Learning outcomes of the educational board game Taphonomy: Dead and Fossilized, evaluated with high school learners in a summertime out-of-school program
Educational games are designed to help students retain curricular material, gain a deeper understanding of concepts, and become innovative problem solvers; however, the integration of games into instruction requires the evaluation of learning outcomes of this educational strategy. Here, we evaluate the use of the board game Taphonomy: Dead and Fossilized as an active learning strategy to teach fossilization, the history of life, and Earth system thinking to rising 12th grade learners in GeoFORCE Texas, a summertime out-of-school program. Summertime programs offer opportunities to implement innovative instructional strategies and new material to extend the learning that occurs in the academic year (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). We hypothesized that incorporating games into GeoFORCE's instructional program would engage students in active learning, while developing important scientific content knowledge and skills. The educational activity was evaluated with two groups of GeoFORCE learners (Group 1 = 22 students, Group 2 = 27 students). During the activity, an observation protocol, modified from Smith (2013) was implemented; ten prompts to evaluate students behaviors and seven prompts to evaluate instructor behaviors were included in a form that an observer filled in while the learners were playing the game. The learner's understanding was assessed with a 2-page paper survey immediately following gameplay; the survey questions were formulated following the Next Generation Science Standards. The predominant behavior observed was students strategizing, which involves students applying paleontological knowledge to protect their organisms through geological time, taphonomic events, and discovery biases to create the best collection. The results from the survey show that the learners are able to apply paleontological knowledge to tasks that involve analyzing simulated data, establishing cause-effect relations, and Earth systems thinking. That said, since there was no pre-test or control group, it is not possible to differentiate between students who acquired this knowledge through gameplay and those for whom gameplay strengthened their previous knowledge. Our results provide evidence that board games are effective educational strategies to enhance active learning in a summertime program. Findings were used to guide the development of a high school-level version of Taphonomy: Dead and Fossilized as well as a classroom module, which will be demonstrated during the Share-a-Thon.