Principles, Theories & Models: Understand many theories and models, choose from among them appropriately, and apply them effectively.

Artifact Context

EDTEC 670 Simulations and Games
Spin Out Game 
Group Project

I teamed with Matt Sherwood to design and develop an educational board game prototype.  We collaborated virtually to produce a playable prototype, play-tested it with students, then documented the process in a design document.  


Link to Standard

Of the principles found within the numerous theories and models conveyed in the COMET program, two specific models guided the motivational aspects of the Spin Out! game prototype.  Our instructional efforts would be wasted if students were unmotivated to play the game, making Keller's ARCS (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction) model a natural choice in assisting us in designing a game that is, "appealing at a level beyond the novelty effect in addition to making it efficient and instructionally effective" (Keller & Suzuki, 1988). 

Keller's ARCS Model Component

Justification for Application

Evidence in Board Game Prototype


Learners must attend to information to become motivated. 

Inquiry arousal achieved through questions designed to hold player's attention using humorous word problems.

Perceptual arousal reoccurs throughout game when special, "chance" are drawn.


Students require instruction which correlates to their worlds.  An educational game based math word problems will bore students if the situations are abstractions.

Questions align to math class content and real-life experience.


Students need to feel like the game is within their cognitive reach.  If the questions are too difficult, they will become frustrated and give up quickly.  Building in the opportunity to "steal" a question from one's opponent offers an extra confidence booster.

Questions vary in difficulty, covering California math standards grade 4-6 to increase likelihood of successful play. 

Players can attempt to answer a question when opponent fails to give correct response.


Learners are motivated by rewards, be it intrinsic or extrinsic. 

Competitive race to the finish, random opportunity to jump ahead, correct answer provide feedback.  Application of knowledge in peer setting can be rewarding students.

Dr. Dodge's reading list for the course included an excerpt from Lepper and Malone's book, Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning (1987).  Written over 20 years ago, the concepts stand the test of time.  The taxonomy derives from studies examining children's affectual responses to computer games, including educationally-oriented games.  We used the heuristic checklist to lend additional theoretical support to our design.  The checklist is divided into two categories, individual and interpersonal motivation.  Individual motivations "can be present in any learning situation, even those involving only one person" (Lepper & Malone, p. 248).   Interpersonal motivations are found in interaction with others.  Sometimes the two types of motivation overlap.  For example, competition generally involves another person but can also occur when a player competes against herself.

Motivational Category

Lepper and Malone's Heuristic Checklist

Game Element

Individual Motivation


The players who answer the most questions correctly have the greatest probability of winning the game


Not represented


Players are required to use mental math but could use pencil and paper to calculate to alleviate math anxiety


Not represented

Intrinsic Motivation


Team play option facilitates collaboration


Players compete to answer the greatest number of questions correctly and be the first to the finish


The game could be used to create competition within or across classrooms, individuals also recognize their own and their peer's academic success 

Learning theories are an important consideration in game design.  Behaviorism, constructivism, and social learning theory form the theoretical foundation for the mathematical knowledge gained through play.

Learning Theory

Design Considerations



Students are conditioned to behave in specific way when presented game stimuli. 


For example, most will choose pawns, roll dice, and begin to set the game board before reading the directions.


Questions that students find challenging induce a state of Piagetian disequilibrium. 

New problem-solving schemas are formed as students assimilate the new information into existing schema and/or form new schema through accommodation (Rieber, 1996).

Social Learning Theory


The game space is the Zone of Proximal development.  Learning occurs as the More Knowledgeable Other and the novice interact.


Often, there is more than one way to solve a math problem.  Playing a game offers students a social space to share solution strategies and identify fallacious thinking.

Challenges and Opportunities

The biggest challenge we faced was to create a board game that students want to play.  We initially envisioned a checkers-like game called "Mackers" but quickly moved away from that idea. Our next board design required players to move from the origin of a four-coordinate plane through a a spiraling path out of the plane. We then met with Dr. Dodge to present the idea.  He immediately identified graphic design elements that would increase the game's appeal.  After the meeting, we determined that a more visually appealing board would be one that capitalized on the automotive theme of the game.  The original design was also problematic because we were trying to stuff 100 pounds of math into a 10 pound bag.  We narrowed the scope of our content and reworked the game board. Once we settled on a board design the remaining game materials were less challenging to develop.

The next step was to play test-the game with students.  I tested the game with a group of students in a mixed grade level math course at my school. The high school play testers are categorized as high-risk.  They possess low skill levels and are on the verge of dropping out of school.  We determined that using a hard-to-wow audience would provide authentic feedback.  The students did not disappoint.  I provided only game materials and the instruction sheet during the play test to determine whether or not students could play unassisted.  Several issues emerged:

Rules - The rules confused students. Only 1/3 of the groups were able to get started without assistance from another student. We revised the rules prior to submitting the final project.

Pawns - The paper cars did not function as designed. The images were upside-down when folded. The pawns were also too large for the board and overlapped several "lanes" of the game board's path to the finish. They were redesigned prior to submission of the final project.  One student suggested we "use Hot Wheels next time".

Questions - The questions were too wordy for the students, many of whom are not literate in the English language. The original rules did not address the inclusion of the answer on each question which removed the incentive to work out the questions. Simpler questions rewritten by the teacher, or new questions written by students is a way to address this problem.

Visual Appeal - The students found the game visually appealing and one student described the game as "fun".

Overall Impression of the Game - Students felt that if the questions were "easier" and the directions were "better" that they would like to play the game again.

Professional and Personal Growth
Conceptually, this project offered the opportunity to lean more about Keller's ARCS theory.  I had not given much attention to the model, allowing Gange's Nine Events of Instruction to account for the learner's motivation during the first event, gain attention)in my instructional design.  I felt an "ah-ha" moment as I learned more about the model.  Looking back at my notes in the margins of the selected course reading, I see how I connected the model to behaviorism (the satisfaction gained by rewards) and to framing objectives in a different way than Mager prescribes (motivational objectives).  

In the classroom, I do not have the luxury of piloting instructional resources prior to implementation.  The project offered an interesting opportunity to rework elements of an instructional product based on audience feedback.  I've used many board games in my classroom without giving consideration to theoretical principles behind their development.  I feel that I am better equipped to analyze games prior to purchase and can provide more sophisticated justifications for expenditures.


     Keller, J. M., & Suzuki, K. (1988). Use of the ARCS Motivation Model in Courseware Design. In D. H. Jonassen(Ed.), Instructional Designs for Microcomputer Courseware. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

      Malone, T. W. and Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning, volume 3, pages 223-253. Hillsdale, N.J. : Erlbaum.

     Rieber, L. P. (1996). Seriously considering play: Designing interactive learning environments based on the blending of microworlds, simulations, and games. Educational Technology Research & Development, 44(2), 43-58.