Updated: May 9, 2020
What's going on everyone?
So normally I have a video game club once a week after school. What that really means is that I have a Super Smash Bros. club since that's the only game my students ever want to play. Because of this, I have been trying to find a unique way to incorporate the game into one of my lessons. You can find the lesson here.
My students are currently in the process of writing their final papers for the year and many of them will need to incorporate a graph as a piece of evidence for whichever topic they have chosen. What I have noticed is that many of my students often extrapolate incorrect conclusions based on the numbers represented in a graph. Their conclusions make sense at first glance, but they fail to take into account the context of what caused the results represented in the graph.
The focus of this lesson was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed a number of racist restrictions that prevented African Americans from voting. Some students chose this bar graph to include in their essays. A large number of them assumed that before 1965, voting was not very important to African Americans because the numbers in the graph show that they had low voter registration rates. While I completely understand why they came to that conclusion, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the information that the graph is attempting to portray. This graph has nothing to do with whether or not African Americans wanted to vote. It's about how their access to voting was limited due to a number of factors.
So I created a lesson about putting evidence in context; specifically evidence from graphs. So I set up Super Smash Bros. and decided we were going to create a bar graph based on the results of several fights between a student and myself.
Before we fought, I changed my damage percentage to 300% which made it significantly easier to kill me. I rigged the game so that whoever played against me would most likely win. The winner was whoever won four times first and in each of my classes, I lost the match.
So we ended up with a graph that looked like this where Player 1 (me), had zero wins and Player 2 (student), had four. Then based on the information in the graph, students had to decide who was the better player. Many students jumped right to believing Player 2 was better because they had won all four times. Like the graph that showed voter registration before 1965, some failed to take into account the context which was that the game was rigged against me. It didn't matter if I was actually better or not because the context made it near impossible for me to win. Most students were able to point out that we don't really know who is better because of the 300% damage I started with.
After we played again on an even playing field, I destroyed each of my students. I will note that I am very good at Super Smash Bros. so for this lesson to work, you need someone who is skilled enough to be Player 1. Or choose a different game where you are both very skilled and are able to rig the game against yourself. After I won, it was clear to the entire class that there were more factors influencing the numbers in our original graph than the students had originally assumed.
So then we went back to the graph on voter registration among African Americans in the United States before 1965. This time, however, we read the context of the situation detailing the many factors that prevented black people from voting like poll taxes and literacy tests. At this point they knew the numbers in the original graph did not mean voting wasn't important to African Americans just like they knew Player 2 wasn't necessarily the better Super Smash player.
Using this video game, my students were able to cement in their memories that they absolutely need to check the context of a graph before they use it as evidence in their research papers. They are often very quick to copy any random graph they find in Google because it makes their paper looks "academic." This leads to my students incorporating incorrect, or contradicting evidence. The lesson has helped stop these trends. I will give a more thorough writeup about how the lesson went in my class at a later point.
Thanks for reading,