Reef Survivor Jamaica- Modification of an undergraduate geoscience board game for Jamaican communities (middle school children and adults)

Tuesday 1:30pm-2:40pm CC Building Circadian
Share-a-thon Part of Tuesday


Caitlin Currie, The University of Texas at Austin
Estefania Salgado-Jauregui, Servicio Geologico Colombiano
Claire Williams, The University of Texas at Austin
Rowan Martindale, The University of Texas at Austin
Debbie-Ann Gordon-Smith, The University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica
Denise Henry, Alligator Head Foundation, Portland, Jamaica
Kathy Ellins, The University of Texas at Austin


The two versions of the "Reef Survivor Jamaica" will be available to play and test out. By having both versions available for observation, presenters intend on highlighting alterations made with each version and how they meet the needs of their different audiences while maintaining key components of place-based education and ecological learning. Furthermore, lightning rounds of the game will be demonstrated with pre-built reef systems, and the audience will have a chance to interact with the game components, such as the boards, organism tokens, and disaster cards, to see how they might be employed in their own classroom or community outreach event.


Educational geoscience games have been increasing in popularity because they promote learning through amusement and encourage learners to engage with complex systems. This educational board game teaches players about reef ecology, evolution, and environmental perturbations by having players work together to build a resilient reef. The game blends informed decision-making and chance by allowing players to choose their reef community in the face of unpredictable mutations and/or disasters. "Reef Survivor" was initially developed for an undergraduate lab but was modified for use with local communities of adults and middle school-aged children in Jamaica. By tailoring the environments and reef organisms to local Jamaican examples, this activity blended place-based education with game-based learning. Place-based learning and game-based learning are important components that help participants develop meaningful and relevant learning experiences. Through place-based education, students become environmentally conscious and build connections between their surroundings and important Earth Science phenomena. The usage of game-based activities builds on the natural competitiveness and collaboration common in a multitude of cultures, increasing engagement and motivation in the classroom. Through culturally-responsive teaching, educators can use these tools to create a space where students construct their knowledge with concepts directly pertaining to them.


The game "Reef Survivor" was adapted from its original "undergraduate version" to focus on the reef communities around Jamaica and the threats they currently face (e.g., hurricanes, heat waves, and pollution). Two different versions of "Reef Survivor Jamaica" were developed; one was designed for middle school students participating in a two-day summer program in Negril, Jamaica, and the other version was incorporated into a two-day community workshop in Portland, Jamaica. The middle school version of the game aimed to inform children about character traits and their effects on organisms, while also building awareness of conservation efforts to sustain ecological balance. Unique modifications to this version include language proficiency alterations to mirror a middle school audience as well as fewer tokens, a smaller game board, and shorter game rounds to meet the needs and attention span of younger players. In the adult version of the game, a diverse group of local stakeholders (farmers, fisherfolk, tourist operators, artists, geoscientists, a teacher, and representatives from the Moore Town Maroons and local environmental organizations), teamed up to build a resilient reef that could survive multiple disasters. The activity aimed to promote cooperative learning for geoconservation. Learning goals align with the ocean literacy principles (OLP), specifically OLP #5, the ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems, and OLP #6, the ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected. The activity established a common group mindset and language that nourished future work with the community.

Why It Works

During the camp in Negril (the middle school version of the game), there were many intersecting activities (i.e. introductory lectures, glass-bottom boat tours, food web and species interaction activities), and the children applied what they had learned from these activities to build and take ownership of their reefs. The game was especially helpful for the children as it integrated and reinforced these new concepts and environmental conditions. Using local examples of corals, fish, and invertebrates (which they had been introduced to in scaffolding activities), learners were guided through questions about the reef and encouraged to move their pieces and explain their choices. Similarly, disaster cards featured overfishing and pollution which are common 'disasters' to occur within the water systems in Jamaica, concepts that had also been introduced to the children via the food-web activity. The young learners really took to the game and enthusiastically asked questions and talked to each other and their teachers. Many even chose their favorite species tokens to take home with them. Although this session was not formally assessed, we observed collaborative learning and strategizing. Facilitating teachers were also engaged and both learners and teachers asked for copies of the game to take home. Teachers completed summative surveys after the STEM workshop and they often mentioned the game as one of the activities they enjoyed the most.

During the community workshop in Portland (the adult version of the game), participants used the game as a model of the real system. We documented collaborative learning, strategizing, and engagement during gameplay using a Cooperative Learning Observation Protocol (adapted from Kern, et al. 2007); learning goals and enjoyment were evaluated with short surveys completed by players. The interactions observed included, community members asking geoscientists what disasters could be expected in this kind of environment, what were the local examples of game mechanics (e.g., conservation programs), and how to make the reef more resilient. Results of the surveys show evidence of Earth systems thinking; for example, recognizing that diversity is important for survival and noting that reef builders have different characteristics that make them more or less likely to survive disasters.