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Domino effect: game-piece challenge spurs out-of-the-box learning


FIU architecture students know that playing with dominoes can be educational.

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These and other handcrafted dominoes are on display through April in the Green Library.

Professor Jaime Canaves assigned them the task of creating their own game tiles, and they came up with versions made of non-traditional materials such as plastic bottle caps, river rocks and baked clay.

Canaves threw out the challenge as an extra credit opportunity. Architecture students “usually work in the abstract, in paper, ideas,” he said. “Seldom do students get to see something from beginning to end.”

The point was to help students understand the process of going from the drawing board to a completed project, Canaves explained. The domino challenge required students to follow various steps, among them sketching out their designs, making a single prototype piece and then testing an early set of tiles by actually playing a game with them. At that point, some—such as those made of chocolate, which melted, and those of clear glass, which allowed players to see the numbers through the back—had either to be discarded altogether or rethought.

Graduate student Veronica Vera appreciated the chance to design something other than a building, which as a student she could never hope to see constructed.

“The main thing [I learned] was that any object can be redesigned,” she said of the lowly domino. “If you push the limits, you can create amazing things.”

Not all the projects received Canaves’s go-head to the final stage. Of those that did, some are simple but nonetheless well executed, he said, while others relied on high-tech construction methods. One example of the latter: Vera’s own precision laser cutting of acrylic and wood components that she assembled to evoke a city skyline. She said someone offered to buy the set even before she had a chance to turn it in for a grade.

More than two dozen handmade sets of dominoes—most from Canves’s fall 2012 class, a few from students he taught earlier that year and even two sets that Canaves himself made out of Legos—are on display through April 30 on the second floor of the Green Library at MMC. A domino tournament—using traditional tiles and domino game tables—will take place in the Green Library at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, April 19. Interested players can simply show up at that time prepared for competition, Canaves said.

The first written mention of dominoes dates back to 13th-century China, although likely the game existed there as early as the 12th century. It is believed that religious missionaries to that country brought dominoes home with them to Italy in the 18th century. Popularity quickly spread in Catholic France and Spain, and the latter introduced the game to its colonies in the New World.

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