Patrick Jagoda

Hexacago Health Academy

board game curriculum


Directed with: Melissa Gilliam
Created with: Game Changer Chicago Design Lab and the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health (Ci3)
Curriculum Facilitators: Megan Macklin, Peter McDonald, and Keith Wilson
Support: National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA)

The Hexacago Health Academy was a science and health intervention that took the form of a game-based curriculum. Two sets of workshop brought teams of high school students to the University of Chicago campus for three and four weeks, respectively, to learn about key health issues through a combination of game play, game design, health research, and interactions with STEM and health professionals and adult mentors. The core of the curriculum focused on Hexacago: a game board that the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab created in 2013. This board represents a map of the city of Chicago with an overlay of hexagons. It encourages the development of games that depend on a socio-ecological model that grapples with health promotion at individual, interpersonal, community, and policy levels.

The 2015 workshop focused on sexual and reproductive health. This three-week program yielded four health-oriented board game prototypes, co-created with participating youth and adult game designers. These games focused on issues of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, childhood obesity, and achievement of educational goals. This workshop represents the first step of a five-year study about health education and games.

The 2016 workshop focused on health issues related to alcohol and drugs. This four-week program yielded three board game prototypes. These games focused on community policing, marijuana use, and the effects of drugs and alcohol on the everyday life of adolescents. 

The 2017 workshop invited students to play games created in previous HHA workshops. These students rewrote rules for clarity and playtested updated versions of each of the games. Game Changer Chicago designers collected their feedback to inform further game development over the course of the year.

In 2018, the Game Changer Chicago team also collaborated with the Center for College Access and Success (CCAS) to recruit educators to form the Hexacago Advisory Group. GEAR UP educators participated in a group discussion to provide feedback, and brainstorm ways games might be used in their classrooms. In theses sessions, participants have described the challenges of integrating games in the classroom, including lack of access to technology and increased focus on testing and test scores. They have also described the positive aspects of games including the development of social-emotional skills and the production of safe play spaces.

In the summer of 2019, we worked with South Side Chicago teachers to run and study a week-long curriculm organized around five of the board games created in previous workshops.

A detailed Biomedical Beat feature about the multi-year program.

An overview of the first summer program.

An announcement about the NIH grant award that supported Hexacago Health Academy.

A MacArthur Foundation story about Hexacago Health Academy.