Fossil-finding Board Game is a Success in College Classrooms
If Ross Geller’s F·R·I·E·N·D·S had the chance to play the board game “Taphonomy: Dead and Fossilized,” maybe they wouldn’t consider paleontology so boring. Perhaps they still would, but either way, Rowan Martindale and Anna Weiss have succeeded in creating an educational, fun board game that can be used in the college setting to teach the notoriously difficult subject of taphonomy.
While games have long been used throughout the education system, they have rarely been used in the Earth sciences. However, Weiss and Martindale wanted to try their hand at it, hypothesizing that “gamifying” concepts usually presented in a lecture could be a way to boost student engagement.
Turns out, they were correct. A study to collect detailed feedback on the game found that 71 percent of students thought the game helped them learn about fossilization, and 66 percent of students thought the game was fun.
The board game is based on an actual fossil site where Martindale has conducted previous research.
“When [Weiss] had the idea to build a lab activity or game, I was working on a fossil site in Canada and had an NSF grant to do outreach as well as research,” Martindale, a professor at UT Austin, told Laboratory Equipment. “I thought we could use the site as a case study to a) produce an outreach product for the grant, and b) make the game more realistic. Students are playing with fossils and events that are actually represented at our site. I can show my students examples of the fossils that result from different steps in the game.”
The researchers’ game follows specimens on their journey to become fossils. While partially based on luck, the game is open-ended. The results are determined by students’ planning, decisions and interactions with their classmates. For example, students can experiment with different scenarios—such as placing their fossils in different places, burying or not burying their specimens, etc.—to see how the fossilization process will affect their creatures as they experience different conditions.
“When I first started thinking about making a taphonomy game, I wanted to make sure the students were learning about processes, not just memorizing facts,” Anna Weiss, then a Ph.D. student at UT Austin, told Laboratory Equipment. “The way that the game is designed, students need to be thinking about more than just definitions; they need to consider biology, chemistry, etc. It’s important for students to understand how these fields are all connected, and the game does a good job in modelling that.”
To assess the impact of their board game, the researchers enlisted the help of 760 students enrolled in undergraduate geosciences courses at 20 institutions during the 2018-2019 school year. The detailed study, published in the Journal of Geoscience Education, provided the researchers “eye-opening” data, especially in relation to student demographics. A consistent trend was that minority students were less likely to agree that the game improved their knowledge—these students were also less excited about playing the game. Meanwhile, geology and STEM students reported enjoying the game the most, and there was no significant difference between male and female students, regardless of major.
The study results indicate the possibility of the game replacing a lecture or laboratory lesson. More than 30% of students and teachers said they learned more by playing the game, while half the teachers and a third of students said they learned just as much as a class or lab. More than 50% of students and almost all teachers reported being enthusiastic about playing the game in an upper-level geoscience class, while over 75% of students and teachers felt that the game would also be appropriate for an introductory lab.
Interestingly, students said the game encouraged them to look at science as a whole and collaborate with those around them.
“In the final round of the game, we move from the past to the present day and students play cards that allow them to collect their fossils,” Weiss explained. “These cards say things like “You have won a grant, you can pick extra fossils” or “Collaborate with another player- you can collect another person’s fossil, and you both share the points.” I like this because it shows what doing real science is like; if you have grant money, you are able to maybe do more field work or gather more data. And everyone wins when you collaborate. It’s a subtle nod to the human element of science.”
Martindale and Weiss have modified the game for high schools and are currently testing it for use in science classes at that level. “Taphonomy: Dead and Fossilized” is available for free online and can be printed out on card stock.
Photos: A new board game developed by Jackson School of Geosciences researchers teaches key lessons about the fossilization process. Credit: Rowan Martindale/ The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences
SOURCE: Laboratory Equipment, By Michelle Taylor, Editor-in-Chief
VIEW ORIGINAL: https://www.laboratoryequipment.com/560527-Fossil-finding-Board-Game-is-a-Success-in-College-Classrooms/