Teacher’s games help students learn

Eunice Lee

As her fourth-grade class filed into the room, Karen Luciana announced they would play a game called Portrayal.

Several students pumped their fists and whispered excitedly.

Luciana pulled up her stool as students settled in their desks and took out blank sheets of paper. While looking at a game card, Luciana described a picture of a French waiter, mentioning everything from his thin mustache to the number of stripes on his shirt. The students, with their faces screwed in concentration, tried to replicate every detail on paper.

Afterward, excited voices filled the room as the children found out how many points they received for including different aspects of the picture.

“I almost got a 10,” one student said. “What did you get?”

At least once a week, the students in Luciana’s class at Lincolnwood Elementary School, 2600 Colfax St., play educational games. Portrayal helps develop their language arts and listening skills, while other games help sharpen critical thinking and strategy skills.

In her 16 years of teaching, Luciana has always played games with her students. She has a collection of more than 100 games, with which students can build skeletons, rhyme words and construct pyramids. Because of her use of games in the classroom, Luciana was one of three teachers in the country to win the first Golden Game Award on Nov. 17, 2007, said Mary Couzin, Executive Director of the Chicago International Toy and Game Fair, or Chi-Tag.

The award is co-sponsored by Chi-Tag and Jax Games.

“It made me feel a sense of pride to know that what I do every day makes a difference,” Luciana said. “That it does matter to encourage children with fun as well as to encourage them with challenges.”

Luciana was chosen because she exemplified “incorporating games not just in her classroom, but the rest of the school.” Couzin said. Luciana and her students host a few events throughout the year where the whole school is invited to learn and play different educational games.

Game Day, held in the spring, is the most successful of these events. Each student in her class is given a different game to master for one month so that they can teach visiting students how to play. The event has garnered much enthusiasm from students and other teachers, Luciana said.

“She has done a lot to promote the use of games in our school,” said Beth Sagett-Flores, principal of Lincolnwood Elementary School. “There’s a lot of creativity involved in playing games that really engages the students.”

Her class also hosts Math Carnival in May, which features carnival games incorporating the math curriculum taught throughout the year. Students win prizes for successfully applying math functions to games, such as Bozo Buckets and hitting the bull’s eye.

Several of Luciana’s students have not only mastered existing games, but have also created their own. Original rhyming games are commonly played in class, and students are required to create their own board games related to a class unit at the end of the year.

Luciana said that she also tries to encourage her students to participate in contests sponsored by Chi-Tag.

Two of her students, Jordan Allen and Isaac Lichter, placed second in the Young Inventor’s Challenge for submitting a question- and answer-board game called “Rats Down the Sewer.”

Playing and creating games gears students toward “higher-order” thinking, Luciana said.

“They have a lot of fun, but I want to stress that it is fun in learning,” she said. “As a school we have to focus so much of our time on getting our students proficient in our state standards and that’s important and I believe in that. But we also have to put some fun into the classroom every once in a while, too.”

Reach Eunice Lee at [email protected]