BAXTER -- Eleven years ago Baxter Elementary School teacher Bonnie Hemstad used simple drawings, construction paper and glue to create a mock game to teach her second-graders math facts.
Today her students are learning their math facts from an actual board game she created called Fossil Island. Hemstad said her students' favorite learning area -- dinosaurs -- is incorporated into the game to make it more fun.
Fossil Island challenges a student's logical thinking and self checking practicing skills while the student participates in cooperative group play. But most of all, Hemstad said the game teaches students that winning is not the most important part of the game.
"Kids are given the wrong message by learning that they have to win a game to be good," said Hemstad. "If they don't win they feel inferior and are less likely to attempt anything new."
The game, which has concepts like Chutes and Ladders, is for ages 7 and older. The players shake a wooden die to determine which math fact they must answer to move toward -- one of 100 dinosaur egg shells -- the finish line. There are three levels of addition problems that range from easy to hard. Hemstad said this allows students of all abilities to play on the same playing field.
Hemstad created 12 other card decks people can buy separately for the game that will test other skills.
In the game, bridges are made out of bones, ladders and logs and allow a player a shortcut option. Each player has three "Cross Safely" cards to use during the game. Hemstad said these cards make the students use their cognitive thinking skills.
There also are "Dino Dare" cards. Players can choose to pick a card after completing each move where they will have a 50-50 percent chance to move ahead. They also take the risk of losing a turn.
Hemstad, who has taught in the Brainerd School District for 29 years, said most of the time her students do not finish the game in class. She said it takes about 30 minutes.
Second-grader Jenna Lamb said the game helps her with her math skills. She likes how Hemstad put the game together with all the colors and how everyone gets a turn.
Classmate Nick Schindler said the game is fun and he learned how to add. Another second-grader, Hailey Kohl, likes the game because it is fair and she likes the dinosaurs.
"I like that everyone gets a chance at winning," said Classmate Nick Allen. "I also like that everyone has a lot of fun playing the game."
Dylan Christensen, a second-grader, said the game has made him more confident in his math skills.
Hemstad tells her students Fossil Island is just a game.
"You never tell kids they play this to learn something," she said. "That would take the fun out of it."
Hemstad said making the game fun has been accomplished since many times her students request to stay inside during recess to play the game.
It wasn't easy for Hemstad to make the board game a reality. She came up with the idea of the game because she needed to find a way to motivate her students to learn their addition and subtraction facts. She said flash cards did not work because the students went through them in 10 minutes and would then be bored.
"I needed something they'd be so engrossed in, they would lose track of time," she said.
Hemstad created a mock version of a board game made on construction paper. She tested the game on her students for five years to get their reaction. During this time, she made changes to the rules and plays to adjust to the children's likes and dislikes. She said a majority of the students approved of the game.
Hemstad's efforts to make her game a reality became easier when she saw an ad on television. The ad showed there would be a demonstration of board games at the Mall of America. The demonstrators helped Hemstad with details and told her a company in Canada would print her board game. The company printed 5,000 of her games.
Then Hemstad got another break. Fossil Island was being reviewed by the Education Clearinghouse. The review board gave the game a three-star rating out of three stars and called it fantastic.
Hemstad said this review has given the game more credibility. She said her game is being marketed at home-school parties in 50 states. In the Brainerd area, people can buy the game at CatTale's Books and Gifts in Brainerd. The retail price of the game is $29.95, which is being negotiated.
Hemstad had to take out a loan for Fossil Island. She is hoping to pay off the loan by the end of summer.
Even though it took Hemstad 11 years to get the board game on the shelf, she is happy she went forward with it.
"It really was a love-hate relationship," she said. "I wanted to do it, but I didn't know how. I almost gave up many times. However, a friend of mine pushed me.
"I hear good things, comments from people (about the game). Then I'm feeling all right, I did the right thing."
To find out more about the game go to www.whitesandgames.com.
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