Board Games and Board Game Design as Learning Tools for Complex Scientific Concepts: Some Experiences

Board Games and Board Game Design as Learning Tools for Complex Scientific Concepts: Some Experiences

Fabio Chiarello, Maria Gabriella Castellano
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2016040101
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In this paper the authors report different experiences in the use of board games as learning tools for complex and abstract scientific concepts such as Quantum Mechanics, Relativity or nano-biotechnologies. In particular we describe “Quantum Race”, designed for the introduction of Quantum Mechanical principles, “Lab on a chip”, concerning the immune system and the nano-biotechnologies, “Time Race”, created to explain Relativistic concepts such as time dilation. The main idea is to choose a core of few basic concepts to be explained, and to design the game mechanisms and rules completely around them. Each game has been played by about 1000 participants, mainly students, with excellent results concerning growth of interest and comprehension on the considered themes. In a second phase (still in progress) the authors are considering the possibility to use the direct engagement of learners in the creation of games of this kind as a learning tool for scientific subjects, in particular for light and photonics. They present in detail these activities with obtained and expected results and issues.
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The understanding and learning of complex scientific concepts, for example related to modern Physics subjects, may present a series of difficulties (Perkins 1999, Meyer 2003, Perkins 2006, Perkins 2010), which are due to two main causes:

  • 1.

    These concepts can appear far away from the everyday experience of learners, therefore they could result anti-intuitive and paradoxical and lead to an attitude of rejection and closure;

  • 2.

    It is often difficult to find correct and non-misleading examples and analogies that can help in the explanation of such concepts in the absence of adequate cultural and mathematical prerequisites.

This is particularly true, for example, in Quantum mechanics (with concepts such as wave-particle dualism, delocalization, collapse of the state under observation, uncertainty principle etc.) and in Relativity (proper time, time dilation, space contraction, effect of gravity on the flow of time etc).

The use of games can be particularly helpful in the understanding and learning of abstract concepts of this kind (Bright 1983, Gee 2007a, Gee 2007b, Salen 2008, Whitton 2010, Whitton 2012). In particular, board games have been tested as effective learning tools (Gobet 2004, Shanklin 2007, Treher 2011, Berland 2011, Yoon 2014) thanks to some important characteristics:

  • 1.

    The playful and immersive nature of board games facilitates attention, concentration and motivation of players;

  • 2.

    In the course of the game the players experience a “suspension of disbelief” that prepares them to accept ideas even far from their everyday experience (Montola 2005, Walther 2005, Juul 2008, Zimmerman 2012);

  • 3.

    Board games allow a “learn by doing” approach (Castells 2000, Prensky 2007) providing an hands-on and heads-on skill and knowledge development;

  • 4.

    Thanks to competitiveness and will to win players are urged to deeply understand the rules behind the game;

  • 5.

    Downtimes, which are characteristic in board games (for example in the waiting of the opponent's moves), together with the playful and competitive atmosphere promote reflections and discussions among players;

  • 6.

    These downtimes also promote the inclusion of clarifications and explanations in a natural and not disturbing way by teachers or scientific animators during the game course.

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