May 16, 2017

Take-home final exam – Story Cubes for climate

Posted by Laura Guertin

I have written about the various formats and inspirations I have used for designing take-home final exams for students in my introductory-level Earth science courses for non-majors. In this post, I share my latest take-home final, focusing on a game and climate science.

Several years ago, while attending an AGU Fall Meeting, I was walking through the Westfield San Francisco Centre and was drawn in to a game store on the lower level called Marbles: The Brain Store (sadly, Marbles closed earlier this year). The games in this store focused on cognition, memory, critical thinking, word skills, coordination, etc. – a perfect shop for AGU attendees! On this particular occasion, I was drawn to a game called Rory’s Story Cubes, a “storytelling game that fosters imagination and connection across generations.” Although I thought this game with nine dice containing various symbols was intriguing and looked like fun, I didn’t purchase the game.

Fast forward to the following year’s AGU, when I strolled back into Marbles and I gave in and purchased the original cube set. I thought this was such a cool idea that could somehow be adapted to use in my Earth science courses, but I wasn’t sure quite how.

Fast forward yet again, and I found the right course with the right focus to bring Story Cubes to my students. This past semester, I taught an introductory-level Earth science course for non-science majors that focused on climate science. Assignments during the semester were data-rich, exploring everything from temperature and precipitation data from NOAA NCDC, to cherry blossom bloom dates from the EPA. My original plan for the take-home final was to have students utilize online datasets on federal websites, but with so many changes to these websites and information being present one day and gone the next, I couldn’t rely on students having access to the materials necessary to complete my final exam.

In comes… Rory’s Story Cubes!

I had purchased sets of the large cubes to start with an in-class activity. On the last day of classes, I broke students into groups to play the game as originally designed – students roll the dice and have a set interval of time to write a story that weaves together all nine symbols appearing on the top of the dice. (I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised how animated and how much fun students had writing and sharing their stories!). I shared with students that there are themed sets of Story Cubes. We had the “actions” and “voyages” sets to play with, but there are themed dice from Batman and Dr. Who to Prehistoria and Intergalatic. One set that does not yet exist – climate science!

For their final exam, students had to come up with images for six dice (36 individual images (I felt that nine dice were too many for the final exam)) for a themed Story Cube set on climate science. For each image, students had to describe what the image would be, how the image connects to climate science, and why they felt this particular image was important and representative to include in a cube set. Students were encouraged to go back through class exercises, their textbook, and explore the websites we used during the semester for inspiration.

The students performed very well on this final exam, and were clever with their symbol selections! From thermometers to raindrops, and bees to coffee beans, students were able to select symbols that they felt were important to use in telling a story about climate science. I only wish I was able to take some of their submissions to the next level and actually create this game!


Previous take-home final exam posts include: