The Challenge:

How might we design a game to help early career teachers learn classroom management skills?


Our Solution: 

We created a collaborative board game called LURN.  These are the game directions.  During the game, players take turns drawing two types of cards: A) ‘situation cards’ that detail a classroom dilemma that needs to be addressed, and B) ‘student trait cards’ that players use to ‘imagine a student’ who needs to be taken into consideration when choosing what to do (i.e. which classroom management strategy to use).

After drawing the cards, students imagine the student, discuss the possible strategies, and pick the ones that they feel are best for the situation and the student.  Then they flip over the situation card and see whether their answers earned them -2, -1, +1 or +2 ‘rapport points’ (represented by the clear squares below).  This finishes one round.

The game is won or lost when the rapport points all disappear, or when they fill up the entire board.




While living in Boston, MA, I attended play test nights at MIT’s Teaching System Lab.  Research scientists and game designers were creating ‘playful professional development experiences’ (playful PD experiences), and testing them with teachers.  Find out more here.  I remember having my mind blown by a playful PD experience on creating rubrics.  Ever since then, it has been in my mind to create a playful PD experience.  So when I had the chance to pitch an idea in Educational Game Design class at CMU, I took it.  Luckily, two amazing designers, Ulu and Laura, saw teacher professional development as an opportunity for design as well.

After we had gotten together, we decided to tackle ‘classroom management’ with our game.  Ulu and I have both been teachers, and know how critical it is to deal with classroom misbehavior in a firm, fair and thoughtful way; and how so many young teachers struggle to do this.  Laura got on board, and we were on our way.



We designed a survey and sent it out to our teacher-friends and a group of masters students at my alma mater.  We got 17 responses back.  Tip: when designing learning objectives, try to find out how experts and novices differ in their strategies.


“I would spend too much time harping on one student for limited participation and remove myself from others that sought my attention for constructive purposes.”

One question asked participants, “How would have handled a situation at the beginning of your career?”  We analyzed responses, and found that early career teachers prioritized eliminating issues, by yelling, calling the principal and sending students to the main office for minor incidents. 


“I think students seek routine so as to feel comfortable in knowing what is coming next and how to approach it. This holds true with teaching lessons as well as managing behavior.”

In contrast to their novice-selves, experts tended to treat incidents holistically. They cited frameworks like “restorative circle” and community/team approaches.  They establish routines early in the year, which prevented some problems. They nurtured relationships with students, and made reasonable adjustments to classroom expectations for certain students.  They did not follow all of the school-level rules, only enforcing the ones they believed in. 



We chose the following learner-centered learning objectives:

  1. Teachers will be able to scale their reactions to student behaviors appropriately in a given context, taking into account the visibility, directness, and degree of sternness in their response (e.g. volume, language, body language).
  2. Given a student incident, teachers will be able to identify and apply effective strategies for re-establishing broken routines/expectations, including considering the frequency with which a pre-standing issue is addressed.



We brainstormed the mechanics of four different game ideas, including the one we picked in the end.  The other three were:

  • Teacher’s Mind: Players represent different perspectives in one teacher’s mind and work together to hopefully make it through a school year’s worth of classroom management issues.
  • Collaborating & Enforcing Rules: Players are teachers and use rules/norm cards to resolve classroom management issues, while also convincing the other players that their solution is best to win the most points.
  • Student + Incident: Players are teachers and must develop strategies and arguments around classroom management issues to convince the “judge” and win the most points.



Playtest 1

We recruited three participants at a playtest night at Carnegie Mellon to test out our situation and student cards.  In this version, the players had to negotiate with each other and “agree” on one shared answer. 

See below for an example of the student cards (left) and situation card (right):


The key questions we wanted to answer were:

  • How do players feel about the scoring system and answers?
  • What effect did the student cards have on players’ ability to imagine a student?
  • How long will a single round take?   How much discussion is needed to decide on a strategy?

Through the playtest, we found that:

  • Players had trouble conceiving the reasons for answers being scored as they were.  (Note that an explanation for the correct choice – A, B, C or D – was never given to them)
  • The way they imagined the character was to connect the student-cards in unique ways.  For example, they drew and connected the cards bully with stable home-life and focused in class in different ways.  One player thought this person was “extreme on the inside,” while another said that the character probably tried to show that she was smart on the outside.
  • The players took a total of 5 to 7 minutes per round.   Of that, 3 to 5 minutes was dedicated to discussion about strategies.


Playtest 2

Since the players in playtest 1 didn’t understand why the correct answers were correct, we added rationales to the cards.  We actually changed the “answer side” of the situation cards completely.  Now, they looked like this:


The key question was whether players could interpret these symbols.  It turned out that it was difficult to distinguish some of the symbols like the squares in the -2 box for row B.


Playtest 3

For this playtest, we introduced the board and recruited four pre-service teachers from the University of Pittsburgh.  The goal in the game became to fill up the board with chips.  Players subtracted or added chips according to what the back of the situation cards said (-2, -1, +1, or +2).  We also created additional student cards that had a picture of a student.  Actually, there were two kinds of student pictures: blob students (see picture below), and human-like students.  The reason we had the former was to prevent players from thinking of stereotypes while playing the game.  We didn’t want them to think of a person of color and a misbehavior as connected in some way.  

blob people - meant to reduce stereotyping
blob people – meant to reduce stereotyping


The key questions we wanted to answer were:

  • Do the players realize the purpose for the blob student pictures?
  • What kind of lessons do the players take away from the game?  
  • Do players prefer to come to consensus and submit one answer, or answer individually?  

Through the playtest, we found that:

  • Players, independent of us, came to the conclusion that the blob student pictures’ purpose was to avoid stereotypes.
  • Players told us that they took away a diverse range of lessons.  For one player, she said that it reinforced the notion that students come into the classroom with ‘baggage’ and that it was important to take a step back when someone does something wrong and try to find out why they did that.
  • Players said that they preferred to submit individual answers because it is more realistic.
  • The lack of context confused them.  The players thought that some of the answers would have been different, depending on whether the setting of the game was urban or suburban.  

Playtest 4

We returned to the University of Pittsburgh and playtested with a pre-service teacher and an administrator.  We decided to test some new features in this last round of the semester.  For example, we gave the players 5 seconds to pick an answer, because that seemed to be more realistic.  We also interviewed a veteran teacher before the playtest, and changed the explanations with her advice.  


In this playtest we wanted to know whether the teachers would like:

  • the 5 second rule
  • the changed explanations

We found that:

  • they preferred to discuss, like in previous versions, which made the 5 second rule meaningless
  • they liked the new explanations



What learning principles were evident in the final version of the game?

  • Collaboration with individual accountability – research by famed psychologist Dr. Robert Slavin found that collaboration works best when group members know how well, or how poorly other group members contributed.

In the game, players pick the answers they believe are correct.  After finding out the correct answer, each player either adds to or takes away from the group’s point total.  This is an example of collaboration with individual accountability.

  • Feedback – in order to get better at something, it is helpful to have feedback after making an attempt.  Moreover, specific feedback is usually better than general feedback.

The explanations for different answer choices, on the back of the situation cards, serve as feedback.

  • Anchored learning & just-in-time learning – anchored learning means giving the learner realistic problems, and just-in-time learning means that the problem is given before the explanation.

Unlike the theoretical instruction that graduate students sometimes get, all of the problems in the game are realistic.  In terms of just-in-time learning, it is our hope that pre-service teachers play the game before entering the classroom as student teachers.  That way, they will already have some prior knowledge of how to handle classroom management issues beforehand, and can be more successful.  At the very least, playing the game should lead to…

  • Discussion – through discussion, people see different points of view, and have to defend their own.  This is useful for developing conceptual knowledge.

Discussion is the central game mechanic.  Much of the other game mechanics, such as imagining a student, are meant to encourage discussion.  Players discuss their answers before seeing how to score them.



We are planning on submitting our game to the Serious Play Conference‘s competition this year (2019).


Time: 2 months

Team: Ulu Mills, Laura Rodirguez

Methods: prototyping, play testing, visual design, laser cutting

Tools: Adobe Indesign and Illustrator

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