Extreme Event: Using Games to Teach Disaster Resilience

KERI STOEVER (kstoever@nas.edu) is a program officer at the National Academy of Sciences, LabX, Washington, D.C.

The Extreme Event game is an award-winning in-person role-playing game developed by the National Academy of Sciences' Koshland Science Museum (now LabX). With content drawn from recommendations of the seminal National Research Council report Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative (National Research Council, 2012), Extreme Event gives participants a taste of what it takes to build community resilience in the face of three disaster scenarios (earthquake, flood, hurricane) while working together to make decisions and solve problems during an engaging, fast-paced simulation.

A recent evaluation of the impacts of Extreme Event found that educators see tremendous value in the game, their students have very rich and engaging learning experiences, and they continue to use the game extensively. The survey found that 85 percent of teachers felt that the game supported their teaching goals and helped students practice critical thinking and make real-world connections with classroom content. In these settings, teachers talked about noticing that some of their students were able to apply some aspect of the game experience to better understand or apply the topic or unit they were studying. Additionally, teachers saw students actively engaged in the decision-making process, one noting, "You really have to choose between two very hard, difficult scenarios. That was one of the things, I felt, that was really compelling in that it pointed out the world is gray, and you never get to make a perfect, 100% correct decision."

Teachers also reported that the game was applicable to a wide variety of subjects, recognizing that, "Even if you weren't ... the Earth and space science teacher ... [the teachers] saw how they could take the format and the structure of the game and use it to address other topics in their course." Respondents also reported using the game to teach and test teamwork and communication skills. An educator who organizes it for college students said, "Well, for me I really wanted them to focus on teamwork ... I really appreciated this idea of when did communication break down and when did communication work?"

Enjoyment of the Extreme Event game seems to be another reason teachers continue to use it both in the classroom and with other school-related programming for all ages. One described college students who used it giving presentations at the end of their program and saying, "Some of them talk about what they learned through Extreme Event. Some people have brought that up as a highlight." Another, who organizes the game for elementary students, said, "When they were doing reflections about what they loved of fourth grade, [Extreme Event] was something that was mentioned."

Designed to be challenging enough to be intellectually and socially stimulating to participants, Extreme Event conveys key messages and supports learning outcomes related to resilience. Participants walk away with messages about building coalitions to increase community resilience, the importance of investment in both long-and short-term resources, and how different stakeholders in a community bring different things to the table. Additionally, the game allows players to practice and increase skills such critical thinking and scientific/civic literacy. The game's logic model also identifies the short-term outcomes of helping teachers support curriculum goals and encouraging students to make real-world connections with classroom content.

Easily integrated into any classroom, the Extreme Event game requires just 12 players, one hour of time, and the free-to-download materials from the game's website. LabX staff have worked to help make the game easily accessible to educators and to increase the number of students who experience it. As a result, during the 2018-2019 school year close to 9,000 7th grade students in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District outside Houston, Texas, played the Extreme Event game in both their science and social studies classes. Educators in the district felt that Extreme Event was not only an excellent addition to their curricula, but they also saw it as a way to empower students who had experienced Hurricane Harvey just prior to the beginning of the previous school year.

Additionally, in December 2018, the Extreme Event game became part of JASON Learning's Monster Storms curriculum. Accessed by over 1,300 educators each year, the curriculum examines current research to improve forecasting, allowing communities to better prepare for storms and avoid their destructive potential. Since the addition of the Extreme Event game to the curriculum, almost 800 teachers have accessed Monster Storms and LabX staff have led professional development sessions at both regional and national JASON Learning conferences.

Appropriate for ages 10 and up, Extreme Event is a great way for educators to teach students a variety of topics and skills. Whether your students are studying extreme weather or you'd like them to brush up on their problem-solving and decision-making skills, Extreme Event is the perfect classroom activity.

Want to bring the Extreme Event game to your classroom? Visit https://labx.org/extreme-event/ materials/ to download and print the free game materials. Or fill out a materials rental request at https://labx. org/extreme-event/materials-request-form/ and have LabX staff send you a complete set of game materials to borrow for a two-week loan period. Email LabX staff to discuss in-person facilitation and training options at labx@nas.edu. For additional information or questions, please contact Keri Stoever at kstoever@nas.edu.


JASON Learning, Operation: Monster Storm: https:// www.jason.org/portfolio_item/weather-monster- storms (accessed August 2019)

National Research Council, 2012, Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative: Washington, D.C., National Academies Press, 260 p.