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“Playing to Teach Moral Development”
Presented at American Psychological Association
August  1998  San Francisco, CA


The section on moral development in most developmental psychology courses is usually taught very quickly. Students memorize the stages of Kohlberg's theory and Gilligan's objections to Kohlberg's theory. They read about the methods Kohlberg used to formulate his theory as well as the limits on those methods. Sometimes, they read the original Heinz dilemma and try to formulate responses that are appropriate to the various Kohlbergian levels. Occasionally students read about an alternative theory, such as that of Robert Selman. (Damon's theory of the self is also a useful adjunct theory.) However, most students still struggle to understand the topic and few see the relevance of the theories to the "real world."

One activity that seems to help students understand the intricacies of moral development theory and to appreciate the subtleties as well as the developmental components is to have students apply such concepts to a "real-life" situation. In this case, students create a game. Games involve various elements of morality and decision making and there is a clear progression of complexity in the rules in children's game playing abilities and interest. Creating a game as 10 and 11 year olds would, playing the game, and subsequently analyzing the process gives students a better understanding of the topic.


On tests, students who completed the game activity answered more multiple choice items on moral development correctly than students in classes where the activity was not used. This result could also be coincidence or the result of higher pre-knowledge. I frequently use this activity prior to discussing the theories of moral development. Students are often able to better relate the theoretical components after completing the activity. Students report enjoying this activity and having a stronger sense of "how all this moral development stuff works" after completion.

Directions

     Students are divided into groups of four by the instructor (This avoids close friends being in the same group which sometimes works against the activity. I have sometimes purposely created all male and all female groups to discuss gender differences in rule making.)

Each group is given a plastic bag with 10 large, soft plastic jacks (colors vary), 5 marbles, and 2 superball-like balls. One ball is large, one is small. (Items can be purchased as dollar stores.) Groups get one aggie (large marble). Each group also gets one overhead and an overhead marker.   


The task is to create a game, as 10 or 11 year olds would. All items in the plastic bag must be used (the bag does not have to be used). The rules must fit on one overhead.
 

 Early on, I did not put this one overhead  limit on the rules. I  learned quickly to limit the rules  to one page.

 Students are not told that there must be winners or losers or how to use any of the items.
 
       
 
Another variation is to assign different ages to the groups so they create games for those ages which allows  for age comparisons.

 
Students are given 20-30 minutes to create a game.

When students return to the classroom, each group presents their game and overhead of rules.

Once all groups have presented, the class discusses the games: commonalities, differences, developmental issues related to these things.

We then review the literature on moral development and relate it to the games. As a final step, we review Piaget and apply  the games to his framework.