Testing 1, 2, 3
A Plastic Bag Advocate, as played by a CHF staffer, raises his eyebrow skeptically at a suggestion from a Waste Group representative during the Case of Plastics test run.
With the bulk of materials for The Case of Plastics complete and teachers chomping at the bit to begin introducing the topic, we still had a few concerns about how the game would actually play. After all, though this is a pilot, we didn’t want the students to be the first “guinea pigs” for our experiment in a completely new game. We want the students to enjoy the experience and be successful, thus increasing their understanding of the issues surrounding plastics.
From the beginning of the project we planned test runs for fine tuning and tweaking. A very fortunate full test run played out in the Environmental History class of project researcher Mike Mackintosh, but we also wanted to engage the help and expertise of Chemical Heritage Foundation staff members. However, The Case of Plastics game takes approximately two weeks to play, and CHF staff members do not have that much time in their schedules.
We chose to use the time we had with CHF staff to address the point in the game with the most possibility of failure—the intercession. In the game, the first round debate ends in a stalemate. The members of each group are then randomly divided into three new groups which must propose a new regulation based on compromise. But how would the creation of this new regulation work? It was this question we set about answering with our test run.
With the incentive of food and beverages, we were able to recruit twelve enthusiastic participants. Each was assigned a role, provided with background information, the original regulation, and the regulation for their interest group. Although there are many more materials available on the website, we were selective in our distribution; we didn’t want to overburden our volunteers.
CHF staff members debate the provisions of their new regulation.
On test day, the group was provided with an introduction and divided into two groups to write their new regulations. The Conflicts in Chemistry team moderated and observed. Our recruits were very enthusiastic and quite competitive. They argued vociferously for their points. They assumed their characters and role-played well. They even wanted to extend the targeted time period. I suspect the food helped.
In the end we learned a great deal. Our focus group seemed to enjoy the role-playing game and felt it was a good way to engage students in learning about the positives and negatives of plastics. We also learned, as we suspected, there were areas that need tweaking—problems we could not have identified without seeing how actual players interacted with the materials and with each other. Now we will make minor changes to materials and recommendations to teachers to help ensure a better experience for the students.
We are grateful for the time, effort, and invaluable input provided by our CHF test group. We learned a lot from the experience, and we will put it to work improving The Case of Plastics.