Voices Blog: Brandy Holton - CICS Irving Park

Written by Brandy Holton
12 May 2019
Posted in Voices

I’m a huge advocate of children having fun and feeling confident while learning! I love hands-on and highly engaging learning activities being taught in the classroom--this teaching style is what makes being a middle school science teacher exciting. As an educator, I’ve often wondered how to meaningfully incorporate these crucial components into my daily lesson plans.

When I switched roles from being a  science teacher to an enrichment educator this year, I wanted to plan a course that involved Math, exploratory science and game activities all rolled into one. I naturally combined Social and Emotional Skills (SEL) into the lesson plan as well. I considered a number of ideas and, in the end, decided the most effective approach was a Non-Technology Game-Based Learning and SEL course. The purpose of this course was to provide a tech-free class where students build important leadership and strategy skills while playing board games such as Sushi Go!, Forbidden Island, Sleeping Queens, Peaceable Kingdom games, Mr. Toast, and Dragonwood.

Prior to developing the plan for this class, I had incorporated foosball and ping pong exercises into my classroom teaching. Participating in interactive activities that involve movement, listening, strategizing and communicating require utilizing of so many areas of the brain! Game-based learning gives students brain breaks, develops many of their skill sets and makes learning fun.

Why Games?

Growing up, I wasn’t really interested in strategic games like Monopoly or Guess Who. I preferred games based on luck rather than those that used critical thinking skills. It wasn’t until I played a wider variety of games as an adult that I realized there are  many benefits to games including ones that build healthy relationships with people. Games allow people to engage in friendly competition, promote working together for successful outcomes or can act as ice breakers. If you feel shy, they offer a low point of entry. Games offer differentiation; you can learn at your own pace and use more or less strategy depending on how you understand a process. Games make people laugh! They can allow you to be aware of your emotions through winning and losing.

Social emotional skills can be taught and understood through the typical lesson format,  but I personally believe these skills can be deeply explored through game activities. Games allow students to have a structured time in their day and is an outlet for any stressful situation they may feel throughout the day.  Students also become problem solvers as they learn the game at their own pace. They learn to become leaders, learn about honesty, integrity and show drive through their excitement and engagement when learning a new game. I have yet to see a student give up when they feel frustrated because they aren’t learning as quickly as they’d like.

With Game-Based Learning, I’ve seen an enormous amount of perseverance and grit! Students display empathy for one another, and I’ve seen a tremendous amount of peer support to ensure that everyone feels included and confident. Games provide time for students to construct healthy relationships with all their classmates, which in turn creates an improved classroom community. Students are able to learn a variety of important academic and social and emotional skills as they play games. I am extremely fortunate to be able to teach this course. It’s been a blast too! 

 Brandy Holton is currently a Games-Based Learning Teacher at CICS Irving Park.  She has taught at Irving Park for eight years and is a graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in Elementary Education.

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