Using Bee Genius to teach spatial recognition (and why its important)

Did you know that being able to tell one shape from another is a skill that’s needed in order to learn to read?  Games like Bee Genius are perfect for helping children to learn this skill.

I recently spent a morning teaching 4 and 5 year olds to play Bee Genius. 

Here’s what I saw and learned while they explored the game

It was fascinating to watch the games unfold and notice the different strategies in play.  The children had varying levels of development and it was interesting to see how this played out.   They all had the chance to experience the game before we tried to teach any strategy and I think this was valuable as it let their skills and inquisitive minds be free.

But first, how does the game work?

How do you play?

The game is played by rolling dice, placing worker bees (single hexagon pieces) on the board in the locations specified by the dice and then fitting the remaining pieces onto the board.  

I’m going to touch on the three main phases of the game (setup, early solution, finishing it off) and the opportunities I noticed at each stage.

Here’s a step-by-step description of how it went and the learning opportunities I spotted at each stage.  These observations would likely be different if people with prior experience were playing.

Setup phase

You start by placing the queen bee piece in the centre of the board.  Then you roll six coloured dice and place the worker bees on the corresponding locations on the board.  For example if the green dice had number 1 you’ll put a piece on the green 1 hexagon. 

For some rolling dice was a new concept.  I model holding the dice in my hand and letting them roll off onto the table and then had them try.  Alternatively, the dice could be rolled by pouring them from a cup.

When it comes to placing the worker bees it can be easy to get confused about which dice have been done.  This confusion can be averted by moving the dice to the side once the bee has been placed.

Sometimes this stage is overwhelming if all the dice are rolled at once.  In this case you can try rolling one dice at a time and putting the worker bees in individually.

Early solution stages

Once the board is setup with queen bee and worker bees its time to fit the remaining pieces onto the board.

In most cases the children would eagerly rush in and place pieces on the board until they got to a point where no more would fit and there were gaps.  Some would immediately move on to the finishing it off stage by removing and re-placing pieces to try to get a better fit.  Others would stop with a “they don’t fit”.

In these early solution stages it seemed there was little to no thought about which pieces they were picking up or where they were going.  For example: small pieces were going into big spaces.

This point where it doesn’t work is so valuable. 

  • Ask what happened?
  • How did you get to this point?
  • You can look at the number of holes and see if it matches the number of blocks on the pieces that haven’t been placed. Oh, so there’s the right number of holes but they’re not in the shape we have.
  • Ask what they think they can do.

Finishing it off

In many cases with new players they wont get it right straight away.  This is where the trial and error and piece moving begins. 

Some players would take out one or two pieces to try to fit the extra bit in.

A great question here would be to ask why the child is taking out these specific pieces.  If they can’t articulate it you could say something like “you’re taking out some pieces to see if they can fit better”.

For others they didn’t know where to start to get a solution.  In these cases I would remove a few pieces and say “try this bit again”.

What prior knowledge can support the game play?

Playing the game is one thing but I also like to think about what things are useful to know ahead of time.  What related experiences could support the learning process?

Get to know the individual pieces

Look at the different shapes and how they’re constructed. 

For example, there are three different shapes made up of 3 hexagons and each shape is constructed differently. 

In the triangle the hexagons are joined on adjacent faces. 

For the straight line the hexagons are joined on opposite faces. 

For the curved piece the pieces are joined on faces that are neither adjacent or opposite.

Name the pieces

Another way to increase familiarization is to name or describe the pieces. It can be easier to find the piece you need if you can say “its the diamond”.

Look at how they go together

How can the individual shapes be constructed with the other shapes? For example the four long piece could be made of the 3 and 1 pieces or the 2, 1 and 1 pieces. 

This knowledge can be useful in the finishing it off stage where you might find you can free up smaller pieces by replacing them with a larger piece.

I’ve made a worksheet with each of the shapes (not the single) on it.   These can be used to prompt you to find all of the different ways that you can make each one. 

Game-play strategies

Once the children have had a chance to play the game they’re likely to work out some strategies for play.  Here are some of the key strategies I’ve thought of:

  1. Before placing pieces stop and look at the board and the pieces. Are there any spaces on the board that have few options?  This could be small areas or areas that are narrow.  These might be good places to start.
  2. Before placing pieces have a look at the parts – are there any that are harder to put in or any that are easier? For example the single one hexagon pieces and the two-hexagon piece are easier to place than the 4-diamond or even the 4-straight.  Save the easy pieces to last.  They can be helpful to fill tricky holes.
  3. Place pieces next to existing ones. Rather than putting pieces in the middle of an open space try to build around existing pieces.
  4. When you’re stuck have a look and see if you can replace and combinations of shapes with larger shapes.

What others strategies have you seen?

For all of the games I observed there was one thing they all had in common.  A resounding “can I play again?”.


Find out more about Bee Genius.

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