Teaching History with Simulations and Game Based Learning

Dave Harms on episode 208 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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History teacher David Harms uses simulations to teach history. Whether it is World War 1, 2, the Cold War or the American Civil War, learn how these immersive “games” teach history much more deeply than most textbooks. We can engage and excite this generation about history. Here’s how.

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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript

History Simulations and Game Based Learning

Link to show: http://ift.tt/2iVnKsD
Date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Vicki: Today we’re talking with David Harms @Hist_simulation, high school world history teacher from Iowa.

Now, David, you create interactive history simulations. Tell us about what you do.

Teaching: WW1, WW2, Cold War and the Civil War through Simulations

Dave: Well, I develop some history simulations — World War I, World War II, Cold War, Civil War — and we basically give students a country to run, and we give them some objectives that they have to follow to keep it within the context of history.

But then they really have the options of making choices based on their objectives to try to work their way through diplomacy, strategy, the war, negotiations. There are just really a lot of things going on all at once.

Vicki: Is this a computer simulation, or an in-class simulation?

Dave: It’s kind of both.

We have online platforms with our lesson plans as a subscription service. Teachers use those to manage the simulation.

But the student interactions with each other is really what the big thing is, because that’s where you get a lot of your critical thinking going on.

Student interaction is where critical thinking happens.

By them making their own decisions and interacting, it’s different every time.

It doesn’t necessarily have to end up the way the war ended up, but along the way, they become so interested that they want to know what happened and why.

Vicki: The subscriptions. Is this something that you wrote, or something you subscribe to?

Dave: No. This is something that I paid a programmer to develop for me, because the way we used to do it was with a Word document that I drew the countries on, and we used a spreadsheet with that.

Now, with the online platform, kids get a readable read-only map on their computers if they want — at home or wherever, anywhere in the world if they have the link, I guess.

The teacher can just drag-and-drop and double-click for battles to happen. They don’t have to do any calculations or anything like that. It just really makes it streamlined and easier for the teacher and more enjoyable for the student. And it takes a lot less time.

Vicki: OK. So tell us what you’re doing right now in one of your classes with a simulation. Describe what’s happening in class.

Dave: Well, when we’re doing a simulation… The first part of it usually takes a day to explain everything, to make sure they know.

A lot of times, they can be a little bit overwhelmed at the beginning, but once it gets rolling — the kids are just interacting.

They’re allowed to leave the room at any time to negotiate, with either their allies or their rival alliances. Kids are constantly meeting with each other. We’ve got substantive conversations going on.

Kids are allowed to leave the room at any time. They’re constantly meeting with each other. Even during lunch.

And the thing is, it doesn’t end in the classroom. A lot of the strategizing and the deal-making goes on at lunch. We kind of have a segregated lunchroom. If you’re a Central Powers, you might not be able to sit at a certain table…

Vicki: (laughs) OK…

Dave: … Because they all meet together, and they don’t want you to know what they’re talking about. It kind of spills over to the entire school — kind of watching it online. It’s very engaging. It doesn’t end when the class ends. It kind of keeps going.

Vicki: So — the other folks, the observers — can log in and see how different countries are doing? They’re actually able to watch what’s happening in the simulation?

Dave: Well, they can’t watch it in real time. They can see my map. Every time they refresh their browser, that map will update. It’s not like a live feed, but all you’ve got to do is refresh your browser, and you’ll see what’s happened, the changes that have taken place.

So, yeah. Parents can watch and see how their kids are doing. A lot of times that happens because they get interested in it. Believe it or not, they actually talk to their parents about what they’re doing, because they’re so excited about it.

They actually talk to their parents about what they’re doing.

Vicki: I’ve done some simulations before with the Arab-Israeli Conflict Simulation at the University of Michigan.

  • My students and Dr. Jeff Stanzler from the University of Michigan presented on this in 2013 at the Global Education Conference. Watch the presentation.. (Will launch video)

One of the challenges is that sometimes kids want to act out of character for their country. What happens to kids’ countries when the leaders start acting out of character?

Dave: For us, out of character would mean they’re going against their objectives. And you really can’t do that. It’s tied to their grade. No matter what they do, they’ve got to follow those objectives.

If, for example — Let’s say in World War I, Great Britain allies with Germany? There would probably be an impeachment of that leader by the classroom teacher. We don’t allow crazy stuff to happen, because that’s not the point of it. But we want to give them the freedom and the creativity to try to accomplish their objectives their own way.

So, as you can imagine, there’s lots of lying… and espionage going on in the background… and releasing information. I even had some kids take pictures of their top secret documents, alter them, and disclose them to their enemies…

Vicki: (laughs)

Dave: … And say, “Hey, I can do that for you. It’s not against my objectives.”

And then of course they didn’t, and they all ganged up on them, and… So it’s just kind of crazy.

Vicki: (laughs)

To help people understand, it’s like these kids are truly living it, aren’t they?

These kids are truly living it.

Dave: Yeah! They understand why, because the objectives that we have for them are the things that those countries wanted to complete — you know, territories lost 200 years ago, Serbia trying to build the Serbian empire back up, so they want these territories. It’s all based on historical facts. Then the kids have to navigate their way through it.

You can imagine, if you’ve got 16 different countries in here, and some of them have the same objectives, you’re obviously going to reach your conflict concept there.

Vicki: Yeah. So what’s the feedback? How deep is the learning?

Dave: Boy. I tell you. It’s just amazing.

One of the things that I really like about the online platform is that now I’m not just typing on the computer like a madman for 40 minutes. I can watch more what’s going on in the room.

Sometimes I just can’t believe the talks that are going on between people and where their thinking is. They’re thinking on so many levels. You know, “If I attack this person, how is Yugoslavia going to react?” Or, “How is the Soviet Union going to act if I nuke one of their territories?”

They’re thinking on so many levels.

It’s just amazing, because it heightens their interest in learning what actually happened because they’re always comparing what they did to what really happened in history.

Vicki: Hmmmmm. I can imagine that the conversations would be really, really deep and multifaceted when you talk about war, rather than a disconnected type of thing. They almost really feel an identification with those who went through it?

Dave: Oh my gosh. They become their country.

Vicki: Yeah.

Dave: I mean, I’ve had people get upset, and storm out of the room…

It’s an emotional thing, because when they attack a country, or they will break a treaty or something? You can’t hold anybody to a treaty; if they want to break it, they’ll break it. And they feel very betrayed by that, like if they were the country.

It’s really amazing, the emotional connection is what really makes it run, because it’s not like, “Oh, I don’t care. This is no big deal.”

It’s like, “Yeah. This is my country. I don’t want to lose my whole army.”

You know, they want to stay in the game.

Vicki: Dave, I’m just amazed that you have built it for all of these experiences, because I mean I’ve just taught it with one.

My nephew and niece are twins. One was the head of Israel, and the other was the head of Iran. They literally almost barely talked for six weeks because they were so into the game.

It’s hard for me to comprehend how much work it’s been, David. You’ve built it. Tell us all of the conflicts that you’ve built simulations for.

For what conflicts have you built simulations?

Dave: Well, I have the American Civil War. I have World War i. I have World War II. I have the Cold War.

This one’s not online, but I have an Imperialism simulation that we do as well. That’s really the first one that we do. And that one is kind of interesting because you’re juggling markets and industrial production and natural resources. You’re also taking over African and Asian countries to try to get those resources increased.

And the kids develop a sense of, “OK. These things are all related!” You know, you can’t produce 800 million widgets, and have a market that can only handle 200 million. There’s no point to that.

Vicki: So David, teachers are going to want to know how to find these, connect with you… We will put in the Shownotes your handles and all that sort of thing. But is there a website?

Dave: Yeah… historysimulation.com … If you Google that, our website will come right up.

Vicki: Well, teachers. Simulations are such a powerful game-based way to teach. The teacher almost becomes the game master.

David is an expert at history simulations, so I hope all you history teachers out there get really excited and take a look at using simulations in your classroom!

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford


Bio as submitted

Mr. Harms, World History Teacher at Iowa falls-Alden High School in Iowa Falls, Iowa. A 9-12 Building approximately 425 students. Design History Simulations and PowerPoint/Keynote Presentations. Also coaches Track & Football.

Blog: History Simulation.com

Twitter: @Hist_simulation

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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