Reflections on NASAGA 2016 from Chris McDow

Maybe it’s a bit of an understatement to say I like games. At every opportunity, I try to infuse gaming into my classroom. It’s not uncommon to find me sloughing a stack of board games into my local game shop or friends house with my wife suggesting we play something that’s “not so mean.” The draw towards gaming comes from a desire to engage with people at a meaningful level; to work with or against someone while deploying various skills that force me to evaluate my strengths, weaknesses, and capacity to contribute. It’s at the core of what I know to be good learning, and not just for my students.

This year my school district was very accommodating and paid for me to go to NASAGA 2016 in Bloomington, Indiana. I heard about NASAGA while looking for more information regarding gamification in education. I did not know what to expect, or even exactly what I was looking for, but I knew if any group knew about gamification, it would be the people at this conference.

As soon as I got on the bus towards the conference, I knew I was in for a treat. I met Brian, one of the presenters. We spoke for about an hour about gaming and how we both had come to the same conclusions about the power of play. He was very warm, and when we arrived at the conference center, he introduced me to several people who were on NASAGA board. Everyone was very kind and inviting. Just as importantly, all them were very knowledgeable about their fields.  As more people began to show up at the conference, I met people from a wide variety of careers and backgrounds: human resource managers, international business men, nursing school instructors, former military trainers, activists, other educators… it was unexpected to see so many people who were committed to developing unorthodox approaches to their fields.

I attended as many sessions as possible. Despite the plethora of options that needed to cater to diverse needs, the options were fantastic and found something in every session to be useful and practical to curriculum development. I attended sessions ranging from simulations of life as refugee, virtual modeling of a Roman gladiatorial fight, lesson planning using games, Breakout games that required teamwork to solve puzzles, and a game about socioeconomic classes. I found that the elements that I loved about gaming, the social interactions and challenges the forced self-reflections, were present in the sessions. I was faced with some drastically different worldviews and goals that were in direct conflict with mine, but through play and vulnerable conversation, I learned so much about others and myself.

After many days of great sessions, late nights playing board games, meeting wonderful people, thinking on my approach to teaching, and exploring Bloomington, I had to return to Texas. Back in San Antonio, I used the information I gleaned to develop a series of workshops for teachers to attend for summer professional development, helping them to start approach gaming in education with more intention. NASAGA 2016 was instrumental to me growing not only as a teacher but a person who is passionate about games.


Bio: Chris McDow is a Texas History teacher at Alamo Heights Junior School.

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