What if we thought of education as simulating peace, literacy, and innovation the way video games simulate war? As James Paul Gee argues in his book “What Video Games Have to Teach US About Learning and Literacy,” “the theory of human learning [is] built into video games.” Video games are addicting, right? They are also challenging. How do video games manage to achieve this mix of challenge and appeal? I think this come in a large part from simulation and role play.
In this post I take a look at some examples that different schools and classrooms have used to simulate real-life peace-time (or peace seeking) challenges.
Industry and finance: In Atlanta, 6th graders can visit Junior Achievement BizTown, which is a marketplace in which actual franchises set up a mock store in a mall-like interactive marketplace. Every student is given a job assignment at one of these businesses. Then they go to the Junior Achievement Finance Park and make a personal budget based on the scenario they have been given.
STEM: The Challenger Learning Center has two rooms – one room that simulates a space station, and the other that simulates a base on earth. Astronauts in space collect data that is given to the base for students to analyze. They have to work with “quarantined” agents using a glovebox, catch things like extreme pH in the water, assemble a robot, and check astronaut’s blood pressure. While this requires a visit to a well-established center, started as a living memorial of the Challenger space shuttle, there are science resources for individual classrooms as well. For example, the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College provides scenarios for role play and a mock environmental summit. The advantage of active learning in science is that there is no reason in many cases that it has to be a “simulation” at all. Students don’t need to “simulate doing science” they can do science. Lab work is very hands on. And this can also be taken in new directions focused on innovation, such as in International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition in which college and high school students build a plasmid (bacteria DNA insert) that give bacteria specific traits. There are also journals where students (middle and high school) can publish scientific research.
Governance: Simulated court cases are a common educational tool. Moot court cases simulate a court of appeals and mock trials simulate a court of appeals. Model parliament simulates the Westminster parliamentary system. There are also some less formal resources available for setting up a mock congress in a classroom. On a larger competitive level in the National Model United Nations, college students are assigned to act as diplomats for different countries. They prepare for about 6-8 months to be able to represent the interests of that country (whether or not they agree with those interests).
History: As Mark C. Carnes described for the Chronicle, he developed a simulation of events in history in which students debate the issues of the day and can decide on an alternative history if desired. As the student Maharaha Hari Singh said, “One thing this class has taught me is that it’s very hard to learn history in retrospect.” One thing this class has taught me is that it’s very hard to learn history in retrospect” (Reacting to the Pest: The student Perspective (2012)).
Right now a MIT dean Christine Ortiz is leaving her position at MIT to create a new university that will be centered on project-based learning. The only lectures will be online and the classrooms will be large centralized laboratories. Maybe this is one step toward thinking of education as simulating a World of Peacecraft?