Board games, learning, and systems thinking with Move38

I spoke with Jonathan Bobrow and Nicholas Bentley from Move38 about the importance of playful objects in education and fostering different, and some would argue better, forms of learning.

Board games are hands-on learning experiences that leverage muscle memory

The kind of thinking done with hands is different than the kind when looking at screens

Board games are intimate and face to face, especially once you put objects in peoples hands. Muscle memory is attached to learning. A neurobiological concept is that when neurons fire together, they get wired together.

Simple rules create a universe possibility and play

Games do a great job taking the things we do in every day life and abstracting them so we can do systems thinking about the interactions and connections.

Games can represent reality, and designing games is a way to confront those systems

Nick’s own story from his own game design experience:

When I design economic games I inadvertently create a “get richer” feature. This is a very easy dynamic to create. Then the game totally doesn’t work because someone gets on that rags to riches track, no one else can really play, and the game is broken.

Being able to be in a playful state is a privilege

Things that we remember and comprehend the most vividly come to us during play. To be in that state you have to feel free, and feeling free is hard to do when you have limiting circumstances. Interest in learning is a compounded process: the more you learn the more you can learn later.

Much of our learning process takes place in the building of mental models

Constructionism and Seymour Papert

In Seymour Papert’s book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas, he describes how he has dedicated his work to creating tools that let kids build better models around topics like math, with better feedback mechanisms: constructionism. Schools like Wildflower and Montessori are inaccessible but embody these methods of learning. Objects are with imbued with properties and children aren’t told the right way to play with the objects, instead they learn their own way of interacting with them, while possibly arriving at the intended order but through a process they discovered. Education system doesn’t put us into playful states. Move38 wants to put more accessible objects that embody this playful sort of learning and discovery out into the world.

Gameplay, local maximums, social good, and global maximums

There are dips between small peaks and the highest peak. We’ve all got to come down before we go up. Gameplay is a way to discover alternate viewpoints, and requires you to explore these metaphorical dips. Distributed systems (blockchain, cellular networks, the internet) required people to think about systems in very different ways than the existing technologies of the moment. Governments can also change in different ways. Why are we using our current voting systems? If we’re not happy with it, we have to explore new options or get them accepted by our societies. Do to so we need to people to play.

Tech solutionism and education

The way programming is taught is framed as “if you just have the right script, if you just did this, everything could work perfectly.” This leads to Silicon Valley promoting one-click/one-app thinking, instead of the kind of thinking that is about systems that is holistic.


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