"Planet X"



by Thomas March

Tom teaches at Poway High School where he serves as English department chair and a school-within-a-school coordinator. The current school is called "The REAL World" and targets at-risk and special education students, particularly ninth graders.

Instructional Objective The learner will be able to reasonably classify 8 cultural characteristics that could possibly develop within a given biome.


Learners/Context The learners are students currently enrolled in "The REAL World," an interdisciplinary project geared toward providing students with a stimulating and rich model from which to extrapolate learning that could be applied to "the real world." Additionally, any student of world civilizations and cultures could enjoy playing the game.

This card game would be used by student groups as a way to expose them to the variables of cultural characteristics. After this exposure, each group will receive a randomly selected biome for which they will have to predict the eight following traits: transportation, food source, housing, mythical hero, decision structure, value statement, race, and communication tool. Thus, the card game is instrumental in getting students to think intelligently about how cultural factors inter-relate.


Rationale The material to be learned is complex and full of variables. By playing a card game that accentuates the variability of cultural traits, students begin to see the causality they may not have previously noted. This is a quick and fun way to introduce students to the notion that things don't "just happen."


Rules The game is played in the following manner:

1. The dealer shuffles the deck of 48 cards, giving each of the four players eight cards.

2. The remainder of the deck is placed face down except for the top card which is place face up beside the deck, and a playing board on the center of the table that labels the eight classifications.

3. The player to the left of the dealer either draws the showing card or takes one from the face-down deck. The objective of the game is to get one of each of the eight categories.

4. Each player draws and discards until one of the teammates has eight different categories. This player lays down his or her cards face up.

5. The other teammates and the "winner" must use only the cards in the players' hands to now create in the game board the most logical, consistent culture possible based upon the cards available.

6. When the group has finished this phase, they call a member of the leadership over to analyze their culture.

7. Teams repeat the game 2-3 times to gain sophistication at thinking about causal interrelationships within a culture.


Card Design

The picture in the upper left corner helps the player know which category the card belongs to. The list of eight characteristics helps the student see which card he or she might need (a mnemonic is "Cultures Develop Variously From Mixing Habitats To Pressures"). Once a player gets all eight categories, the specific type within the category (see upper right of card), is used to create a logical and consistent culture.


Deck Design There are eight types of cards used in the game, each representing aspects of a culture. They and their subsets are listed below:

* Communication Methods

Symbols, Drums, Fire/Smoke, Horns, Dance, Drawings.

* Decision Method

Majority rule, Might Makes Right, Consensus, Royal Proclamation, Supernatural Force, Anarchy.

* Value Statement

Rhythmic Chant, Solo Anthem, Group Hymn, Battle Cry, Spoken Pledge, Holy Sermon.

* Food

Fish, Grains, Fruits & Berries, Hunted Meat, Farm Fowl, Nuts & Seeds.

* Mythical Hero

Sun King, Water God, Wind Lord, Harvest King, Father Winter, Family Ancestor.

* Housing

Straw Hut, Caves, Mud Structures, Tree/Stilt House, Igloos, Tents.

* Transportation

Foot, Boat, Snowshoes, Wagon, Pack Animal, Ropes & Ladders.

* Typical People

Caucasian, Islanders, Blacks, Ecuatorials, Nomads, Asians.


Design Process The primary design consideration focused on the problem of how to provide a meaningfully complex content matter in an accessible manner. Initially, a "War" type of card game was considered, but after realizing that any establishment of a hierarchy to these eight cultural traits would not only be arbitrary, but downright fascist. Eventually, a modified rummy type of game was employed with the auxiliary activity of having the players then work cooperatively to arrive at a common culture.

After test-playing the game with the target population, several changes were made to the card design (see how the above sample card shows the revisions from the original, enclosed deck). The learning aspect, the logical thinking through of how some traits inter-relate harmoniously while others are inconsistent appeared to be a good success. Further use for this deck of cards will come when students are given their specific biome and then must come up with appropriate characteristics. They will use the deck of cards and lay them out on the game board until they are happy with their arrangement, then they will begin to tell the story of "A Day in the Life on their Asteroid."