Teaching Chemistry Through Games

Guest Post by Tham Zi Sheng, Teacher at Raffles Institution

The use of games to teach is not something new, but teachers are generally wary of incorporating games into their lessons, especially if the learning environment is an academically competitive one.

Every learner is unique and has different learning needs. If we subscribe to the Theory of Multiple Intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner, it is imperative that we vary our learning activities to cater to the different needs of our students. Games, if used wisely, can be effective learning tools.

Figure 1
Figure 1 shows how a “heavy metal ion” might be represented. This could be used in the teaching of protein chemistry (as proteins are denatured by solutions containing heavy metal ions) or chemistry of transition metals.

On a hot afternoon after a heavy lunch, students tend to become lethargic and inattentive. Games can be used as energisers at the beginning of lessons to capture the attention of the students. For instance, we could represent a word or a phrase that is related to Chemistry with a picture. The students will have to decipher what the picture represents and offer a suitable response.

Some people believe that creativity cannot be taught or assessed while others believe it can. Whatever the case, people seem to value creativity and it is something worth nurturing regardless of the subject taught. For example, some students might have difficulty remembering a certain chemical idea. We could get them to represent that concept pictorially. This is somewhat similar to how we use acronyms to remember key ideas.

Figure 2
Figure 2 shows a particle that loves electricity, which is a term related to the flow of electrons. Therefore, we can deduce that the particle is an electrophile, i.e. an electron-loving species.

Some television game shows continue to run for many seasons and still remain popular with the audience. Many of these programmes captivate the audience because they contain elements of risk-taking, wit, and surprise. For instance, Hollywood Squares re-packages the familiar Tic-Tac-Toe into an exciting game that not only tests one’s ability to strategise, but also the ability to analyse an argument put forth by another person.

Hollywood Squares can be easily adapted to become a learner-centred classroom activity. The game can be utilised to help students review their work and teachers to assess their students informally at the end of a lesson unit. Students who are less participative or vocal during tutorials can be made the “host” or a “celebrity” who “sits” in one of the nine squares of the Tic-Tac-Toe game board. Students who are risk-averse can be selected to be the “contestants”. During the game, the “celebrity” will provide an answer, which could be right or wrong, to a question posed by the “host”. The “contestant” will have to agree or disagree with the answer given by the “celebrity”. The more convincing an answer sounds, the tougher it is for the “contestant” to reach a decision. In the process, students not only get a chance to hone their communication skills, but also check whether they have mastered the essential chemical concepts and know how to apply them in solving problems. Most importantly, the students get to interact and have fun while learning Chemistry at the same time.

No learning activity is able to cater to all students. Which game to use and how much learning actually takes place during a game depend on the students’ level of readiness and the nature of the lesson topic. Although games should not be used too frequently, they can be very effective tools which serve to break the monotony of learning through traditional methods such as listening to lectures.

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