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Playing to Win (and Learn)
by Jacqueline Ruttimann
Collective ingenuity was behind this Holiday Lectures on Science-inspired board game assigned by Hampton Roads Academy genetics teacher Julie Breeden (right) and created by her former students (left to right) Alexandra Aloba, Tyler Branscome, and Dasha Afanaseva.
Inspired by HHMI's Holiday Lectures on Science DVDs, a high school teacher conjures up an engaging way for students to learn the subject matter.
You're on the backbone of a DNA molecule, trying to get down the spiraling staircase structure as fast as possible. You could take the steps (composed of purines and pyrimidines) or race along the railing (made up of phosphates and sugars). The only impediments to your speedy descent are the questions you must stop and answer along the way. Answer correctly and you're free to continue. An incorrect response means your opponents may pass you by.
Sounds like a fun board game. Right? It's that, plus a science lesson.
Julie Breeden, a high school teacher at Hampton Roads Academy in Newport News, Virginia, wanted to make her genetics class more engaging. Inspired by HHMI's Holiday Lectures on Science, specifically the 2002 series "Scanning Life's Matrix," she asked her students to design board games to complement those lectures.
Through this exercise, Breeden expected the students to learn a number of important lessons: how to organize information, how to acquire knowledge on their own, how to ask good questions, and how to use their imaginations.
She also had a grander purpose: "I wanted to help ensure that, when the students encounter large and expansive amounts of information in college, they won't be put off by it and will feel comfortable attacking it." She instructed her students to watch the DVD of the lectures several times—making notes on broad topics the first time and adding detailed notes on subsequent viewings. She then asked them to team up in groups of three to brainstorm and build a game.
They surpassed her wildest expectations—and often, their own.
Tyler Branscome, for one, was initially apprehensive. "When I first saw the DVD I got a little scared," she says. "There was a lot of vocabulary that I didn't understand." But eventually she saw it as a valuable exercise that made good use of her creativity.
Photo: Double Image Studio