Instructional Game Idea

Jordan Shapiro asks “Can Games Make High-stakes Tests Obsolete?” It’s a very intriguing question with a very promising answer.

The basic idea of instructional games is an extension of the Behaviorist concept of Programmed Instruction. Computers provide a far more versatile means of programming instruction, though, as well as a more robust method of assessment. So, instructional video games are a natural medium for this teaching tool.

Analog games can also be used for instructional and assessment purposes as well. Here I outline a brief idea for a game to provide instruction in probability.

  • At the beginning of the game,eachstudentis dealt 1 GOAL card
    • GOAL cards give probability distribution for different colors of tokens
    • GOAL cards are kept secret from the other players
    • The objective of the game is for each students to collect the correct combination of tokens so that a random selection from their collection of tokens would have the probability distribution described on their GOAL card
  • Students pull questions/problems from one of three piles of cards
    • if answered correctly, students get to roll the die associated with that pile (4, 6, or 8 sided)
    • if answered incorrectly, other students get an opportunity to help with the problem if they can answer correctly
      • this opportunity to help is provided one-at-a-time moving clockwise from the student whose turn it is
  • If a student answers their question correctly, they roll the corresponding die.
    • The student can take up to the rolled number of tokens from the color corresponding to the color on the question/problem card
  • If another student provides help, the student whose turn it is thanks the helping student by giving them 1 of their tokens of the helping student’s choice. The helping student has the option of taking no token as thanks.
  • Cards marked with a STAR ★ are CHALLENGE cards
    • The questions/problems on these cards are more complex
    • STAR ★ cards are not associated with a color of token
    • Students who answer a CHALLENGE correctly get to take whichever single color of token they want
    • Students who help with a CHALLENGE are given 2 tokens as thanks
  • The game ends when one student collects the correct combination of tokens to match the probability distribution on their GOAL card
    • The student then reveals their GOAL card and the other players verify that the probability distribution is correct
    • If the probability distribution is correct, then that student wins!

This game provides a number of ways for students to both practice their probabilistic reasoning and problem solving as well as was to assess student learning. The question/problem cards require student to correctly apply the lessons of probability in order to gain the tokens that will win them the game. This is both instructional and an assessment. The game also provides opportunities for a questions to be answered even if the current player cannot answer them. This allows students to learn from one another in a collaborative way.

The overall objective of the game is itself an assessment. Creating the correct combination of tokens to match a probability distribution is actually an open-ended problem and that requires more than just a direct recall of formulas. There are a number of different combinations that could create the same distribution (though each is merely a multiple of the most basic combination). In order to create a matching probability distribution, students must consider how additional tokens modify their current distribution and calculate the required number of total tokens based on the distribution indicated on their GOAL card.

This is just a rough idea, but I like the idea of challenging students to demonstrate understanding by pursuing a game objective. I will be incorporating games into my classroom quite often and I hope to use student input to improve the games I use and to even design new ones.


Shapiro, J. (2014, May 30). Can Games Make High-Stakes Tests Obsolete? Retrieved from





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