Finals week is typically a stressful time for both teachers and students, but there is one thing I truly enjoy about it. When I'm not administering state exams, I end up keeping an eye on students who have already finished testing for the day. This gives me a ready-made group of people who will play board games with me!
Many of the kids think that they don't like board games, or that they are only interested in Jenga or Uno. Fortunately, however, some of them are open to new things—and they end up dragging their reluctant friends along with them.
Two of the games that have been smash hits with the students this week have been Splendor and Jaipur. (The students also play a lot of chess, Connect Four, Ivanhoe, and Game of Things.)
Jaipur is a card game in which players vie to become the richest merchants in the market. Although Jaipur is technically for only two people, you often end up with two teams of students, with several kids playing a single hand and trying to out-think their friends. Today, I ended up playing against three students who wanted to outsmart me. (Think again, children!) The best part is watching kids learn from their strategic mistakes. They catch on quickly and they play a smarter game every time.
But the biggest hit of my semester has been Splendor, a game in which you build a gem collection that earns you prestige and possibly the favor of impressed nobles. I first introduced the game to a group of students who are very adventurous, but I noticed that other kids—some of whom hadn't previously wanted much to do with me—were watching us play. Before long, there was a huge line of kids wanting to swap in for the next game. Yesterday, my room was full of players and spectators arguing about the best purchases, blocking each other viciously, and throwing their hands up in delight and/or frustration. Several of the kids wanted to know where to purchase the game themselves, and I directed them to our friendly local gaming store. Who knows? Perhaps I've converted a few of them to the dark side! I can't pinpoint exactly what it is, but there is something about Splendor that is extremely appealing to my students. I might need to get a second copy next year.
There are few things I love more about my job than the chance to play board games with teenagers. When we play, I feel like they show me their best selves—they become inquisitive, strategic, competitive, and focused. At one point today, I looked up and realized that, for once, no one was staring into a smartphone screen like a zombie. It feels amazing after a semester of hard work to just be with my students and appreciate them as vibrant and clever young people. I think that playing games helps the kids appreciate me more, too. All of that friendly competition and ribbing helps us to relax around each other. And when they do finally beat me at a game, their victory gives me great satisfaction: I taught them something this year!