Game On: Playing is Learning at BFA Fairfax

Every now and then, I get asked why we have a gaming group at a school.

If you ask early education teachers, they would readily tell you that playing is learning.  Yet, somewhere along the way, we lose that mentality, as parents and as educators, by the time our students reach middle and high school.

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By playing games like Magic: the Gathering, Dix It, Dungeons & Dragons (or Pathfinder), and the countless others we play, students are learning and growing together in more ways than most of us even realize.

The game that first broke me into the gaming community back when I was in middle school was Magic: the Gathering. Twenty-two years after its release, Magic: the Gathering is still one of the most popular games in the world, and is the number one game our students here at BFA love to play.

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By playing M:tG, kids and adults alike engage and develop a wide range of life skills, including exercising literacy, short-term memory, problem-solving, and executive functioning skills. The first thing to learn are the very basics of the game, how to play at the most rudimentary level. What physical elements does the game consist of (cards, tokens, life counters, etc), what are the basic phases of play, how do you get cards from your deck and hand into play, etc.  Players then go on to learn what the different specific keywords mean and do, and how they interact. After that, they learn how to build unique and original decks of their own, based on their preferred playing style, and taking into consideration the playing style and available card-pool of the local meta, or perhaps they build a deck specifically geared to take down the deck of another student or mentor, which may have proved difficult for them to challenge in previous exchanges.

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In our tournament events, deck-building is an integral component. At BFA, we run strictly sealed events. At these events, students are supplied with a set number of randomized card packs, which they open up at the start of the event, and then have a specified amount of time to choose cards from those packs to create a deck on the spot, which they will then go on to use throughout the event to challenge their opponents. This requires a vast amount of skill, and not a small portion of luck, as students assess the available card-pool, seek out effective and efficient color and card combinations, ensure that they have decent ratios of card types within their deck, etc. A sealed event can be run in various formats. At BFA, we have run two standard 1v1 sealed tournaments, and most recently, a Two-Headed Giant sealed tournament, where matches are played between two-player teams.

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BFA Fairfax Gaming Club Advisors: Harold Vance III and Paul Chapman

Students are also learning how to deal with disappointment when things aren’t going their way. Maybe they didn’t get a particular card or a very good card-pool in the color schema they were hoping to run. Or, in our open gaming time, perhaps they just spent hours putting together a deck they thought was going to be devastatingly powerful, only to see it fall apart on turn two, thus having to go back to the drawing board. As advisors, Paul and I help our students to experiment and research why things may have gone awry, what their deck may be lacking, what card-type or ability they had too much of and got bogged down by, etc.

And the best part, as students are learning all of these things, developing and exercising these thinking patterns and skills, and growing together, they don’t even realize it until it’s too late.

They think they’re just having fun.

Target 1. Proficiency-Based Personalized Learning: FWSU students and staff design and engage in proficiency-based personalized learning that integrates collaborative inquiry, problem solving, and creativity.

Indicator of Success for this Target: Teachers build relationships and offer relevant learning opportunities that incorporate multiple perspectives.


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Harold Vance III is the Planning Room Coordinator at BFA Fairfax and serves as an Advisor for the BFA Fairfax Gaming Club. You can follow the club on Twitter @BFAXgaming

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