Games Kids Play

I was on a school bus with twenty or so of our magnet school students, leaning back on the seat and watching the snow fall outside.

It was quiet.  The bus ride up to Flint had been loud and raucous, the students feeling their oats about having three days and two nights without parental supervision or school work.   They were excited about staying in a hotel and having just my friend DC and I as their chaperones.

We were returning from the state wide Academic Games tournament.  Our students had formed teams to play different games relating to math.  DC and I had started them in our classrooms playing competitively against each other.  The first game, Equations, was a math game that could be as simple or complex as the students playing it.  It was played with dice and a simple board, but could be made very challenging.   It could be brought to nearly any level of math after grade three, and so we used it widely in class.  It wasn’t long before we discovered which students had an affinity for the games, and before long we were spending one Saturday a month competing against students from other schools in the Detroit area.

When my curriculum coordinator asked us if we’d be interested in going to the Grand Tournament in Flint, I was skeptical.  I thought back to our experience last November, when all of the staff at school had been required to overnight in cabins with students as we took our thematic approach of learning to the outdoors.  I’d come home with a miserable cold and about seven hours of sleep over the three days.    But as we talked to the students about it, I had felt more confident that we could effectively chaperone about twenty of them off site in a closed environment.

They were motivated by the thought of competing on a wider scale.  When we got to the hotel, rather than running up and down the escalators like some of the students did, our kids would challenge each other to practice games to hone their skills.  They were required to learn a second game in order to compete at the Grand Tournament:  On Sets, a game about set theory.  They picked it up very quickly and I conducted extra practice sessions that first night after they got clobbered in the first round.

The days were regimented with gaming sessions from 8 am to 5 pm with breaks for meals.  When we weren’t eating or playing, we would practice.  I shouldn’t have worried about the kids in their hotel room that night, though DC and I nervously paced the hallways and put tape on the kids’ doors until we were satisfied that they were asleep or at least up to no shenanigans.  By the second night we knew we didn’t have to worry; the kids were exhausted from using their brains all day.  Several times a day the rankings of students would be posted and it motivated our students even more to practice just one more time to beat the students from the other schools.

By the end of the third day, we showed respectable rankings in both games, just missing a trophy in the second game we’d just learned.   But moreso, DC and I had connected with the students in that way that only comes from being with students outside the classroom in an unstructured environment, in a way where they get to show their mettle of who they really are.

As I watched the snowflakes slip past the bus barreling down the highway, I was proud of all of us.  We’d all overcome our fears and taken on something we weren’t really sure if we could do.   I yawned and thought about how good this feeling felt, and wondered how long it would last.


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