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Board Games I Used to Build Community in my E-Learning and Hybrid Classrooms

The 2020-2021 school year was a challenge in many ways. In my school, we had a variety of schedules but we started out the school year with all of our students E-learning, about halfway through the year we switched to a hybrid model teaching both online and in person students at the same time. The biggest challenge I faced throughout the year was creating a sense of community and connecting having all of my students so far away. Things we typically do in a school year to create a sense of community could not be done with distanced learning.

This led to me using more board games in the classroom then I would typically because students perked up and wanted to engage with them, and that is an attitude that was difficult to find this year. The challenge with that was finding games that could be used in hybrid and online settings that would also fit in with my two curriculums. Most of the games I used during my 7th grade ELA curriculum that covered the following units: Meaning of Memory, Acceptance and Rejection, The Masks We Wear and The Power of Perseverance. I also kept games on hand for students to play independently during my 7th grade Geography class. I wanted to briefly discuss the games I found that worked and the changes I made to have them be successful in a hybrid and E-learning environment.

Disruptus (Foxmind Games)-Icebreaker/ Beginning of the Year- Online or Hybrid

Disruptus by Foxmind Games is how I decided to start my year off with my students. We were online during this time, but it could also be done in person or in a hybrid setting. In Disruptus, students are tasked with taking items and altering them to fit a specific task. There are five different things they may be asked to do. They may be asked to take two cards with items and combine them to create a new useful item. Alternatively, students may take one item card and find a way to improve the item, transform the item to change its purpose or disrupt the item. Disrupting the item means using it to create a new market or human experience.

When I use this with my students, I start with creating, improving or transforming items until students have a good grasp of the game. Then I explain what disrupting means. While playing online, I had students start out in the “main room” on Zoom. I explained what the task would be for the round, showed them the item card, and then separated them into breakout rooms to discuss their plan. They would have 5 minutes to discuss, and create a sales pitch. Then they would return to the main room and each group would pitch their new item. As a class, we would decide which item would be the winner.

There are many reasons that I like to start my year using this kind of game. It forces students to communicate with each other, which helps build community and a sense of belonging. I also like to see which students stand out as leaders within the classroom, and who struggles more with sharing their opinions in a group setting. It also forces students to start thinking in a problem solving and creative mindset. This mindset and the ability to discuss topics freely and respectfully are the two most important foundations of my classroom.

Ultimate Werewolf (Bezier Games)- The Masks We Wear-Online

I have always used Ultimate Werewolf during my masking unit, but I was not sure how successful it would be in an online setting. I was surprised to find out that it actually worked better online than in person. There is always one student in person that struggles to follow instructions (especially close your eyes) that makes the game difficult to moderate in person. Online I was able to utilize the private chat feature to keep important information private, and have the nightly discussions without other students peeking. This led to students having more engaging and thoughtful discussions, because their arguments did not revolve around “I heard him point” or “I heard Mrs. Upchurch walk that way”.

For those unfamiliar with Ultimate Werewolf, each student is given a roll in this social deception game. The most basic form of the game has players on two different sides, the villagers and the werewolves. The werewolves want to eliminate the villagers and vice versa. There are special roles for each side that give certain players specific abilities, and can also introduce more teams. The game is played over a series of two phase rounds. The first phase is each round is night time. During this time, werewolves decide who to eliminate, and players secretly use their abilities to gain information. During the second phase (daytime) players use any information gathered to discuss and vote on who they want to eliminate. Villagers are seeking to eliminate the werewolf during this time.

Ultimate Werewolf fits into our masking unit because it leads to great discussion about the importance of masking in certain situations. One of the unit’s essential questions focuses on whether masking emotions and facial expressions is positive or negative. Students tend to gravitate towards negative due to reasons of hiding bullying and being true to themselves, but Ultimate Werewolf forces them to consider another viewpoint. Students learn to mask their giggles, friendships and sometimes even lie to remain in the game. They learn that properly using social deception can help them get further in some situations.

TableTopics (Ultra PRO International, LLC)- The Masks We Wear/ Geography- Online or Hybrid

TableTopics is a box filled with different discussion topic cards. I use TableTopic Teens in my classroom to aid with my 30 second impromptu speaking in my The Mask We Wear unit. We turn this into a game by having students compete to have the least number of fillers when speaking. This fits into the unit by teaching students to mask normal speaking habits when speaking in a public setting. We spend a lot of this unit discussing ways to become more confident public speakers and how to mask our fears about having the spotlight. I had students unmute and turn on their cameras when sharing online, or stand up and speak in front of the class when in person. The students enjoyed the randomness of the cards. I did have to take out a few cards prior to playing though…some discuss things like who they would like to kiss, and frankly I don’t want to know or make any students uncomfortable. I suggest previewing prior to use to find any cards you do not feel comfortable with.

I use the Destinations box with my Geography class when we have free time to have discussions and build community within the classroom. The discussions do not take a lot of time up, but are great for transition and break periods when students need a break from other work. I have also used this to introduce a project or unit. For instance, I once used the question “Where would you go if it was not difficult to get there” to get students prepared for the lesson where they created a vacation that they shared with the class on Google Tours. It helped students become excited to see each others’ destinations and gave them something to look forward to.

Maki Stack (Blue Orange Games) or Team3 Green/ Pink (Brain Games Publishing)-The Power of Perseverance- Hybrid

The biggest skill I have noticed my students lacking this year, was the ability to discuss and work together to solve a problem. A year of online learning has turned my students into independent learners, but collaboration and the ability to work together is crucial in the classroom. During The Power of Perseverance unit, I wanted to force my students to persevere together and relearn how to work with someone else to reach their goals. Normally, I would have my students compete in a variety of team building activities such as The Floor is Lava or building the tallest balloon tower. These sorts of activities do not lend themselves to having students at home though. I was struggling to find ways to create a cohesive classroom and have students communicating both at home and in person.

Then I realized the perfect solution would be games like Maki Stack or Team3 Green/ Pink. Both of these games feature having three students communicating together to build a structure. The trick is that one of the students cannot speak, one cannot hear and one cannot see. The student who has a card demonstrating the final product cannot speak to the other students. They must problem solve and use gestures to explain to the second student what the steps are. The second student must then explain to the third the steps. The third student cannot see what they are building.

I used this during hybrid learning. I set up my groups so that there would be two students in person and one online student. The online student would be the one explaining the steps, and my two in person students took on the other roles. We turned it into a competition to see who could build the structure the quickest. Both of these games also feature the ability to have students compete head to head. In order to do this with the Team3 game, you would need both Team3 Green and Pink.

After students complete the game, I had them reflect on the experience in writing. They answered questions revolving around what the biggest struggle was, what they did well, what they would do differently, what communication has to do with perseverance and what they were surprised about. This really helped pull my online students back into the classroom and created one cohesive class rather than an online class and in person class.

Unlock! (Space Cowboys)- The Power of Perseverance- Hybrid

Every year, I use an escape room type activity to introduce The Power of Perseverance. I try to take a fairly hands-off approach to letting students solve the clues, it it helps highlight what it means to persevere in a short period of time. We reflect as a class afterwards about what was helpful, what was harmful, and what emotions were most powerful throughout the process. This helps lead us into a discussion about resilience and grit.

My students were hybrid at this time, so I was not sure how I was going to handle doing this activity this year. I decided to use a variety of Unlock! games for my in person students and give my online students a few options. They were able to choose to work with an in person group and have cameras facing the cards so they could participate in the classroom or they could choose to work with an online only group on a Stranger Things Breakout Edu if they wanted to be more hands on. It worked out really well.

This ended up being the highlight of the year for many of my students, and I still weeks later have students coming into my classroom during their free time to try another Unlock! or find the solutions to the one they have been working on. I was a little concerned that groups could just use hints to solve all of the problems, but each group had a student that was opposed to doing it the “easy” way. The communication and problem solving discussions that happened throughout the classroom during this lesson made me certain that I will keep this in my curriculum next year. All of the students were authentically engaged, and that has been a struggle this year.

Setting up this assignment was pretty easy for me. The day before I had students play, I told them that it would be a BYO Technology day the following class period. I let students pick their groups (dictating that they needed at least 3 people, but could have up to six), reminded them that at least one person in the group needed to download the app and then had them tell me easy, medium or hard. After finishing my Unlock! games at home, I bring them to my classroom to be reused, so I had plenty of choices for each level. I do suggest being familiar with the games you choose to use in case students do want assistance. After a class period, I had students reflect in writing and verbally on the experience, especially how it relates to perseverance and resilience.

Graphic Novel Adventures (Van Ryder Games)- Independent Time- Hybrid

Another struggle this year has been balancing timelines with students working at different paces online and in school. I often find my online students need additional time to finish assignments. My in person students know when they finish assignments they can grab a book to read until we move onto our next activity as a class. This works well for many of my students, but some of my students are reluctant readers. I use Graphic Novel Adventures from Van Ryder Games for these students.

These are choose your adventure type novels, that have students actively interacting with the book throughout. During the beginning of the year, I make copies of all sheets that have students writing on them. This allows the book to be used multiple times. Then students are able to request one any time they have free time. It has helped my non-readers find a reading activity they enjoy, and it can also open doors to similar themes and novels after they play. Do keep in mind though that some of the novels do feature adult language and themes so preview them before putting them in your class.

Timeline (Asmodee)- Independent Work Geography- Hybrid

Students also struggle with pacing during Geography. My in-person students know that they are able to grab one of my copies of Timelines when they finish an assignment early. The events that are seen in the Timeline games relate to human rights, borders, and culture which are three of our four units in Geography. The game helps students understand when different historical events took place by having them place cards that show events on a timeline in reference to the other cards. This frame of reference is something students often struggle with. Students frequently ask me questions about the events that took place, so it also leads into helping students research different historical events.

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