Shape Search

by Peter Norris

Currently employed as an Associate Programmer for ENFIN Technology, a subsidiary of EASEL Corporation.

Instructional Objective Given the deck of cards described below, the learners will be able to perceive and communicate descriptions of objects by observing the fine details of those objects.

Learners/Context The learners are first, second, and third graders. The card game will be played after the students have received instruction in observing objects of different shapes and textures.

Rationale Project VISTA (Visual/Spatial Thinking Activities) has received funds from the National Science Foundation to develop the visual and spatial thinking skills of primary school children. Dr. Alan McCormack, project director, has devised a taxonomy of these skills. He has divided these skills into the following categories: Visual/Spatial Perception, Visual Spatial Memory, Logical Visual/Spatial Thinking, and Creative Visual/Spatial Thinking. This card game is designed to promote practice in the first three categories. Visual/Spatial skills are important to a child's development. Mastery of these skills is vital to their success in the real world.

The following elements of Dr. McCormack's taxonomy are addressed by this game:

* The ability to form mental images of observed objects.

* The ability to observe fine details of objects.

* Making connections between real objects and photographs.

* The ability to [verbally] communicate descriptions of previously perceived objects.

* The ability to visualize objects based on verbal descriptions.

* The ability to complete figures.

* The ability to interpret 2-D representations of 3-D objects.

The students' first application of these skills is required for object recognition. There are many objects which a child will be expected to manipulate such as pens and pencils, blocks and balls. Key to manipulation of these objects is their recognition. This recognition includes the ability to differentiate among similar objects based on minor differences between those objects.

The ability to communicate a description of an object not only strengthens the child's vocabulary, but makes it easier for him to include new objects into his existing schema.

An indicator of the ability to recognize an object is to do so with only partial information. Adults can identify a type of fruit by just seeing a slice of it. If this behavior can be made automatic, then the child's ability to distinguish between previously perceived objects and new objects will be enhanced. This ability should lessen the cognitive load for a child who can be expected to be confronted by many new objects.

This game promotes automaticity in all these skills. The skill levels required by the game can be easily increased or decreased.

The consequences of losing may be difficult for some younger students. This card game de-emphasizes this aspect of gaming in favor of a cooperative environment. Children who desire more competition, and can handle the consequences, may employ strategy to improve their chances of winning the game.

Process My description of the instructional process will assume that the learners possess only the most basic skill level. Comments found in Advanced Play section indicate how to increase the skill level of the game.

This is a "Go Fish" type game. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards by matching pictures. The deck of cards contains 15 pictures of objects with which the student should be familiar. The instructor will present these objects to the students. The presentation should include a description of the objects, including their shape and distinguishing textural characteristics. For example, one of the figures included in the deck is of a lemon and another is of a tennis ball. The instructor will explain that both of the objects are round but one of them has a smooth texture and another has a fuzzy texture. The description of surface textures is important because the cards themselves do not have texture (actually they all have just one texture, smooth). Part of the presentation should include a period for the students to manipulate the objects. They should be able to feel the difference between fuzzy and smooth so that they may incorporate this new vocabulary.

The students may be then given the cards and instructed on how to play the game. It is important to emphasize to the students that they may work together to complete the figures. Open discussion among the students should be encouraged.

Card Design

The deck consists of 15 figures or books. Each book contains four cards. When the cards of a book are arranged in a square pattern, a detailed photograph of an object is perceived.

The game also includes a set of racks on which the players can place their cards. These will enable the players to fully see the face of each card. They will also enable the players to arrange their cards without having to concentrate on holding them in their hand, a psychomotor skill which the younger players might find difficult.

The back of the cards will have a polarized "holographic" type image which changes slightly depending on the angle at which it is viewed.

The Advanced version also includes a set of cards listing Taboo words. The players may not use these words to describe the shapes they are looking for.

The photographs for each book are:

Lemon Tennis Ball

Steel Pipe Log

Brick Shoe Box

Sponge Plate

Automobile Wheel Roll of Tape

2x4 piece of wood Square Wooden Board (plywood)

Ruler Garden Hose


Rules The game is structured like the game "Go Fish". The object of the game is to be the first to get rid of all your cards by completing books. Each book is composed of four cards. A photograph of an object has been divided into quarters. Each card of a book contains one of these quarter photographs. When the four cards of a book are arranged on a table a photograph of the object is perceived.

1. The game requires two to six players.

2. Each student is dealt seven cards. The remaining cards are placed face down in the middle of the playing area. This pile is called the Shape Pot.

3. Play begins with the player to the left of the dealer.

4. Each player asks for the card he/she requires to complete a book. All players who have those cards must give them to the asking player. If no player has the desired card(s) then the asking player will take a card from the Shape Pot.

5. When asking for a card a player must describe the object they are looking for. Players are not permitted to say the name of the object. For example, if a player has three cards from the tennis ball book he/she may not ask for a "tennis ball" but should instead say "a round fuzzy object which is also white."

6. When a player has three or four cards of a book, he/she may lay down those cards on the table. Whenever a player completes a book and arranges the book on the table, he/she must say the name of the object described.

7. If a player lays down only three cards of a book, any other player may lay down the completing card for the book and say the name of the figure. Cards may only be laid down during a players turn.

8. The first player to lay down all his cards wins.

Advanced Play The skill level of the game may be increased in a number of ways.

1. In rule 5 above no restrictions are placed on how many cards of a book a player may ask for. To increase the required skill level, the players must specify which card of the book they are looking for (upper left, lower left, etc.)

2. The number of distinct books can be increased or decreased to increase or decrease the skill level. To further increase the skill level, photographs of complex objects, like furniture, machinery, or complex patterns, may be included in the deck.

3. As described above, the players are not required to keep score. An advanced level of play may include the following scoring rules:

a. The first player to lay down his/her cards receives 20 points for each complete book he/she has laid down.

b. The other players must count all the cards left in their hands. For each card counted, the winning player receives 5 points.

c. If a player lays down a partial book (comprising of only 3 cards), any other player may complete the book and add that book to his/her score if he/she is the first to lay down all his/her cards.

Design Process The first step in the design process was to define the instructional objectives. I used the Taxonomy of Visual/Spatial Thinking Skills developed by Alan McCormack. This taxonomy provides a number of instructional objectives from which I chose a set of related skills.

I next considered the learners and the context in which the game would be played to determine which of the four categories of card games would be most appropriate. I chose the simple "Go Fish" format for three reasons. The rules of the game are simple and may already be familiar to the learners. The game does not require keeping score (which requires the learners to be able to add, a skill they might not possess). Finally, by simple modification of the rules, more advanced levels of competition may be promoted.

I then developed the rules and card design. Even though the game structure is simple, I found it difficult to make unambiguous rules.

I also was concerned about having the face of the card be obscured during play. The inclusion of a rack upon which the players might arrange their cards may alleviate this concern, but its use must be verified in prototype testing.

To verify that the target audience could understand the concepts and rules of the game I discussed the game with an elementary school special education teacher and a child psychologist. I also discussed the game with two parents of first grade children.

These discussions led me to slightly revise the game structure. I then contacted Dr. Alan McCormack to verify that I had used his taxonomy correctly and that the game would be appropriate to the instructional objectives he listed in the taxonomy.

Issues for Prototype Testing I recommend that a number of prototypes be created to test the accuracy of my assumptions (all those I discussed the game with volunteered to assist in prototype testing). I suggest that repercussions of the following issues be observed:

* The photographs on the card show adequate detail about an object's texture, are aesthetic, and familiar to the players.

* The photographs on the card do not exhibit any cultural or gender bias.

* The racks for the cards are of sufficient size.

* The players are able to assimilate the textural vocabulary into play.

* Cooperative learning is promoted. This is especially important for the lower skill levels where scoring is not a factor.