Magic was a big part of my schooling. I played before, during, and after school. I spent countless hours daydreaming Magic from my desk. There were a few times where I got to play during class, but only in rare situations where nothing else was going on.
Magic made the times that I was actually doing classwork way more efficient. My early introduction to cards and books gave me such a serious advantage that I could maintain top grades in less time than many of my classmate. Magic taught me how to min-max in the best ways. It taught how to become an “advanced” student.
However, for all the times I spent playing Magic around school, and all the ways that Magic made my schooling easier, Magic was never a part of the classroom. There was the occasional games day, but no games classes. There were after-school clubs, but no subject study.
This feels incorrect. Magic is such an excellent learning tool that it seems like it belongs in the classroom for at least some small amount of time along the way. Fortunately, some educators are starting to correct this by bringing Magic into the classroom.
Magic in the Classroom
A number of enthusiastic educators run after-school games programs. That’s great, but I want to take it a step further and bring it into the during-school programs. I’ve so far heard of only two instances of Magic classes, but I imagine there might be more—and if not now, there will be.
The first Magic class I know of is at a charter school in Seattle. I got to drop in on the classroom to talk with the educator, observe, and play with the students. After meeting to talk about the value of gaming, the kids sectioned off, some to work on decks, some to play with each other. It was very free form, very high energy. Lots of learning was happening. No one was sleeping on their desk.
The second Magic class I’ve heard of is even more interesting and the one I want to focus on. This is a school in Ohio that uses Magic as cognitive behavior therapy for mentally ill kids to help these kids improve their social, emotional, and academic well being. This class is very strategic and very structured. Let’s take a dip into their lesson plan.
Cognitive, Behavior Therapy
Due to the nature of the game, group members will be interacting with one another each session. Games are played in multiple formats to facilitate and promote discussions before, during, and after the game. Discussions are guided by the case manager.
Group members will rotate color decks after each game. Group members will individually assign their own meaning to each color, and assign meaning to how each color expression is perceived by the other colors. Group members will discuss as a group how they reached their own meaning and identify themselves to individual colors based on personality.
Group members will attribute emotional context to their color interpretations. Then they will be able to express their emotions in the context of the game in a safe environment. Group members will also now be able to learn emotional cues and practice expressing any emotion within the game, with context to real life application.
Group members will test coping strategies in a safe environment. Group members will learn and apply long term goal planning. Group members will be acting and reacting, adjusting plans as they go. They will then discuss the applications of lessons learned to their own real life situation.
Group members will apply resource management to solve obstacles created by other group members within the game and random variables.
Group members will be able to create unique decks to match their personality. They will be able to adapt and change their own decks to attempt new strategies and coping skills. Group members will also be able to manifest their individual real world struggles and frustrations into the opposing decks, also known as the therapy deck. The therapy deck is played only by the case manager and is highly controlled to reflect the individual group member’s chosen manifestation (example: at home neglect—group member could create a UB deck that is restrictive and controlling as the therapy deck, as they choose ways to strategically cope with this deck.)
Group members will overcome obstacles and win, but others will not and lose. Group members will reflect and aid other group members by providing feedback and support. Group members will assist other members while attempting to understand the feelings of others within the game.
MTG 2015 Ready-to-Play 30-card decks.
“Gamifying” the Future of Education
Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX, who is working toward affordable electric cars and putting humans on Mars, has this to say about how to improve the education system:
“To the degree that you can gamify learning, I think that’s really helpful. You want to make learning not a chore. If people are drawn to it like they are drawn to video games then I think that would really help.”
I imagine a future of education where students are positively excited for school, and have as much fun in their classes as they do at play—because they play in class! We could work out how to “gamify” the system, or we could insert GAMING into the subject line up! Math, science, language, history, art, physical education, GAMING! Why not??
Gaming should be a compulsory class in public education, or at the very least, an available option. It has so much to offer, and it’s obvious that it’s what the kids want to be doing anyway.
As for kinds of games, Magic is an ideal game because of the complexity, flexibility, and because it is offline. If we don’t want kids spending even more time staring at screens, card games and board games seem like a good way to spend some time in active learning.
I think in the mission to improve our education systems, getting Magic in the classroom would do a lot to help. And I think improving our education systems would do a lot to help steer humanity in a good direction. Maybe if we get Magic in the classrooms, one day we can play Magic on Mars!
I’m interested in hearing what you think! What place, if any, do you think Magic has in the classroom, and how can we get it there?