Monday, June 9, 2014

Talking Games in the Classroom with Tom Vasel

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

In May, I attended the Cool Mini or Not Expo in Atlanta and was able to meet Tom Vasel from the Dice Tower, and discuss incorporating games into the classroom.  Vasel is the host of The Dice Tower, a podcast and Youtube channel that reviews and discusses all things boardgames.  He is also a youth pastor and former teacher.  It was his role of gamer and teacher that I sought to talk with him about my own desire to incorporate games into my history classroom.

As a teacher, I am always looking for new ways to bring history to life and have attempted to incorporate games into the classroom.  When I met Vasel, he was playing Rivet Wars: The Eastern Front and was able to share with me ideas and games.  As a former History teacher himself, he talked about playing games with students in his classes.  Among the games he would play were Diplomacy, Race for the White House, Founding Fathers, 1960: The Making of the President, and Democrazy.  These are all games that range from easy to hard, one class period to several. For example, Diplomacy is a complex and long game.  Vasel suggested giving out parts to students and then playing the game, one move a class period over a long period of time.  Therefore, do not give up an entire class period but a small fraction over time. It also allows students to build confidence in their gaming roles and excitement over the next move.  He said it was amazing when students would discuss the game outside of class, especially at lunch. 

With Race for the Whitehouse, Vasel suggested pitting class versus class rather than just groups within one class.  Indeed, using multiple classes and groups would give more of a realistic approach and feel to a true election cycle.  Another game he suggested was Democrazy.  This is a game I have never played but after speaking with Vasel, I am excited to try it out.  In this game, student players would attempt to pass laws which benefit themselves. The laws are either immediate or semi-permanent, and they can have all kinds of different effects.  For example, all players with glasses would get five points, vote cards must be played with the left hand, or some sort of re-evaluation or redistribution of the chips that each player has. The chips are the main way that players score, but their worth fluctuates constantly. On a turn, a player draws a card and then proposes a vote, and this continues until the end card is drawn or the teacher ends the game. 

One inhibitor to incorporating games into the classroom is the cost of the games.  However, Vasel was able to suggest using a document projector and smartboard to play one game as a class.  This is a much cheaper alternative to having to buy multiple games.  Simply project the game on the board and as a class play it.  This is an idea I had never thought of but will suggest it in the future to fellow teachers.

Although I was only able to speak to Vasel for a short time, I must admit it was enormously informative.  Vasel was incredibly nice and accommodating.  Even when folks were trying to hurry him away, he continued to talk with me and even did a quick video to a fellow teacher and gamer on the birth of his son. 

It is obvious that not only does Tom Vasel love games, but he is eager to help teachers use games to get students excited about learning.  Be sure to check out The Dice Tower, it will be well worth your time. 

For more information on The Dice Tower

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