With sincerity, one teacher shouted “Let’s all set low standards!” in a recent professional development workshop. We were playing House of Cards, a simple, but powerful EnTeam concept game focused on creative thinking. Teammates are given index cards and instructed to build the tallest tower possible. EnTeam Organization measures the cooperative efforts of participants. In this case the context was a professional development workshop for teachers.
In House of Cards each team builds a tower and the collective height of all the towers in centimeters is added together. As a group, the teachers set a measurable goal in centimeters for three iterations of tower building. One teacher valued improvement over total output. He knew the group wanted to improve each round and decided to set low standards for his own group—they intentionally built towers shorter than they were capable of to ensure that they improved each round. Instead of doing their best, they wanted to look good in the eyes of others. This opened up an energized dialogue about district-wide academic goals and achievement expectations. It was eye-opening to see this teacher’s perspective because of monetarily-driven state and district improvement goals placed on him for his students. He verbalized this thought by building a simple paper tower and trying to rig the outcome for all. In the EnTeam game a dishonest motive could be discussed openly without embarrassment or scrutiny for the individual. A departure from honest motives in the real world leads to trouble as evidenced by the recent cheating scandal in Atlanta.
Simple concept games like EnTeam’s House of Cards always provide useful talking points. All of the teachers were under the same pressure to outperform their previous outputs, but the group discussed the moral hazard of the situation. To keep students from performing at their highest level now in order to outperform or “improve” on standardized tests would be wrong. The ensuing conversation began in the context of the concept game and quickly transitioned into their work-life experience. Similarly, EnTeam’s games for students first produce a tangible thinking skill through a concept game and then tie in directly to the academic content area of the class via a content game.
Do you have any favorite techniques to start moral discussions? Leave a comment! We would love to hear about them.