January 25, 2015

Teaching Creative Problem Solving through Play

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The family of one of my third graders gifted me an amazing game for Christmas: "Obstacles" by eeBoo. This award-winning educational game is designed to teach creativity and imaginative problem solving skills through cooperative play. Obstacles has  become a therapy staple over the previous month and all of my students ranging from grades 1 through 5 are thoroughly enjoying it!

Obstacles is designed for 2-5 players ages 5 and up. It consists of 25 large rectangular "obstacle" cards and 100 smaller square "tool" cards. The objective of the game is to utilize the tool cards in a creative way to overcome the obstacles in order to reach your home. The obstacle cards consist of a variety of barriers to prevent you from reaching the home card: there are bees, swamps, thunderstorms, walls, borders, mazes, ogres, poison ivy, etc., all of which have to be overcome. And all players have are their tools. The tool cards contain some very useful to some very bizarre items: a kite, a silver platter, a bow & arrows, a drum, ice, a saw, a rocket, a jack-in-the-box, salt & pepper, a monkey, a compass, etc.

To play, the dealer randomly places obstacle cards on the table to create a path. For a short game, fewer cards are used, for a long game, more cards are used. My students always want the longest path possible (i.e. the length of our therapy table).

According to my students, the longer the obstacle path, the better! I hope you have a long table...
Each player then receives a number of tool cards (this number changes based on the amount of people playing). To make it easier for students you can give them more tool cards, to make it more challenging, you can give them fewer. These tool cards are placed openly in front of each player.

The first player chooses a tool card and explains how they would overcome the first obstacle on the path. Players then take turns doing the same. The rules encourage players to use their imagination and be creative -- for example you could use the salt and pepper tool card to make yourself sneeze so hard that all the sand gets blown out of the desert. Once each player has made a proposal about how an obstacle should be overcome, the group discusses additional possible solutions (tool cards may even be combined). After the discussion, the group votes for the best solution and discards the tool cards that were used during this turn. Players replenish their hands and tackle the next obstacle.

I have modified the rules a little bit to suit my own needs better. I give each student their picture from my schedule board to be placed at the beginning of the path. This picture acts as a game pawn and allows students to track their progress. Each student then receives four tool cards (I found that this allowed for just the right challenge level). Students then take turns proposing how one of their tool cards can be used to overcome an obstacle. If the group agrees that this is a viable option, they discard their old tool card, advance to the next obstacle, and add a new tool card to their hand. If a student gets "stuck", I allow them to ask other players for ideas or discard one of their tool cards for a new one (in lieu of their turn).

Bees, a border, tacks, and poison ivy... above are the tools my students used to overcome each obstacle!
This game gives me a good idea of which students can think "outside the box" and use their creative thinking skills to overcome these obstacles. My HFA groups are struggling with this, so it is a good exercise to improve in this area.

This game also lends itself to teaching students great new vocabulary, as many of the tools consist of items they may not be familiar with: stilts, lever, compass, catapult, tacks, fabric, sewing, copper pot, pulley, are just some examples.

In terms of quality, the cards are made of a thick sturdy cardstock that will hold up to little hands. Obstacles is a fantastic game and I can't recommend it enough!

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