Simulating Scientific Inquiry with the Card Game Eleusis

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Science Education



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Eleusis, a card game invented in the mid-1950s, simulates various features of scientific inquiry (Gardner, 1959, 1977; Abbot, 1968, 1977). typically, card games exercise deductive logic: players try to achieve a goal without violating a known set of rules. Eleusis is unique because it requires inductive and deductive reasoning: players try to discover a secret rule by inductively using information given by cards played in the game to make hypotheses about the secret rule and deductively test these ideas in subsequent play. Whereas "hypothesis machines" (Martin, 1972, pp. 16-17) -- mechanical devices with a hidden mechanism that is to be guessed from known instances of input and output--also involve a secret rule. Eleusis is virtually superior for science teaching because the analogy with scientific inquiry is more complete, because the secret rule comes in an almost infinite variety and is therefore variable from game to game, because the game is easily learned by most anyone ten years of age or older, because playing is fun and holds interest, and because expense is limited to several decks of standard playing cards. This paper describes Eleusis, deepens the published analogies between Eleusis and scientific method, and thereby illustrates the effectiveness of Eleusis for reinforcing science teaching. These views are based upon discussions with forestry, wildlife science, range science, ecology, and biology graduate students and faculty who played Eleusis in a natural resources science education course. The examples used are in the context of natural resources science, but the principles hold for all sciences.


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