Monday, April 20, 2009

5 Ways Teaching is Like the Game of Risk

Last weekend I convinced my wife, her sisters, and her sister's fiance to gather around the kitchen table for a light-hearted game of Risk. After several hours of intense battling (with no end in sight), we called it a night. The slow victories, the back and forth attacks, the constantly elevating emotions – they all reminded me of one thing. Teaching.

1. It is nearly impossible to plan more than one turn ahead since you never know what your opponent is going to do.
Since I was playing with five other people, I had to wait at least 20 minutes between turns. In that time, the game board – and my plan of attack – changed constantly. Not only did I need to keep in mind where I wanted to go, but also where I was at any given moment. As for teaching, I wrote this blog post that echoed those same principles in education.

2. Once an army builds momentum, it is nearly impossible to stop them. Great if you are attacking, not so great if you are defending.
Every teacher has experienced a class that turns into a mock representation of Golding's classic novel Lord of the Flies. No one intends for this to happen, but the change is so gradual that by the time the teacher realizes it, it's too late. The same thing happened to me during Risk. All seemed fine, until I noticed that I had lost Europe (and the 5 extra troops it awards each turn) to the green invading army.

3. Some people simply don't see why Risk is such an exciting and challenging game.
The only reason why I convinced the girls to play Risk in the first place was because we set up the board when they ran out to pick up snacks. By the time they realized what we had planned, it was too late. They simply didn't get the same pleasure out of Risk as the guys did. As teachers, we see this during many parent meetings. For some families, school simply isn't a priority – and that's usually the root of the problem.

4. The end goal nearly always seems unobtainable until it somehow miraculously happens.
Progress is slow and sometimes difficult to measure. In Risk, a victory comes not when a country is won, but when it can be held longterm. The same can be said about learning.

5. Even during the fiercest of games, truces must be made. At least for a little while.
Working with students is a constant game of give and take. Good teachers are the ones who know how to take more than give (without students ever noticing).
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