Sunday, January 1, 2012

Review: Game Design in the Classroom

David Niecikowski has written and wonderful and helpful book in Game Design in the Classroom. When I was first leading conversations about games and education, back in the 80s at Gen Con, I speculated about various degrees of game integration into a school ranging from afterschool groups and clubs all the way to a classroom curriculum built around games of all kinds, as an actual focus of study. David Niecikowski has now written that curriculum. Even better, it is delivered in many forms, variations, and units, allowing teachers and homeschoolers to experiment with it in many ways.

David Niecikowski begins with an account of his own history in gaming and schools and that of gaming itself. He then follows with his first unit, a series of interview forms to help students (or anyone) define favorite games and their history. The first two, for students and for them to interview others, are great introductory activities at any level, but the third, an initial research project on the history of a game, would be a challenge for most primary and secondary students and require significant adult guidance to direct their work. If I were using this with my own students, ten and eleven year olds, I would wait until later in the year, when the students would be familiar with games, game companies, and sources of information.

This book then describes in detail the many benefits and applications of games. He draws on his own observations of classroom games and those of others, and he also points out a number of studies and articles on the positive roles games can play in learning. The research cited focuses primarily in the areas of math and social skills. There is also a chapter on accommodations for special needs students, helpful for a variety of contexts.

The book then moves to the implementation of games in general. These include games as tools for skill development, enrichment, fostering community, intervention, literacy, and assessment but also game use for small groups, large groups, centers, thematic instruction, and even lending libraries. These articles give anyone the basis for experimenting with games as educational materials and methods.

David Niecikowski then discusses the elements of teaching, modifying, and selecting games and has advice for parents and for those interested in running a game event or hosting a school club. There is also a short but valuable chapter on game etiquette and the behavior to expect and model for young people playing games.

What follows is the richest part of the book, Niecikowski's discussion and directions on leading students to examine published games rigorously and design their own games carefully. He has loads of helpful advice, work sheets, exercises, rubrics, and game-piece templates to aid teachers and students in their work. The elements he discusses work for students of all ages, from limited applications with the youngest students to full-blown research and development from middle primary grades and up. These chapters could form the basis for a major curriculum, or they can be used to create a briefer unit, still with potent possibilities. I look forward to using many of these ideas myself!

The book ends with interviews with hobby industry members of various backgrounds and forms of work and even ideas for publishing games. David Niecikowski has cast a wide net and found bountiful results in his work. Though my focus in this blog is on role playing games, I admire greatly what David Niecikowski has done and know that it is a great boon to all gamers interested in the educational applications of games. There's something for everyone in this book. Check it out! Use it!

Have fun!


  1. I have to get a copy of this book.

    Thanks for the heads up.


  2. Delighted! Let me know what you find useful.

  3. Great review and very interesting book. Thanks David. I got my start with RPG in a grade 5 classroom. I'm so thankful the teacher allowed it.

  4. Thanks for the review, David. I just purchased the book, it should be here in a week or so. I'm looking forward to the all of the content, but particularly the section on leading students to examine published games for the purpose of designing their own games. I'm also interested in the chapter on accommodations for special needs students.

  5. Great, Matt! I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts on it as well.