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game that teaches middle schoolers about bacteria

what’s up with bacteria?

Illustration of various bacteria

Public health policies often require the cooperation of the public. Sometimes, citizens are hesitant to cooperate due to misconceptions of the science behind policies. Educational strategies can prevent these harmful misunderstandings.

Our group wanted to design a tabletop game to teach middle schoolers about bacteria. After reading scholarly articles about public (mis)conceptions of bacteria, we established learning objectives for students:

mechanic development

Before coming up with the core system, we looked at games handling similar subject matter and research on games for science education. We were encouraged by the positive educational outcomes reported by researchers, and admired the cooperative decisionmaking and experimental invitation that some games exhibited. We then brainstormed by fiddling with physical parts of existing tabletop games until we stumbled upon a system of matching cards to remove bacteria that seemed promising.

refining the gameplay

We successfully created gameplay that mirrored the concepts we wanted students to learn about, but initial playthroughs revealed a lack of interesting decisionmaking. We continually tweaked and tested our game until it was engaging even when played over and over. We then invited others to playtest the game to evaluate the clarity of our rules, fun factor, and learning outcomes.

about the game

Overhead shot of playing area. There are various bacteria cards placed in a grid.

Conjugation is cooperative game in which players attempt to eliminate as many bad bacteria from the board while keeping as many good bacteria as possible. Since some bacteria are bad and some are good, discretion must be taken when eliminating bacteria, since an antibacterial might also eliminate good bacteria. Rather than winning or losing, the players receive a score at the game’s end, reminding them that managing bacterial outbreaks is a ongoing effort that doesn’t end.

learning goals

design considerations

next steps

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