Journeys into Game Based Learning

Twenty educators from day schools and congregational schools in the tri-state area gathered here at The Jewish Education Project offices to play and learn together at DigitalJLearning’s February workshop Playing to Learn: Games in the Classroom.

I have loved gaming since about age seven, and never cease to be amazed by the perseverance and persistence of gamers. It’s a rarity that someone playing a game, be it digital or tabletop, ever thinks that what they have set out to accomplish is impossible. Gamers will try new strategies over and over for hours to reach that moment of “epic win.” At February's workshop, we came together to see how we can bring that same mindset to our classrooms by using games to learn.

Participants were introduced to some of the reasoning behind using games in the classroom and were provided with concrete steps to get started. We also got a lot of hands on experience with specific games while looking at how they can be used to support curriculum. The games we tried out and discussed classroom uses for were the tabletop games CodenamesSettlers of CatanBuffalo, and Robot Turtles, as well as the digital Kahoot!, iCivics’ Do I Have a Right? and Filament Games’ Reach for the Sun.

Following the workshop, several educators couldn’t wait to get started in their own classrooms, at first with board games. Here are their stories:

“I came home so excited from the workshop and was eager to try playing an educational game with my students!!! It really worked out well. The kids were so involved in the game, they didn't realize they were learning :) We played this game Build a Sentence. It is a great game for a first grade classroom. The kids got practice in sentence structure while competing with their friends. They learned to answer who, when, what, and where to make a sentence more complete. They also learned basic grammar using subjects and verbs that agree, as well as past, present and future tenses. All this learning in a fun way was so amazing...The kids were all engrossed in the game until the very end. It was really an eye opening experience to see how kids can learn while having fun!”

- Esther Neustein, Bais Yaakov Dkhal Adas Yereim

“The very afternoon after the workshop, I played a Judaic Studies version of Codenames in my classroom, twice! One general Judaic Studies version with my fourth graders, and one Purim-focused one with my middle school after-school program. The "code words" were on the board and the clues the code masters gave had to be Judaics focused (for example: to get both the code words “Hillel” and “Shammai,” one student said [as a hint] "Two Lawmakers." For “David” and “Jonathan,” the clue was "Two soulmates." It was so much fun, and the kids have asked to play it again! It not only served as a great review, but forced the kids to consider what non-obvious qualities various subjects have in common.”

- Aliza Donath, Hannah Senesh Community Day School

“I was so excited with a successful lesson today, guiding the creation of a Jewish content game based on Codenames, a game I learned and very much enjoyed at the Game Based Learning seminar on Tuesday. I have a group of very "kinetic" 7th grade boys with whom I meet on Thursday afternoons. I asked them to think of a Jewish theme and to come up with a list of 25 words that relate to the theme. Immediately they decided on Torah for their theme and began writing their list of words on the whiteboard. I quickly copied their list (including Torah people, prayers, books of the Torah, etc.) onto index cards, creating my own game deck. I created a couple of my own grids of codewords on card stock. Being competitive, the boys really got into the game [and had looks of elation on their faces] as they celebrated their knowledge of Torah! Thank you for the inspirational seminar. I look forward to incorporating more games in future programs."

- Joanne Citrin, Westchester Reform Temple Jewish Learning Lab

You can check out the resources we used in our workshop here!

Tatyana Dvorkin is Director, DigitalJLearning at The Jewish Education Project.

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