Sample Materials for
Learning the “Game” of Science
The following pages contain five different sets of materials that can be used for the Learning the “Game” of Science activity. This activity uses simple abstract strategy games to introduce students to important processes—e.g., formulating hypotheses, testing hypotheses, constructing a theory—used by scientists in doing science. Since essentially all students are familiar with playing games this activity introduces these processes in a non-threatening way and students have no difficulty engaging in the activity. We would also like to point out that though we present this activity in the context of science the reasoning that is explored in this activity is no different than the reasoning in any other field where analytical thinking and active problem solving is needed.
In the activity the students are placed in groups (we suggest 3 or 4 to a group) and given the game board, the playing pieces and the histories of a small number (usually 4 to 6) of games played by two players. Often we will describe some of the specified characteristics of the players such as the skill level of the players, how equally matched they were, and whether they made errors or not. Using this information the student groups have to develop a “theory” of the game, i.e., they have to determine the rules of the game.
After the groups work for a period of time we usually conduct a “research conference” which the groups report on their tentative models of the game. In this discussion hypotheses about possible rules are presented by the groups. For each such hypothesis we ask if all of the other groups are in agreement, or if there are objections to the proposed rule. If a group objects they must provide specific data that shows the proposed rule was violated. This discussion ends when the groups are satisfied with the “theory”, or model, of the game that has been produced.
There are five different games in this set of materials. Three of these games are reasonably simple and straightforward: Gamma, Delta, and Psi. Game Theta is more challenging and Game Beta is the most challenging in this group. All of the game histories for these five games were generated by two reasonably intelligent, but novice, players.
It is our intention to add additional games and histories, and maybe teaching ideas to the site in the future.
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Preprint: Introducing Students to the Game of Science