatever. They have like a plate with fried eggs on it and stuff. Those are your Blue kits and that’s your avatar for the game. And you choose a new one each game. But there’s different ways to play. There’s one where you’re all like computer hackers and you’re trying to steal money from each other.

There’s ones where you’re phishing ones where you’re doing tower defense and these things are coming through and you have to shoot them with your tower things. But in order to do anything you want to do in the game, you have to answer questions. And it’s all questions like whatever you want. I mean, you could do anything from addition, subtraction, multiplication division to name that president to NBA players to mean like they people have made sessions about every kind of topic. There’s so many thousands of different things out there. What I always look for is like if I’m saying like I’m doing multiplication, I want to look for one that has a variety of questions. Sometimes I’ll have like three questions and it’s like well that’s silly, it’s just the same three questions over and over again. That’s nonsense, I want more questions. And when you look through them too, maybe I would do like Circulatory system when we’re reviewing it for science, I’m like okay Circulatory.

I make sure I look through the questions first because if I’m looking through and I’m realizing oh no, this is like really high level Circulatory system, my students won’t know this. So you have to make sure that you match the content to your class. But other than that, like I said, there’s just all kinds of different ways to play. So it’s not like Cahoot is always just that one just answer the question as fast as you can. This one you’re answering questions as fast as you can, but you’re kind of doing your own thing through the game. You’re playing your own game against everybody else’s games and you just interact with in different ways. There’s one where you’re doing like digging dinosaur fossils and stuff. But you can do this thing where you’re allowed to cheat. But once you’ve cheated until you answer the next question, you can always be caught.

And if somebody else clicks on your thing to say check you if they catch you, then you take a penalty. So there’s always that thing and the students are always like screaming when they catch somebody in the thing. Ha, I got you Mr. TW. Sound like if I cheated and they got me so they love that. But yeah, so it’s this one to.

David Cole
Interesting and you don’t have to create your own all but can you create your own game too? You can add your own questions in or is it just picking what other.

Questions yes, but the games are set but absolutely that’s where they come from. It’s like people submit their own sessions right. And why I call them a session but whatever topic it is that you want to include in there, whether it’s like I say anything from arithmetic to social studies, science, whatever, you can create your own thing as well. Yeah, grammar. Yeah, I think I’ve done some grammar ones. Capitalization. My students are just so texting now has just killed their ability to capitalize properly.

David Cole
Yeah, and spelling, I mean they’re reliant on their spell checker. I mean the AI has basically been involved for a while.


David Cole
Well, do you have any final thoughts, anything that you’d like to say to anybody out there? Obviously we want them to come check out your YouTube channel for sure and subscribe. I definitely recommend that. Pretty cool. Like I said, I’ve been playing around, looking through some of your videos on there and getting some really interesting ideas of my own. But in light of the COVID pandemic and how things are panning out now with schools doing some things online, a lot of things, still doing a lot of physical stuff, how do you think the future of learning is going to play out?

I know this year what I’m seeing with my students is just we see the difference. And from those kids who were online and everything, I mean, I’m teaching grade five, and I have students who are reading at a grade low grade two to a mid grade five level. So it’s just this wide range. But it’s noticeable that these kids who are online and just were not doing well online. I think learning online, like, it’s like anything I say some kids are going to be okay with it, right? Some kids are going to even thrive at learning online. But I think the majority of the kids didn’t. And it’s difficult, I think, whether it just was the adjustment period or the regulations we had in place, because I just know, like so many students, what I was hearing is just they wouldn’t put their cameras on.

Some kids said, oh yeah, I slept through school every day, and I would turn on my computer and I’d just turn off my camera and go back to sleep or go play a video game or whatever. It’s difficult to know how you’re going to keep those kids accountable to the learning. So there’s a lot of factors and things. I mean, it’s a new thing to explore, a new way to do things. And is it viable? I think it could be under the right circumstances, but it would take a lot of trial and error before we got to the perfect.

David Cole
I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who’ve done it, some who hated it, some who loved it. But it really comes down to how it’s implemented, I think is right. If the student doesn’t want to be there, like you said, they turn off their camera, they go back to sleep. Their parents are at work, they’re not going to know whatever. But if you find a way to engage the students, I think that’s the key. Finding the way to engage them, even online can work for those type of students. My kid has proven on that he listens more than he actually participates, but if it’s a topic that he really likes, science, history, he gets in there and he’ll participate, do the group stuff, and just like really rock and roll. But if it’s something he’s not interested in it at all, he’ll zone out just like everybody else.

David Cole

I totally sympathize with that. When I’m listening to something I’m not totally engaged in, I’m zoning out, and it’s difficult.

David Cole
I definitely think there’s gamification. The gamification can really help with the engagement and finding that right balance. Sounds like what you’ve done in your classroom is definitely going to help get these kids more engaged so that they have better results.

That’s better have the camera up here.

David Cole
All right, well, it was great talking with you today. When I get this uploaded and everything, I think everybody’s going to love to see what you have to say. They might have some comments. They’ll probably put some things down on the comment list in the tutor resource Facebook group and we’ll try to do our best to respond to those. But yeah, thank you, Craig, and it’s been great. Do you have any final things to say?

Play more games.

David Cole
More games. I like it. All right, well, thank you, everybody, and we will see you later.

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