Fun Ways To Teach Your Kids Encryption

Here are 2 simple ways to introduce the idea of encryption to elementary school kids.

 

Ciphers

I had them try to decode the following code:

4 15 7

(with some prodding they eventually figured out it was a simple letter-number cipher spelling “dog”)

 

Mastermind

You might recognize this game from your own childhood.

 

 

You don’t need to buy it. You can play it with different color marbles, bingo chips, coins or almost any set of things lying around the house.

How to play:

    1. A codemaker constructs a hidden sequence of 4 different colored beads (out of a possible 6 colors).
    2. The codebreaker tries to guess the sequence by arranging 4 colors in order.
    3. The codemaker gives non-verbal feedback:

      a) Identifies how many of the colors used are correct
      b) Identifies how many beads are the right color AND in the right position

    4. Repeat until the code is cracked

      Enrichment questions:

      How can the game be made easier?
      How can the game be made harder?

      And if you have an older onlooker…how many possible codes can be created?

      And if you have an Excel fan in the vicinity, see how you can solve such problems using the hypergeometric distribution. (A Reddit thread targeting game designers)

A Slightly More Advanced Example: Using a “Mask”

Suppose a group of people are sitting around a table and you all want to know how much money everyone makes but of course nobody is willing to share their own salary.

Here’s a way to uncover the average pay at the table without anybody needing to disclose their pay.

Let’s pretend A, B, C, and D are having dinner together at this table.

Just follow these steps:

Masking Phase

  1. Tell “A” to add an arbitrary number to their pay and write the sum on a piece of paper. It’s very important to write just the sum! So if A makes $100k per year and the arbitrary number is 5,000,000 then they would write: $5,100,000

  2. Pass the paper to “B”

  3. “B” notes the sum and adds it to their own salary plus their own arbitrary number. They write this sum on a fresh piece of paper and hand it to “C”. Important: use a new piece of paper, we don’t want anyone to see the history of how the sum was created. 

    Example:

    “B” receives paper with the sum $5,100, 000
    “B” add this to their own salary $50,000 plus an arbitrary number of $1,000,000
    “B” passes a piece of paper with the total $6,150,000 to “D”

  4. Repeat this process until the paper gets back to “A” 

Un-masking Phase

  1. “A” subtracts their arbitrary number only from the total and passes the new total to “B”.

    Example :

    “A” receives a piece of paper with the number $9,000,000 written on it
    “A” subtracts the $1,000,000 arbitrary number and passes the number $8,000,000 to “B”

  2. Repeat until everyone has subtracted their arbitrary number.

The remaining total is the sum of everyone’s pay. If we divide by 4 (the number of people) we have discovered the average pay at the table and nobody needed to reveal their own number!

You have learned a simple way to “mask” data with arbitrary numbers!

Try it yourself. You don’t even need paper — just explain the rules to some friends in your texting group and find out if you are actually under or overpaid! Just don’t kill the messenger.

(The mask example was inspired by this Twitter thread by @theemilyaccount)

Video Game Veto

Several family members wanted to get Zak a Nintendo Switch when he turned 7 a few weeks ago. I shot it down. I’m the bad guy. Sorry, not sorry. I’ll defend my stance and do you one better. I’ll explain why my stance even needs to be defended. Somehow in this battle over video games, I found myself on the low ground.

First, my defense is simple. Opportunity cost. Here’s an example. My 4-year-old Max recently lost his iPad for 10 days. For those of you who follow Yinh’s Insta (feel free to follow, her ‘stories’ are more amusing than anything I write), there was a period of this kid creating his own Marvel paper costumes and pumping out artwork like he was getting paid commission. Less screentime meant more creativity.

When the iPad resurfaced, it crowded out much of his ingenuity. It’s worse than that too. The iPad summons the devil. Every time Max is asked to turn off the screen we suffer a hell tantrum. All the phases of opiate withdrawal unfolding several times a day.

Zak, being 7 and having better emotional control, is not as dramatic but the video games are still crowding out his creativity.

You would think my no-Switch policy would be unanimously embraced. You’d be wrong. Here are the arguments and pro-video game propaganda I push back against.

  • “You played video games and look how you turned out”

    If you grew up in the era of “blowing dust” out of your NES cartridges and have managed to simply not blow your life to smithereens, people will say this to you. We have all seen the amusing correlation/causation pictures. Well, this fallacy is a specific strain of those spurious conclusions. The post-hoc fallacy. If Y came after X, then Y caused X.

    This fallacy is everywhere. Kid has hives. Sleeps in parents’ bed. Hives go away. Therefore, his bed caused the hives. (This just happened in our house). You have a cold so you drink soup. Cold goes away. Must have been the soup. These interventions are given credit for mean reversion’s work.

    The video game example is even worse in my mind because of opportunity cost. I might have a good job today in spite of, not because of, video games. How much didn’t I do because of video games? Maybe I would have been a better athlete, musician, or programmer. All activities that competed for time with video games. Hobbies that if cultivated would have been unambiguously more rewarding considering, today, I wish I was better in all 3 domains and could care less about my video game skills.

  • Video games have benefits

    When I was a kid, I was told video games “rot your brain”. Today, everything from critical thinking to reflexes are attributed to playing games. Scholarships, profits, and Ninja all lend games a legitimacy they didn’t enjoy in 1987. Nothing will make you seem stodgier, techno-fearing, and possibly stupid than being anti-video game.

    Consider Shopify founder Tobi Lutke. He is outspoken in his claims of games like Factorio and Starcraft contributing to his business savvy. Well, if you have ever heard Tobi speak, he’s really smart. A mind like his is going to deconstruct strategy and actively pull the insights from the game. Being analytical in the first place is what’s most important. If it wasn’t video games, he would have cracked something else.

    It’s not the game, it’s the approach to the game. Just like TV or movies or reading. Any passive activity can be intellectually enriching if your approach is active. When you read are you asking what the themes are? Why is the author framing things a certain way? How does it relate to other knowledge? Critically reading or watching can turn “brain-rotting” behaviors into brain-building ones.

Pushing Back Against The Modern Halo Around Gaming

You’d be forgiven for thinking I contribute to the gaming halo. The gaming section of my site is anchored by Let Your Kids Play Boardgames. Some nuance is in order. Our kids play some video games. Playing them is not especially bad or good. I put it in the same category as passively watching TV and it would count against that attention budget. (I reserve the right to modify my stance for games especially strategic or competitive).

Gaming, video or tabletop, can be an amazing way to learn. Fun is a renewable form of fuel to burn. Yet in the wrong personality, it can be horribly inefficient. Like learning about basketball from watching the Kardashians. How many people playing poker on their phones mindlessly are internalizing probability lessons? And parents, you know zombie-mode when you see it.

The halo of gaming stems from its strategic and competitive aspects. Still, strategy and planning can be acquired in many ways. Just this week I was thinking about how much Zak could learn if I asked him to break down the steps to catch a trout. He’d need to find out where to go when to go, what bait to use, and what technique to employ. Taking a big problem and breaking it into smaller steps.

Gaming has fast feedback cycles. Great for learning. But also convenient to get a mouse to push a dopamine lever. Then there’s the whole issue of transference. Does becoming a grandmaster make you better at other strategic endeavors or does it just make you good at chess? And here’s the diabolical question — if the grandmaster excelled in other domains how much credit should we give to chess? Again the fallacy rears its head, post hoc ergo propter hoc. Our minds are so easily tricked. The literature on transference is mixed, but it’s such a believable grift that most people won’t bother to check.

Overall I think the benefits of games are conveniently oversold. Just like TV, if accompanied by parental prompts and guidance they can be an enriching tool to practice critical thinking. Some kids, like young Tobi Lutke, will be inclined that way on their own. Many will just stare with dead eyes, unfazed if the house was burning down. Maybe I’m just an old crank who wishes he had that time back. I’d rather see what kids come up with when they aren’t sitting in front of a screen.

Codenames Telepathy

In a week, I will have known Yinh for 17 years. We don’t complete each other’s sentences. We still have plenty of stories to tell each other, although CoVid lockdown is burning that fuse a bit faster. (I always think of the Chris Rock joke about a wife telling her spouse to “get kidnapped and come back with new stories”). We have thus far deferred marital mind-meld.

But you would not know this by watching us play the 21st-century version of the Newlywed game…Codenames.

The Joy Of Codenames

If you play any party games you know Codenames so I won’t re-hash it. If you don’t play party games then you should know that blacking out right after dinner at family functions is anti-social. You should play Codenames instead.

Being in sync with a Codenames teammate is successfully web-crawling their brain. You hop from the axon of one idea to the dendrites of another as you stretch to find how they linked words on the Codenames’ grid to the clue that launched the brain scan in the first place.

We tend to work best when she gives the clues because in our relationship I tend to be the one filled with more random nonsense. This is a bug in times when being distracted is a penalty, since I can bike-shed with the best of them. But in Codenames, being a central repository for mutual references that unlocks with a single word is a decided advantage.

Here’s an example from Friday night. Yinh gave the clue “Empire, 2”. This clue was supposed to unlock:

  • “strike”

    Easy enough. Empire was a reference to “Empire Strikes Back”.

  • “chair”

    Ok, so why did she think “empire” would lead me to “chair”?

    I had a theory as to why she connected these words, so to test it I asked her what her logic was. She stumbled. She had forgotten why these words went together, which made me think my theory was even more correct.

    I’ll give you a hint. It wasn’t an “empire” -> “throne” -> “chair” pathway.

    Here’s the actual pathway:

    “empire” –> what empire comes to mind? –> Roman or Ottoman –> Ottoman = “chair”

    Here’s the best part. Her logic was both not original thinking or explicit. It was a subconscious reference to Eddie Izzard’s Dressed to Kill stand-up special that we’ve seen together. When I reminded her of Izzard’s joke that linked the Ottoman Empire to furniture she immediately realized what she had done.

I always get a kick out of her screwing up a reference but still understanding what she means. Just this week, she asked me what the latest on the Skrillex vs NY Times drama was going to which I responded, “You mean Slatestarcodex?”. She laughed at how she butchered it and I was happy to know she listens to me when I talk about the random crap I find interesting.

Check out Codenames. Read your partner’s mind to crush your in-laws at your next family game night.

You Can Mock Trade With A Deck Of Cards

Here’s a mock trading game I learned as a trainee to simulate futures and options market making. This game was commonly used as a day 1 exercise in trading class or when interviewing cohorts of college grads during recruiting “combines”.


The Futures Game

What you need:

  1. A deck of cards
  2. Nerdy friends (the more the better)
  3. A paper and pen per person to use as a tradelog

Setup:

You want to deal out enough cards to players (these are the market makers) so that there is about 25 remaining in the deck. There’s some leeway here.

Example:

  • You have 6 players. So deal them each 4 cards leaving 28 cards undealt.
  • Market makers may look at their hands but don’t share info.
  • The undealt cards are known as the “public pile”. They should be evenly divided into 4 or 5 sub-piles ideally (again there’s leeway depending on how many cards there are).
  • The sub-piles are going to represent “trading days”.
  • The cards themselves are news flow which will move the futures prices.

Description of futures prices:

  • The futures are the 4 suits. There’s a club’s market, a spades market, etc.
  • The final settlement price of the futures will be the sum of the ranks of cards in the public pile. (Ace =1 thru King = 13). So the maximum any future can be worth is 911

    It’s best to define the tradeable universe to keep the liquidity centralized.

    So you could have a diamond market, a spades market, and a “reds” market (which would be an index settling to the sum of diamonds and hearts).


    How To Play


    The first trading day

    • Reveal the cards in the first public sub-pile.
    • Market makers make bids and offers for the various markets. Tight 2 sided markets should be encouraged/required. For example:John: “I’m 65 bid for Hearts and offered at 68”

      Jen: “I’ll pay 67 for 5 Hearts contracts” (perhaps Jen is holding no Hearts in her hand)

      John: “Sold you 5 at 67” (John is holding 16 points of Hearts in his hand)

    • Record all your trades on your own pad or paper:1. Which contract you bought/sold
      2. Quantity of contracts
      3. Price of contracts
      4. Counterparty

    So for example, if I paid 51 for 4 “clubs contracts” from Mary I would record that information on my paper. Mary would record her sale of the 4 contracts at 51 on her card with me as the counterparty.

    • The trading is open outcry. There are no turns.

    Settling the trading day

    1. When the trading peters out for that “day” everyone should check their trades against their counterparties to make sure there are no so-called breaks or “outtrades”.
    2. On a central eraseboard or paper the “closing price” of each market can be recorded. So if the King of clubs and 3 of clubs were revealed from the sub-pile, then clubs “settled at 15”. Clubs might have traded 53 last in the expectation that more clubs will be revealed on subsequent days.
    3. Repeat this process for all remaining tradings days

    The last settlement

    • Compute “P/L” for all trades.

    If I bought 4 clubs contracts for $51 and clubs final settlement was $63 then I made a profit of $12 x 4 or $48. Mary’s loss would match that amount for that trade.

    The total P/L of all traders should sum to zero at the end of the game.

    Options Variant

    • Either the same group or a different group of people could choose to trade calls and puts on the final settlement price of the futures.

    So if I paid 3 for Clubs 55 calls and the final settlement was $63 then I profit the difference between the $63 and the strike ($55) minus the premium I outlayed:

    $63-$55 – $3 = $5

    • You could even get fancy and trade “vol”. You could sell say 10 clubs calls and buy 5 clubs futures to hedge the delta.
    • This game is played the same way the futures game is played or in conjunction. Repeat the process for all trading days then compute P/Ls at the end. Again if there are no errors the game should be zero-sum.


Genius Square

We’ve been playing a game called Genius Square.

The concept is simple. 2 people will play, each with their own blank board.

  • Those wooden circles are randomly placed on the board (each player gets the same coordinates on the grid). The dice allow 62,208 combinations of wood placement. Every puzzle is solvable.
  • Then ready, set, go — the first person who can fill the board with the Tetris pieces wins.
Most games last less than a minute. We’ve seen some solved in 10 seconds. It’s a perfect game to play over Zoom and can appeal to almost any age.

(Btw, the reason there are 62,208 possibilities is that you roll 5 6-sided die, 1 die with 4 distinct values, and 1 die with 2 distinct values. 6^5 x 4 x 2 = 62,208…the instructions tell you that number but it seemed weird with 7 dice until I noticed the duplicates on 2 of the dice. The values they use for the dice ensure solvability according to an algorithm that a nerd reader will probably know).

Bohnanza Is A Great Trading & Business Game

Introduction

Bohnanza is a card game for 2 to 7 players. It was created by Uwe Rosenburg years before he published Agricola, an epic worker-placement game, enshrining him in the pantheon of boardgame design.

Bohnanza according to BoardgameGeek:

The cards are colorful depictions of beans in various descriptive poses, and the object is to make coins by planting fields (sets) of these beans and then harvesting them. To help players match their cards up, the game features extensive trading and deal-making.

Bohnanza according to the publisher:

Ever imagined you were a bean farmer. Sure, who hasn’t. You got your Red beans, your green beans, your black-eyed beans, your coffee beans. But where to plant them. In this card game, smart sowing lets you reap big rewards. Plant The beans you do want, and trade the beans you don’t want to the other players. Adding to the realism of the game, The one who ends up with the most money wins.

I recommend the Dice Tower tutorial to get familiar with the game. (Link)

 

Re-skinning Bohnanza

 

I think the business mechanics behind this game warrant mentally re-imagining it to make the lessons easier to map to microeconomics. When you stare at the down-to-Earth bean farming theme hard enough you ironically start seeing the game more abstractly. Like tacked on symbolism to computer code.

Instead give me a chance to re-skin it to see if the game’s appeal moves you more than the bean-based descriptions.

 

The Concession Stand Theme

You are operating a concession stand at a professional sports game. You can only serve 2 items at any point in time. Say beer and pretzels. Or nachos and hot dogs. There are many different kinds of refreshments, but you can only serve 2 types. If you decide to sell something else, you must close down one of your product lines, although you may always re-open it later.

The order of cards you are dealt cannot be modified. This looks like a queue as opposed to a typical hand. You can think of this as the line of customers at your concession stand with the bean on the card representing the type of refreshment the person demands. Here’s the catch, if a customer wants beer and you only serve nachos and pretzels you must shut down one of those lines and start serving beer.

This is where trading comes in. You can basically offer to send your customers to other concession stands in exchange for your competitors directing customers you’d like to your stand. In the phase of a turn where 2 cards are dealt face-up, you can imagine that 2 brand new customers showed up and you can tell them to come to your stand and skip the line or you can send them to other stands. Likewise, you can send customers queued at your stand to competitors as well if they are willing to accept them. Why would you do this?

The economics of the game imply that as you sell more of an item your unit economics improve. This creates tension. As you serve more people hot dogs you saturate the demand for people who want hot dogs. So you need to balance when you shut down your profitable hot dog operation to serve the wave of nacho customers you see either queueing in your hand or, if you are doing a good job tracking the deck, can anticipate showing up. Adding another wrinkle is that some refreshments are also higher margin (there are fewer customers but they offer higher profit margins…think of the cocoa beans in the game as the craft IPA at Yankee Stadium).

 

Why Bohnanza is great

Too much randomness makes a game pointless and too little makes it deterministic. If you prefer that there are many games (ie chess) to scratch that itch.

Bohnanza balances this well. There is randomness. The customers that show up in your queue. The customers that show up to the arena on your turn. But the primary engine of this game is trading customers. Every individual trade is fairly low stakes but the game is long (about an hour) and demands many trades. This creates a very satisfying experience. Being adept at deal-making and surfing the waves of demand maps well to the final scores.

I’ve written about why I think Monopoly is not a great trading game. If you want a fun, satisfying trading experience scoop up Bohnanza. If the bean theme was a turn-off, hopefully I’ve convinced you to reconsider.

 

 

 

Thoughts About Monopoly As A Teaching Tool

We have been playing Monopoly with my 1st grader.

A hierarchy of useful lessons

  • Arithmetic

I make Zak be the banker so he gets lots of practice making change. It’s harder than 1st-grade math worksheets so you can have fun AND cross an item off your homeschool list.

  • Probability

Dice frequencies. The first-grader knows considers stretching to build houses when you are 6,7, or 8 spaces away from his property.

  • Ownership and investment returns

Ask your child how many times a property needs to be landed on to breakeven on the purchase. For older kids, discuss investment returns as a percentage.

  • Borrowing, collateral, and interest

The whole mortgage and interest mechanism. Borrowing against incomplete property sets to improve completed sets.

  • Operational leverage

Do you stretch to buy houses? If so, your small cash cushion can get wiped out by a mistimed Chance card forcing you to fire sale your houses for half price. Throw in some dice probability discussion and the game fosters a rich learning environment.

​​

What about trading?

I actually think Monopoly falls flat here. Deals are sporadic but highly impactful. Since the luck of the dice creates large disparities in what properties players are naturally endowed with, the prevailing logic behind too many deals is “well, if I don’t do anything I have zero chance”. The prospect of raising your odds from zero to 5% does not make for inspired dealings.

If a deal is fairly priced there’s a lot of variance around its outcome.  A dice game has too much of that already. That means the returns to skill are not only low but low resolution. Awful for learning.

In the case when deals are lopsided the game is brutal for everyone else. Worse yet, if the potential to exploit a weak player exists the game devolves into politics of “like” and may even import baggage from real life. Surely these are useful lessons but not quite what I have in mind when I want to use a game as a teaching tool.

(Monopoly would be more interesting with a side betting market on who was going to win the game. That market would suddenly spring to life when two people were negotiating a trade as the rest of the players would basically be casting their bids in the side market. The result would be a realtime “fair value” meter presiding as judge over the trade. As you tweak the cash and property sweeteners in the deal, see if everybody thinks you are overshooting fair value. For advanced players, a whole meta strategy would unlock since the side market influences the real game.)

Kathleen Mercury on Board Gaming With Education Podcast

Link: https://www.boardgamingwitheducation.com/games-in-schools-and-libraries/

About Kathleen: Educator with a special focus on teaching gifted students game design (Link)

Transcription: Otter.AI

I incorporated Kathleen’s presentation to these notes for the sake of consolidation.


Overview

Kathleen believes:

“Happiness comes from being able to choose the life you want to live.”

To empower students there are 2 anchor ideas:


Be Producers Not Consumers

…what I want more than anything for my students is for them to be creators, not consumers…The only thing I care about is what ideas they have, and giving them the tools where they feel empowered to take on big complex challenges where they have no idea of what the final product will be, but that they can build in and learn the skills and confidence that they can hopefully get themselves there. That’s what I care about because if I can get them to accept that and do that, then they can pretty much take on whatever challenges come their way for the rest of their lives.

Bias Towards Action

For those familiar with the Silicon Valley ethos of “Move fast and break things” this will be familiar. Despite, her midwest roots and home Kathleen’s thinking has been heavily influenced by the Stanford D-School.

…probably the biggest thing that’s helped me is the Stanford design school’s method of prototype development. I went to a design-thinking boot camp, and the design mindsets that were presented as far as when you’re wanting to design something for someone else, and how you should think about it. Here’s how you should approach it. And it was so different from what I was doing, but it was just one of those things where it’s like, oh my god this is 100%, what I should be doing and it completely pivoted everything that I was doing. For example “bias towards action”. Instead of just thinking about something just start doing it. Rapid iteration making prototypes fast and cheap so you can get them on the table so that you can fail quickly see what works, see what doesn’t work quickly and so you can make more versions of something even faster.

It’s designed to keep them moving quickly so that nothing becomes precious and nothing becomes so sacred that they won’t get rid of it. And I think for me as a teacher, that’s really helped me and also helped me as a game designer in terms of trying something getting it out there, seeing what happens getting feedback on it and making improvements to it as well.

Lessons From Teaching


On using games in learning

  • I think for a lot of gaming experiences in the classroom, having everybody involved at the same time, really, really matters for success.” (Party games are a good tool for this)
  • A good teacher can make a lot of things fun. Sparks a love of learning.
  • Bridging the abstract to concrete
  • Critical Thinking
  • Information more sticky/accessible. Increases connections.
  • Boosts engagement & connections (made me think of how a local teacher used Pokemon cards to bring the boys and girls in 1st grade together)

On kids having different abilities

  • Everyone deserves to learn at their level every single day that’s just one of those tenets that I just hold. If you’re doing something where their disabilities or inabilities become apparent to others. I think you have to be really careful about how you handle that. As far as you know what you’re willing to do to, you know, protect them to take care of them because if they’re stressed out and embarrassed.

  • Approach to gifted kids:

    1. If you don’t give gifted kids problems to solve, they will create their own.
    2. They need to learn how to struggle and work through it.
  • Heterogeneous groupings can protect kids by partnering up.

  • But homogenous groupings have advantages too.

For my gifted kids, a lot of times when that happens, they’re always like the ones that are like spread out amongst the other groups, and then they put all the spread out all the middle kids and then they spread out all this sort of low kids and pardon me for speaking in broad brushstrokes but I am. And so a lot of times they never get chances to work with each other. And one thing that research shows is that when you let kids have similar abilities work with each other. Everyone gains, because the kids on the middle step it up, and the kids on the lower end also step it up, even if it’s like one notch higher, you know, that’s okay for them, you know they’re using their abilities and what they know and trying to push themselves up to be more competitive as well

  • Why the emphasis on points in winning is redundant.

Points are used to ultimately communicate your position in the game to other people. And if we’re playing a game that is just to be, you know, a review or something like that I don’t care about the points at all. And so, what I will often do is even if they get points, or if one team starts to get a blow out. I will, you know, do something like say “this is a 20 point question”, and then somehow I manage to make it so that kids on the other team get those points, or I start awarding ridiculous points my cool you just got a puppy. So drop puppy up there on the scoreboard.  

Why teach game design?

  • Develop analytical, practical, and creative thinking skills

  • Autonomy and collaboration
  • Teaching game design is teaching to orient towards an internal scorecard not an external one

That quantitative checkmark feeds into a lot of the programming that we’ve already done with kids as far as you know letter grades and standardized tests and success is 100% and success is, you know, an A plus is, you know, and I think for a lot of my students especially having to sort of break that mentality. A lot of what I do in teaching game design is here is this problem that cannot be solved, or notions like that. Here is this problem that you will have to you have to define the problem. You have to figure out how you’re going to solve this problem, you’re going to design your tests with these resources in terms of you know how close are you to solving this problem and you’re gonna do this again and again and again, you’re going to make a prototype you’re going to put it in front of other people, they’re going to play it, you’re going to get their feedback, and then you’re going to take those ideas, and that, you know, good, bad, the ugly. Incorporate that into your next design so that when that hits the table hopefully it’s better. Thinking of it as an unfinished unending hopefully upwardly ascending sort of cascade. See that process as a real process reflective of what life will be, I think is really important, because for a lot of my kids, you know they’ve learned what successes is and it’s an A+. I’m trying to show them that if you want to do anything cool, there will never be A+. You will never be finished. You will always just have to try to do your best to put out your best possible effort, listen to other people, and hopefully make that idea better and so that’s why I teach game design.

The reason why I teach game design is a teaches them this process of thinking design, thinking hands-on, trying to create solutions and learning how to see successes incremental progress, not as I finished I’m done.

We do talk about how it can be finished and not perfect and that’s really important for a lot of them. That you can have something that is unfinished. And you can see it as successful because you did try to make it better, even if you don’t think it’s better. And that’s really really hard for them to accept because it goes against everything they’ve always done

  • An antidote to results-based thinking

I honestly try to minimize any type of objective points in any kind of game situation as much as possible, because no one should ever be blamed for losing for their team, and I honestly don’t want anybody to be, you know, the fourth batter to just hit the Grand Slam home run and they get all the credit, not the people who also got on first, second and third.

  • Be thoughtful about when points matter

It does make sense to have kids have scoring that matters, but I think you have to really ask yourself, is this that time.

  • Not having grades at all doesn’t really work

And if I had my choice I wouldn’t do grades at all, but this is the world we live in and I have to actually try tried one year to not give out grades and our gifted class. There’s some unintended consequences there but there you go. We tried it once. As much as we wanted it to work it didn’t really work.

Projects Kathleen and Dustin Are Pushing Forward

  • Game Database To Aid Teachers looking to use games to augment material

    I think that something you touched on and I’ve been kind of thrown around in my head is creating some sort of database where teachers are teaching a unit on something and they can go on there and see what kind of games they can use in their class to either tackle review or tackle preview and concepts of the whatever material they’re learning. It would be really good for teachers to find like a resource where they can just go to, and save time and kind of have this lesson plan that they can use.

  •  Formalizing standards

Look at the curriculum that I have and formalize it a little bit in terms of standards that it’s meeting. That’s something that people ask me about that I haven’t really ever have had to do. And I think it’s something that I’m interested in one because it will make it even easier for people to use these resources in their classroom but it also. I’m really like thinking about the idea of what are the things that people could do to get their kids to think like game designers to use design thinking, using games, what would be appropriate, you know the early elementary level, the later elementary level, the middle school level, the high school level. So that if somebody wants to do something with game design in the classroom, they’ve got a better chance of success. That they’re not over-shooting or under-shooting what their kids are able to do but also in terms of tying this, you know, more specifically to actual curriculum. Then it can be easier for their administrators to use.

Teaching My 6-Year-Old A 21st Century Lesson

If reading boardgame rules is fun, you have a promising law career in your future. For the rest of us, it’s far less painful to YouTube tutorials. This applies to nearly every 21st-century question. How to fix a drain, do a muscle-up, change a tire, troubleshoot Apple Airplay.

Since we are all “homeschoolers” now, I’m trying to be more cognizant of teaching moments in our normal routines. This week as we sheltered-at-home it’s been a boardgame bonanza. Even more than it normally is around our house. Boardgames are filled with teaching moments.  But this week we spotted an opportunity for meta-learning as well as the 21st-century skill of “googling it”. We broke out the boardgame Pandemic for the first time with our 6-year-old. Instead of teaching him how to play, we turned the tables.

The assignment

We asked him to learn how to play by finding a video on Youtube then teach us. I supervised his progress and interjected suggestions as he approached the problem.

How it unfolded

  • Finding the video

The first step required typing “how to play pandemic” into the search bar.  We use YouTube through a smart tv. That means painfully typing with a remote control. But there was a silver lining…as he added a letter the auto-complete options would narrow. Once I pointed this out to him, every new letter he typed came with fun feedback. Seeing the autocomplete list change. By the time he got to “how to pl”, all of the the suggestions began “how to play…”. When I asked him what would happen when he added an “a” to his query, I was delighted that he recognized the autocomplete list would not change. There was some thinking going on. Cool. By the time he got to “how to play p”, the suggestion “how to play pandemic” appeared. He reacted like he won the lotto.

The video I wanted to use was one of the first search results (I myself had learned to play from this video), so I prompted him to select it.

  • Learning how to setup and play

Just as an adult would need to he quickly learned he needed to pause the video every few moments to follow-along. A methodical, painstaking process. He had to maintain attention and be persistent. Worthy lessons of course. The actual rulebook can be used as a reference. In our case, we had a different edition of Pandemic than the video which was a slight but welcome complication since it provided another teaching moment.

  • Teaching us how to play

This was the step where I had to play my largest supporting role. Filling in gaps as he explained to mom. Teaching games to people is an art in itself. Requiring empathy and patience and strategy. Knowing what you need to explain upfront vs what will become trivially clear once you start playing. There’s a balance between how much a person should be asked to retain to get started and actually getting started. Our kid probably tilts more towards lawyer…overexplainer, so I have to cut him off (he gets excited, its actually pretty cool) in the spirit of expediency and momentum.

Next time you crack open a new game, see if you can have your child learn the rules and teach you. It’s a great way to get more out of the game than its embedded lesson. And when your kid gets good enough at this you can pass the torch of household rule explainer. It’s a thankless role. Another idea kids should learn early.

Happy gaming and homeschooling!

Here’s the video we used. I highly recommend Rodney Smith’s Watch It Played tutorial series.