All posts by Lee Hachadoorian

Using Physical Movement as a Learning Aid

Inspired by movement-based games like the Wii, NYU-Poly professor Katherine Isbister studies the way that movement influences learning. As an example, she has piloted a program using “power poses” with middle school girls learning math. She hopes to demonstrate that these poses will reduce math anxiety, leading to better learning outcomes. She is also director of a new Game Innovation Lab at NYU-Poly.

Isbister is looking pretty specifically at the emotional experience of movement. I also like to incorporate movement into my classes in two ways. One is that a movement-based exercise is memorable. Getting the students out of their seats redirects their focus, which inevitably will wander during a long lecture. Second, movement allows the students to directly experience distance and space, for spatial subjects. For example, in my economic geography class, I discuss various mathematical models of optimal location, e.g. where do you want to put a hospital so that it provides the lowest total travel time to the served population? In introducing this topic, I will have the students physically place themselves around the classroom and count floor tiles as they move from their “house” to the “hospital”.

Using movement in this way is actually a lot less ambitious than what Isbister is doing, as I’m using movement to get across content that, at its core, already involves movement—of people or goods. But whereas the subject of economic geography deals with movement through space, Isbister is studying movement of bodies, and the cognitive and emotional affects of that movement. Nonetheless, her research indicates that I’m on the right track, and should be doing more lessons like this.

AudaCity the Game

I just spent the last few days at the Urban Affairs Association 2011 conference in New Orleans. It was an amazing collection of researchers and practitioners working on urban issues, with many papers focused on the post-Katrina recovery. I also had the pleasure of meeting Matt Cazessus and Colby King, urban sociologists from the University of South Carolina, who have designed a game to simulate the process of urban development. With everything else going on at the conference, they did not actually run a playtest, but I have to say that it looks very promising, and I’m looking forward to playing it and to trying it out in a classroom environment.

The game is constructed to illustrate various urban concepts, such as regime theory, which emphasizes the interdependence of governmental and non-governmental forces. To this end, the players take on different roles, such as the mayor, organized labor, or the chamber of commerce. A game design problem emerges in that it can be very difficult to create fair game where players have different goals (i.e., different winning conditions), so how would you create a game with identifiable actors who, in the real world, would have different goals? King and Cazessus borrow a mechanic from games like Puerto Rico, where players adopt different roles on different turns. In the context of teaching an urban politics class, that means that each player gets to experience these different roles, while solving the game design problem by having the player strive for the same goal (maximizing income from development) while the roles are nonetheless differentiated in their power and influence.

The board represents a platted street and block grid. Imagine New York City in the early 1800s. The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 has just been adopted, so development must take place within the blocks that have been laid out on paper, even if the streets have not even been extended that far North on Manhattan Island. Each round, each player proposes a development plan, which is a set of roads and buildings to be built, along with where (within the established grid) they are to be built. Then the players vote among the plans, and the plan with the most votes wins. As observed by one playtester, the players are both competing and cooperating in the process. I asked the designers about the power of the mayor in the game, and they said that the mayor is a powerful role in the game, but if the player with the mayor role is too autocratic or self-interested, the other players will usually gang up to defeat the mayor’s proposals. And, since roles get shuffled during the game, someone else will get to be mayor soon…

The game only exists in prototype currently, but if you are interested in finding out more about it, particularly for classroom use, you may contact the designers at, or check out their Facebook page.

This page duplicated at my Free City blog.