Classroom Management

More Thoughts on Art Room Games (Ep. 337)

Following Tim’s previous episode about games in the art room, Kyle Wood returns to the podcast to dive deeper into the topic. From the power of games to their use in building connections and community, this is a wide-ranging discussion. Listen as the guys talk about Kyle’s Art Heist Challenge, some strategies for differentiating games for younger students, and how we keep ourselves fulfilled as teachers. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

We are going to talk again today about games. I had a request a little while back about doing an episode about my favorite games in the art room, and it was one of our more popular episodes in quite a while, combining that with a little bit from the NOW Conference. Kyle Wood did a presentation on gamification and that was one of the most popular presentations at the entire conference. And so, all of these things are telling me that we need more content about games because people are loving games. I’m hoping that we can do that today.

I have Kyle actually on the show, back on the show today, so we’ll catch up with him. We’ll chat a little bit about sort of what’s been going on in his classroom, a new game that he’s created, some specifics on how he’s doing some different games in that room, some that we’ve talked about, and maybe just a little bit of a discussion about why, as teachers, we love games so much and the things that they can accomplish for our students. A lot of fun stuff that we should be able to talk about today. Let me go ahead and bring Kyle on right now.

All right. Kyle Wood is back on the show. Kyle, how are you?

Kyle: I am doing well. I am super excited to be back. I am always shocked that anyone is willing to talk to me, so thank you very much. I don’t know what that says about you that you’re dragging me out here.

Tim: No.

Kyle: But I always appreciate the opportunity. It was great being on here before and wonderful being a part of the NOW conference this year.

Tim: I was going to say, you had a very popular presentation at the Now Conference, all about games, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today because I feel like this is an idea that you and I both want to explore a little bit more, talk about what we’re doing. Before we do that though, I do need to say that we’re doing sort of the home and home podcast thing. And so, I went on Kyle’s podcast to talk about Frank Lloyd Wright and Kyle’s coming here to talk about games.

And so, if you don’t listen to the Who ARTed podcast, I feel like you should remedy that and go check it out. I mean, listen to me because I’m very charming, very make for some good episodes, and then you’ll see how good his podcast is, and hopefully listen to some more. But, Kyle, before we dive into games, can you talk a little bit about Who ARTed and what you do with that podcast?

Kyle: Yeah. Honestly, I never thought it would go this long. It’s going to be three years now at the end of October. I’m coming up on that anniversary. But it’s been growing and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s forced me to learn a lot of art history that I had forgotten or never knew about. Every episode I try to cover art history, but focusing on the stories to help people understand and engage with the material on a little bit deeper level.

My full episodes tend to be about a lot of the traditional stuff from art history. We just did Frank Lloyd Wright. And then, every Friday, I try to do mini episodes, a lot of times focusing on fun facts. In China, there was a librarian who stole famous works of art and then replaced them with his forgeries, but then he later saw that other people were stealing his forgeries and replacing them with their own forgeries. It was just bananas, stuff like that.

Tim: We talked about Fallingwater, which is on the AP exam, and you mentioned the stories behind the artist. I was a little disappointed, since you teach elementary, we couldn’t go in depth on the axe murders and the full story from Frank Lloyd Wright.

Kyle: No.

Tim: Another time, another space, hopefully, we can dive into that a little bit more.

Kyle: No, but for those who like the shorter form stuff, I’ve got Art Smart, which is just five to 10 minute episodes. First season was the elements and principles of design, and this season it’s just quick overviews of different art movements, app art, art nouveau, modern, postmodern, all that.

Tim Bogatz:

Tim: Yeah, they’re super quick, super fun, easy to listen to. But, we are here to talk about games today.

Kyle: Yes.

Tim: Let’s shift gears and get to where we’re going. Like I said, you had your NOW presentation about gamifying your classroom. I think that has been one of our most popular ones in the Afterpass. People just keep revisiting and checking out. We talked about gamification a little bit when you were on the show before. And then I just did, about a month ago, an entire episode about some of my favorite games. But I have heard that you have created a new game, the Art Heist Challenge, is that correct? I would love to hear about this.

Kyle: I love things that are needlessly complicated. That’s fun for me. My students came in. On Fridays, it’s game days in the art room because I have a weird schedule where we have a rotation. Basically, I see all of my classes Monday through Thursday, and then Fridays we have a rotation so I’ll see them every fourth Friday. Basically, once a month they get a Friday.

Tim: Gotcha.

Kyle: And so. On Fridays. I want it to be a different sort of experience. And so, after that, I was listening to that episode. I loved that episode by the way, and we’ll get into some of the stuff I stole from that episode.

Tim: Thank you.

Kyle: But I was thinking, I got to do more. I’ve talked about different games, but I can’t play the same game all the time because it’s going to get stale.

Tim: Right.

Kyle: I meet my students out in the hallway. Before they come in, I just tell them, “Game day’s going to look different today.” I said, “We’ve got a bit of a problem, I’m going to need you to help fix it.” I start going into this elaborate backstory about my nemesis, Dr. Meanie Badguy, and-

Tim: Great name, by the way.

Kyle: When I asked students for feedback about the game after the first time we played it, they were like, “You got to come up with a real name for the villain.” I was just like, “You say that, but every one of you laughed every time it came up so I’m sticking with Dr. Meanie Badguy.”

Tim: Nice.

Kyle: But I am going to go with their suggestion of having my learning support coach dress as Dr. Meanie Badguy for the future.

Tim: Mm, I love it. Yes.

Kyle: I tell them he has stolen some of the world’s greatest artworks and taken them to his secret hideout. Unfortunately, I am really bad with names, so I cannot remember the names of the artists or artworks, and I gave them a list of descriptions. I gave them a list that said stuff like the impressionist movement was named after this painting, or this was a Ukiyo-e wood cut print with a tsunami wave and we can see Mount Fuji in the background.

I’ve got this list of half a dozen somewhat vague descriptions of these works of art and I’ve got a collection of, I think it’s 10 or 12, works of art that are printed off in the front of the room. And so, I set it up with… I’ve got black lights in my room, so I turn the black lights on and I have this fluorescent yarn that is making a web in the middle of the classroom.

Tim: We’re talking spies and lasers and stuff.

Kyle: It is Mission Impossible style.

Tim: Oh, love it. I love it.

Kyle: I’ve got a couple of obstacles. They start on one side of the room and they’ve got to get through this web of yarn that looks like lasers in the black light. And then, when they get through that, I taped off a little area and I’m like, “Okay, here’s the pit of doom. If you fall into that, you get sucked up and spit out on the other side, back at the beginning.”

The first week of school, I started with paper mache sculptures. I had my students, every class just built off the work of the class before them. There was a local exhibition of Alebrijes sculptures, that Mexican folk art tradition from the 1940s, these very surreal animal sculptures. And so, I had my students, the beginning of the year, they made four or five foot Alebrijes sculptures and I said, “You’ve got to get past the vicious guard Alebrijes. If one of them touches you, they will send you back to the beginning.” They have to dodge all of these weird sculptures that are out there that are glowing a little bit because we used some fluorescent paints on them before. After that, they get the pieces and they have to figure out which ones do they need to bring back one at a time. And then, they assemble them in order and buzz in. The first team to buzz in wins the game essentially.

Tim: Okay, okay.

Kyle: With half a dozen prompts, it takes them about 25 minutes, in general, to navigate all of it and get the pieces back.

Tim: Nice. I’m just thinking about teachers who don’t have the time or the five-foot Alebrijes sculptures or the Mission Impossible setup. If teachers are missing all of these things, this game is still doable though.

Kyle: I mean, you’re essentially talking about printed out artworks. I mean, most people are going to have access to a color printer, a description of the works of art. Just think about things you’ve shown them before and how would you describe it? What would be the key points you want them to remember? And then, you’re thinking of some obstacles. Like I said, one obstacle is just I put a square of tape on the ground and said you have to jump over or navigate around this. My massive “lasers” is really just yarn stretched out across the room. The first time I did it, I just wrapped it around table legs and stool legs and stuff like that to stretch back and forth and go at odd angles and stuff like that. Because I am fortunate to have a little bit of a budget, I was able to get some magnetic hooks to prevent me from having to do that all the time.

Tim: Oh man, this is big time. Yeah.

Kyle: Yeah, I know. And then, I decided to go really fancy with it and I took two pieces of scrap wood from my garage and just drilled a line of holes in it, so that it’s almost like a loon type setup where I just have the yarn that’s ready to stretch across the room, and then I just roll it up to be able to put it back.

Tim: Okay. All right, all right. This sounds like a pretty good setup. I like it.

Kyle: It’s fairly efficient. I mean, it only took me 10 minutes drilling a couple of holes and then a little bit of time to set up the first time threading it through those holes. But after that, I can easily just roll it up to put it away in the closet, and then when it’s game day I take it out and just stretch it across the room.

Tim: Nice, nice. Cool. All right. You also talked about taking some of those games that I had chatted about in my podcast and doing those. I guess I’d like to hear about those. I know Exquisite Corpse is a popular one, one that I always love, just inspired by the surrealists. Different people do different parts of the drawing and then it forms this cohesive whole, and you can go listen to the old podcast if you want the details on how I do it. Kyle, I’m sure you can share how you did it.

I know you’ve also done Last Artist Standing. You had tweeted about that too. Credit goes to Lindsey Moss for that game. I learned it from her. I don’t know where she got it, but they’re quite a bit of fun, both of them. But can you talk about what each of those games look like in your art room?

Kyle: Both super fun. I actually really like pairing the two of them. For Last Artist Standing, I talked to my PE teacher who has some balls, they’re foam Nerf type balls that he doesn’t really like in his class. He’s like, “Here, you can keep these.” I’ve got a couple of Nerf balls, and when I bring them out, the kids are just like, “Are we playing dodge ball?” I don’t know why anybody sees a… I mean, you look at me, I don’t know what about me says I am the type of man who is going to just throw balls at children. But every single class, “Are we playing dodge ball?” What I did was we just tossed the ball around the table and, with the younger students, it’s just going in order. We’re passing it around the table, handing it off.

With the older students, they like a little bit more chaos. With the fourth, fifth graders, the rule could be you can toss it to anybody, pass it back and forth. It’s a hot potato, whatever. But the nature of Last Artist Standing is you get the ball, you have to say something related to a category, and then pass it off to somebody. If you don’t say something right away, you sit down. If you say something that someone else has said, you sit down. And so, I use that as a good creativity exercise and warm up for the Exquisite Corpse thing. I started off, I did two rounds of it with students saying animals and shapes and things that would be helpful to just generate a lot of ideas that can be then integrated into the Exquisite Corpse drawings.

Tim: Okay. Can I interrupt you real quick?

Kyle: Yeah.

Tim: Are you writing these ideas down or are you just asking them to brainstorm and hope that it gets something going for them?

Kyle: With the older students, honestly, I’m not writing it down because they’re retaining more. With the younger students, I am on the board writing down and sometimes just yelling out, “That’s an interesting animal. I’d never even heard of that.” I had no idea how many kinds of dinosaurs a second-grade boy can name.

Tim: Oh god, yeah. Yeah.

Kyle: With some of that, I do have either me repeating for emphasis or sometimes I’ll write something down as just a cue and a reminder for later. And then, with my older students, I do the traditional folded paper Exquisite Corpse. With first, second grade, I found they get really mixed up with the folding and passing. Because I want this to be something quick and fun and not stressful, what I did was I just drew on a piece of paper, a quick template. I drew lines dividing it in thirds and I made little marks going across there for the lines to connect to.

I had each kid make their own drawing, just saying, “Okay, here’s where the neck is going to be. You have to connect the head to those lines. Here’s where the waist is going to be. You have to connect it at that point and then be creative. Maybe it’s going to have legs like a duck. Maybe it’s going to have octopus tentacles. Maybe it’s going to be part robot and it’s going to have just a jet underneath it, whatever.”

And then, after that, what they did was they cut on the horizontal lines that I had provided from my template and we just stacked them on top of each other. It becomes one of those books where you turn part of the page and change the image. They had a lot of fun doing it that way. Another variation I’ve done with that is just having them cut them out as trading cards almost. Here’s my head, here’s your body, here’s someone else’s legs, and just rearrange the pieces that way.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. I think those are some great adaptations for younger kids. That’s a good way to put it together. Now, we’ve got the specifics down. We talked about some of the games we really like. I would love to chat a little bit about just big picture stuff and just the importance of games. I don’t know exactly why you love games, and I don’t mean to put you on the spot here. But I was thinking about it earlier and I love games in the classroom because they bring joy to our kids. They help make connections. They help build community and having kids working together.

I think there’s a lot of times, especially with high school, there’s not a lot of that going on. It can be kind of a respite from what they have happening the rest of the day and what’s going on in their other classes. If they can come into the art room and do something that’s fun and joyful like that, that’s a wonderful thing for them. Just on top of just that enjoyment, so many skills are developed when kids are interacting and they’re collaborating and they’re thinking creatively. I think all of that is incredibly valuable. I don’t know. Can I get your thoughts about that? What is important about games? What do you see kids learning and taking from games that are happening in your art room?

Kyle: I mean, honestly, for me, the core is always that joy of education. I teach K-5 and I always say my primary goal is not to kill the joy of creation.

Tim: Yeah, yeah.

Kyle: Because once you get that spark, once you capture the heart, the mind will follow. All those other skills will come in time with practice if they have that motivation, if they have that desire, if they have that good feeling. I feel like that gets missed a lot. There’s so much emphasis on testing and the things that are quantifiable. We’re always trying to take measurements of these different things, and I think that ends up with this sort of shortsighted focus on just the reading and math, the things that are easiest to observe and measure.

But, nothing against reading and math. I love reading. I love math. I love all of that stuff. Test scores will affect funding. All of that stuff matters. But the purpose of education is about creating lifelong learners. You don’t become a lifelong learner because you were doing well with your chores at solving these math problems. You become a lifelong learner because you enjoy it. Not to get too into the weeds and stuff, but I always think of, I think it was Aristotle talked about eudaimonia, the meaning of life and finding that thing that you do just for the sake of doing it. That is the ultimate intention.

And so, I’ve always tried to do a lot to give kids opportunities to go further, to support them in exploring their ideas and doing what they want to do. Because if I’m focusing too much on specific concrete tasks, I don’t want to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Tim: Right, right.

Kyle: Kids will learn these projects and techniques if they want to, but a lot of these concrete operations, anything that’s sort of schematic learning, that’s the easiest thing for AI to take over.

Tim: Yeah, good point.

Kyle: Problem solving, the teamwork, the persistence, the resilience, these are things that we learn in games. We learn to be resilient because we don’t always win. Sometimes a kid gets a sticker because they won the game and that means that some other kids don’t get the sticker or they don’t get the bragging rights or someone beat them out, and that feeling kind of stinks. But in these games it’s low stakes and you learn to handle that feeling in a low stakes way through these games. But you also find the fun in it. Like I say, I want kids to feel like school is a place that is fun, where they want to learn. In my experience, when you make it fun, they learn more.

Since I started doing my game days, my kids know a lot more names of artists and can identify what artworks came from different cultures and stuff like that. Because I ask them questions, like, “Where in the world did this come from?” They can identify, “Oh that’s from China. That’s from Japan. That’s from France,” because it has some stakes in the game, but also it’s not real life stakes so it feels a little bit more comfortable and they can take those risks.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. Actually, that is a good segue into my next question, which is just all of the work that goes into creating games, is that worth it? I mean, you just said you see improved learning outcomes, so yeah, it probably is. But, for me, I think that it does, it comes back to that joy in education like you talked about. You want things to be fun. You want learning to be enjoyable for kids. And so, I think anything that is going to get your kids engaged and anything that is going to get kids to want to come to your class is going to be worth it. Like you said, they’re in a better space to learn. They’re having fun with what they’re doing and, usually, they’re retaining that information a little bit more. I don’t know. Short answer, is that worth it to you? All the work it takes to set up and create those games, everything you do for gamification, is that all worth it to you?

Kyle: I think it is because I’m also the type of person who will do a lot just to amuse myself. In all honesty, there are only so many times that I can stand up and introduce the same lesson.

Tim: Right.

Kyle: I’ve been doing this for 15 years and even the lessons that I really love, that I feel really proud of, it’s like, “I need to take a break from that for a while.” I need to change things up. It keeps me engaged. When I’m more engaged, the kids are more engaged. But also, at the bottom of everything, it’s about the kids and their learning. As I sort indicated and you’ve reiterated, they’re learning more. When kids are motivated, they learn more. That’s why we put so much emphasis on engagement. I mean, just ask any kid about Minecraft or Pokemon, they can tell you so much about all of this stuff.

Tim: Right, right.

Kyle: When they want to, when they want to learn about it, ask a five year old about dinosaurs and they will get deep into the weeds. I want them to look at other subjects that way.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know. I think that’s a good guiding principle for us. If we can make it fun, it’s going to be better for our kids. It’s not to say that it’s something you have to do because not every teacher wants to teach that way. But I think that if there are spots, if there are times that you can make things more enjoyable for kids, I think it’s worth putting in the effort.

You said something about keeping yourself entertained and that resonated with me. I remember a long time ago on one podcast, I said I turn over 75, 80% of my lessons each year and people just freaked out about that. But, like you said, I’m of that mindset where I can’t just keep teaching the same stuff all the time. That just doesn’t do it for me. And so, I think it’s important that especially after, like you said, 15 years, we need to find ways to keep ourselves challenged. We need to find ways to keep ourselves fulfilled. And so, I always love new lessons, new artists, new ideas, just the idea of exploring with my kids, showing them what it looks like to be curious, what it looks like to be excited about learning. And then, if we can work together to discover that excitement, to discover that joy of learning, then I think that that’s worth it. And so, not sure how I turn this into a question for you but . . .

Kyle: Well, no, I wanted to interject a connection there.

Tim: Yeah.

Kyle: Because I also am a curious person looking for new stuff and new ideas and new methods. But I did want to point out, I make it a point to tell my kids when I’m doing something new and I will even say to them, “I’m asking you to try new stuff. I’m trying new stuff too. This is the first time I’m doing this lesson. Please give me feedback. How did this work? What worked for you? What can I do better? How can I make this stronger?” At the beginning I said, they said I need a real name for my nemesis.

Tim: Right.

Kyle: They suggested that I bring in my LSC to be that nemesis because he is a delightful actor and has much more energy than I do, and he brings the fun to it. I think it’s important for kids to see that we are lifelong learners.

Tim: Yes.

Kyle: And that’s not something we’re asking of them, that’s something that we are ourselves and want to share with them.

Tim: Mm-hmm. No, and I think it’s worth it to model that for them and just show them what we get out of trying new things. How it’s helpful for us to try new lessons. Interesting, because the way you address that with your students is the way I always do with my students and to say, “Hey, I’m trying something new. I’m excited about it because of reasons X, Y, and Z. I hope you enjoy it. We’ll talk about it as we go through it.”

I think, like you said, just showing that to them, what it looks like to be a lifelong learner, what it looks like to explore and everything that you can get out of it is always going to be worthwhile. All right, Kyle, before we go, anything else that you want to cover? Anything you want to talk about before we wrap it up here?

Kyle: Not really. Just in case I have already overstayed my welcome and bored everyone too much, I’m just going to give a really, really early plug for please join me in the springtime for the Arts Madness turnout.

Tim: Oh yes. Yes. I was going to say, it’s six months away. Basketball season hasn’t even started yet but, no, that’s fair. That’s fair. We’ll send out some reminders when March comes around.

Kyle: But, in all seriousness, whether it’s through games or something else, I just want to say take the time to find your joy in what you’re doing because we spend too much of our lives in the classroom to not be enjoying it. Our kids spend too much time in this classroom for it to not be a joyful space. Whether that comes through games or other things, find the joy because the kids will respond to it.

Tim: Ah, that’s wonderfully said. All right, Kyle, thank you so much for the conversation. It’s been enjoyable as always, and we’ll have to have you back on again soon.

Kyle: Thank you very much.

Tim: All right. Thank you to Kyle for coming on. I really enjoyed that discussion. I know games aren’t for everybody, but I’m hoping if you’re a little skeptical that maybe you’ll try them out. I’m hoping that our discussion today shows you or convinces you a little bit about the power of games and all the cool things that you can accomplish by having some fun in your art room. Hopefully, some of the specifics we talked about can give you some ideas and get brainstorming going on your end for how you can implement some of those ideas in your classroom. What might work for you and your students?

If you’re interested in learning more, we will make sure we link to a lot of different stuff. We’ll link to Kyle’s podcast, of course, but also the episode of the podcast that I did about games. We have a pro pack that’s all about games in the art room. There’s a lot of additional learning that can take place. We’ll get you started in the show notes and you can check things out a little bit more. But, until then, I hope you enjoyed this conversation and I hope you were thinking a little bit about how you may be able to bring some of these ideas and bring some of these games into your classroom.

Art Ed Radio was produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. One last note before we go. One thing we would love you to do, Janet Taylor and I do need to record another what do new teachers need to know episode. We got a bunch of new teachers that just started this year and we’ve got a lot of great old episodes, but we’re looking to do one on professionalism. Just all the ideas of how do you handle yourself as a professional in your school? And so, we’re just thinking about communication and collaboration, working with your admins, working with your colleagues, presenting yourself in front of students, presenting yourself to parents. How you communicate with all of those said people, and how you do things as a professional?

Any questions you have about that, please email me. Timothy Bogatz at theartofeducation@edu, or send me a DM on Twitter. I’m @TimBogatz on Twitter. Janet and I are going to answer some of your questions in the coming week. We’d love to hear from you about professionalism and questions you have about being a professional. Please reach out and look for that episode coming soon. All right. Thank you all for listening.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.