Ray Huard … Eighth-grader Kulpreet Chhokar and two of her classmates at Vista Magnet Middle School came up with a game where players have to add, subtract, multiply and divide number fractions to move around a game board.
Whoever gets enough of the answers right to complete a circuit around the board wins.
“It’s similar to Monopoly, but difficult,” said Kulpreet, who was among about 130 students who went to a two-week gaming summer camp at the middle school that included field trips to California State University San Marcos.
“Get Your Game On,” was the name of the camp.
The idea behind it was in part to get kids using and honing their math skills by designing and making board games, said Jennifer Eckle, a math resource teacher at Vista Magnet and coordinator of the summer camp.
It also gave incoming sixth graders, who were among the campers, a chance to check out the school, make friends among their future classmates, and meet some of the students in the upper grades.
‘It’s just building a sense of belonging with our campus,” Eckle said.
Kulpreet said that she met a new friend in teammate Laura Hurtado Flores, and had fun designing the game with Laura and Liliana Mendez Pozos. She said she knew Liliana from classes they shared but Laura was relatively new to the school and had different teachers.
“As we’re working collaboratively, we’re noticing how we’re improving our work,” Kulpreet said.
Liliana, who made cards that displayed problems players had to solve as part of the game, said designing and making the game was fun, but, “It was kind of hard too.”
“We had to struggle some days,” Liliana said. “It was very complicated.”
Challenging the students to solve complicated problems and deal with frustration as they made the board games helped them learn the so-called soft skills that are expected of workers in the 21st century, said Sinem Siyahhan, assistant professor of educational technology and learning sciences at CSU San Marcos.
Not only are the campers learning math, but they’re learning how to communicate and work together on projects as a team, said Siyahhan, who worked with the students in the camp and on their field trip to the college.
Employers expect the people that they hire to be able to collaborate and solve complex problems, Siyahhan said.
“In this particular case, the problem is designing a fun, playable game,” Siyahhan said. “On top of that, they’re collaborating with the designs and they’re testing them. This reflects the current workforce.”
Sixth grader Jesus Aguirre Giron discovered an immediate problem with the game he made with fellow sixth graders Miguel Cabrera, Brian Cano and Ulises Colores – their game board was too small.
Their game involved moving three clay figures around a board to reach winning spaces, labeled school. To determine the number of spaces a player would move, the player would draw a card, then multiply, add, divide or subtract the numbers on the card. If a player drew cards with high numbers, his piece could make the circuit in one or two plays.
“We need a huge board,” Jesus said. “This is like a little demo. If we do this again, we can make an extra-large version of the little game.”
Despite that setback, Jesus said that he liked designing the game,
“You’re having fun, but you’re also learning,” Jesus said. “You’re doing two things at once. You’re learning addition and subtraction and all the math fractions, but you’re having fun at the same time.”
Miguel said he was happy that the game challenge involved board games instead of video games.
“I like to play board games,” Miguel said. “You can play with your friends and family and you can see them.”
The games designed by the Vista Magnet students will be entered in a national game design competition for students in kindergarten through 12th grade sponsored by the Mind Research Institute.
The institute is an Irvine-based organization that developed a math computer program used in the Vista Unified District called ST (Spatial-Temporal) Math. ST Math uses graphically animated games that visually represent math concepts to help students develop problem-solving skills.
The top entries in the Mind Research competition will be awarded trophies and be displayed at a national math fair.
The games designed by Vista Magnet campers also were displayed at the North County Mini Maker Faire and will be available in the school library during the 2016-17 school year for students to play.
“I have kids in my class who want to play games every day,” Eckle said. “Kids love to have a way to interact with each other.”
The field trips to CSU San Marcos were a bonus for the gaming campers, Eckle said.
Not only did the students get to see what a college campus looks like, but they also worked with undergraduate students majoring in STEM (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering) fields.
“That’s huge,” Eckle said.