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Simulations in the Classroom


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 15 March 2006 - 08:33 AM

In their book Simulation in the Classroom (Penguin, 1972), John Taylor and Rex Walford argued that an educational simulation has three main components:

(1) Students take roles which are representative of the real world and involve them making decisions in response to their assessment of the situation that they have been placed in.

(2) Students experience simulated consequences which relate to their decisions and their general performance in the simulation.

(3) Students monitor the results of their actions and are encouraged to reflect upon the relationship between their own decisions and the resulting consequences of their actions.

An essential part of a simulation involves the student playing a role of a character in the past. One of the major objectives of the creator of the simulation is to help the student understand the situation of that person. In other words, helping the student develop a sense of empathy.

In his book, The Process of Education (1960), Jerome Bruner argues that simulations encourage active learning. However, Bruner prefers some simulations to others. He argues that the “value of any piece of learning over and above the enjoyment it gives is that it should be relevant to us in the future”. That is something I always take seriously when I am constructing a simulation.

Other arguments in favour of simulations include:

(i) They are usually problem-based and are therefore helpful in the development of long-term learning.

(ii) The normally involve the use of social skills which are directly relevant to the world outside the classroom.

(iii) Simulations deal with situations that change and therefore demand flexibility in thinking.

I now want to take a look at some of the simulations available on the internet. One of the best sources is the BBC history website.

Hunt the Ancestor

http://www.bbc.co.uk...ors/index.shtml

The student plays the role of a an archaeologists. In the simulation the student has to save a prehistoric burial site from destruction by quarrying. When the burial site is found the archaeologist has to find the remains and to work out about the lives of these people. The archaeologist is given a budget of £72,000 and this is used to take aerial photographs, visiting the local records office, etc.

Another good source of simulations is Russel Tarr’s Active History website. Russel teaches history at the International School of Toulouse and runs one of the best history websites on the net.

Life in the Trenches

In this simulation students play the role of a British soldier who joins the army in 1914 to fight the Germans. The simulation takes the student through the process of joining the army. They are constant links to a First World War encyclopaedia that provides the student with the opportunity of carrying out further research into the situation. The student is also asked factual questions that they have to answer before continuing with the simulation.

The simulation involves the students making difficult decisions. For example, “You turn your head up towards the sky to get some fresh air, and you spot a large kite flying in the distance which clearly has writing on it. Do you:

“Stand up on the fire-step and read the message on the kite?”

“Ignore the kite and carry on working?”

In this way the student discovers that the kite with a message was a tactic used by the Germans to get the Allied soldier to lift their head above the parapet. The students survival in the simulation depends on them learning what it was like to live in the trenches during the First World War.

Adolf Hitler

Russel has also produced a controversial simulation on Hitler. This involves the student interviewing Hitler. When I publicized this simulation in my weekly newsletter, Teaching History Online, I got some abusive email. Russel has also suffered from this claiming that this simulation somehow encourages fascism. As Russel points out at the beginning of the simulation:

“Several people have suggested that by tackling this controversial topic in an accessible way I am guilty of promoting Neo-Nazism.

My reply is this: dismissing Hitler as "pure evil" ignores the fact that millions of ordinary, supposedly 'decent' people supported him. Sweeping this fact under the carpet is much more irresponsible and dangerous than tackling it head on.

Empathising with the German people who supported Hitler does not mean sympathising with them, but it does prevent us complacently dismissing the evils of Nazism as a "German problem" and thereby leaves us much better equipped to tackle similar tragic situations if and when they arise again.”

Finally I want to look at some simulations on my own website. I have been involved in creating history simulations since I first started teaching in 1977. When we established Tressell Publications in 1979 we were committed to producing commercial simulations. In fact, the second book we published, included a simulation on the First World War that I had created during my PGCE course. We then went onto publishing computer simulations such as Into the Unknown, Attack on the Somme and Wagons West. When I started Spartacus in 1987 I also published computer simulations such as Wall Street, Russian Revolution and Presidential Elections. When I get the time I plan to pace these computer simulations on the web.

However, I have been able to create several historical simulations over the last couple of years that are freely available on the web. One involves the issue of child labour at the beginning of the 19th century.

Child Labour

http://www.spartacus...co.uk/Twork.htm

Each student is given the name of an individual that was involved in the debate that was taking place at this time. This included factory owners, factory reformers, child workers, parents, journalists, religious leaders and doctors. The student is then given an instruction sheet with details of the Textile Industry Encyclopaedia Website and what they needed to do. This includes writing an account of their character and a speech on the subject of child labour.

Each character had an entry in the Spartacus Encyclopaedia. This provided them with biography and sources that enables the student to discover his or her views on the issue. The website also includes information under headings such as factory pollution, parish apprentices, factory food, punishments, working hours, accidents and physical deformities. There are also entries in the encyclopaedia on the machines the children used and the type of work they did in the factory.

It is interesting the way they react when they discover who their character is. Initially, they are much happier about playing the role of a factory owner. They quickly develop the idea that they are in some way responsible for the wealth that the character has obtained. Those who are given the role of a child worker are less happy at first but the more they investigate their situation, the more involved they become in the need to find ways of overcoming the problems that they faced.

The exercise helps to explain the complexity of child labour in the 19th century. The students discover that some factory owners, such as John Fielden and John Wood, were actually leaders of the pressure group trying to bring an end to child labour. At the same time, social reforming journalists like Edward Baines were totally opposed to any attempt by Parliament to regulate the use of labour. Even doctors did not agree that it would damage a child's health to be standing for twelve hours a day in a factory where windows were kept closed and the air was thick with the dust from the cotton. What the children discover from their in-depth studies is why the individuals felt the way that they did. In the debate that follows, this is revealed to the rest of the class.

A second example concerns the Cuban Missile Crisis.

http://www.spartacus...ubamissileA.htm

The simulation comes at the end of a detailed study of the relationship between Cuba and the United States in the 20th century. This involves a study of the three main characters in these events, John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy established the Executive Committee of the National Security Council to advise him what to do. The students have to imagine they are members of this committee. They are given six possible strategies for dealing with the crisis. They have to work out the possible consequences of these strategies before advising Kennedy what to do.

A third example concerns Russia in 1914.

http://www.spartacus...Ssimulation.htm

The students are given information about the character they are playing. This includes their beliefs and objectives. The students are then placed in four discussion groups: Group A (supporters of Nicholas II and the autocracy); Group B (liberals and moderate socialists); Group C (Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries) and Group D (Bolsheviks). Each group has to decide how to respond to different events that took place between 1914 and 1917. The students are warned that there could be spies in their groups. During the simulation they have the freedom to move to another group. In fact, if they keep to their beliefs and objectives some will actually do this. For example, Trotsky is likely to move from Group C to Group D during the simulation. If they do not go of their own accord the teacher plays God and tells certain characters to move. Playing the simulation students should get an idea of why the Bolsheviks gained power in 1917.

At the end of the simulation the students go to the Russian Revolution encyclopaedia on the website and discover what happened to their character during 1917. They then write a brief summary of what happened, comparing their decisions with those of their character.

The final task is for the students to write about what happened to their character after the Russian Revolution. A session could then be organized where the students tell the rest of the class about their fate.

Since 1995 I have been using a paper simulation based on a medieval village. This summer I plan to put it online. When I created the original I got a group of local teachers to trial the material. Would anybody willing to try out the online version?

If you have your own websites you might wish to host parts of the simulation. For example, at various times in the simulation the characters leave the village. This includes the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage, take part in the 100 Years War, on march on London during the Peasants' Revolt. Serfs in the village also get the opportunity to runaway and hide in a town.

The scheme of work begins with a look at Richard FitzGilbert, a Norman knight who took part in the Battle of Hastings. After the battle he became the Earl of Clare and became one of England largest landowners. For the next few weeks the students follow the history of the Clare family between 1066 and 1330. This involves looking at issues such as castle building, feudalism, Domesday Book, religion, Thomas Becket, the Magna Carta, Origins of Parliament, the Clares in Ireland, the Clares in Wales and the Battle of Bannockburn, where the last of the Clare male line is killed. The Clare Estates (only the king owned more land than the Clares) are then divided up between Gilbert, 10th Earl of Clare’s three sisters.

The simulation looks at just one village under the control of the Clare family. The village is Yalding in Kent. I selected Yalding because a lot of its manor records have survived. It also has the same church and stone bridge that existed in the 14th century. It is still farmed and its common land still exists (they still hold the village fair there today as they did in the 14th century). The land is fertile but the village still suffers from the flooding that plagued medieval residents of Yalding.

The simulation starts in 1336. Each student is given a character who lived in Yalding at that time. They are all given a house in the village and details of their family, animals, land, farming equipment, etc. Some are serfs and some are free. Each student is a head of a family with children. In 1375 they will become the son or daughter of the present character.

Every week the students will receive via the website an update of their changing circumstances. For example, increasing revenues means they can buy more animals or if they are serfs, their freedom. During the simulation the students experience events such as harvesting, meetings of the Manor Court, a Village Fair, the Hundred Years War, the Black Death, Statute of Labourers Act, the Poll Tax, a visit from John Ball, and finally the events of 1381.

The highlights of the simulation includes when the village is hit by the plague and when they have to decide whether to join the peasants revolt (a slight majority usually decide to take part).

The whole activity was designed to deliver the Y7 unit on Britain 1066-1500 (Medieval Realms in 1995). All the material in the simulation is differentiated. So also are the characters. Therefore it is possible for the teacher to allocate the students roles that are applicable to the abilities of the individual.

Schools who use the simulation are recommended to arrange a visit to Yalding. Several features are the same as in the 14th century. The students get a particular thrill when they visit the churchyard and they see the names of the relatives they have been playing on the tombstones.

Unusual names like Singyard and Brickenden have survived in the village for over 700 years.

The simulation has detailed teacher notes and a commentary on the answers of the tasks set. The first draft of the Medieval Village Simulation is now online. I have a few more pages to do on the administration of the simulation. They will be ready by early next week. The first-half concerning the emergence of the Earl of Clare family is complete.

http://www.spartacus....uk/Yalding.htm

#2 Richard Jones-Nerzic

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Posted 15 March 2006 - 03:03 PM

Another good source of simulations is Russel Tarr’s Active History website. Russel teaches history at Wolverhampton Grammar School and runs one of the best history websites on the net.


I agree on all this except that Russel is of course one of 'ours' now and teaches at the International School of Toulouse.

As a big fan of simulations in the classroom (I do pretty much everything on the list above) and as someone who has expressed an interest in the Yalding role-play before, I'd like again to register our interest. I'd also like to see if blogging or forum software (International Student Forum) might not also provide some sort of online interactivity dimension. From what I understand, RSS newsfeeds might be a way of drip-feeding information to students about their characters over the timescale of the project. (I'd love to see it go through a whole school year, taking into consideration the seasons etc.) They also allow you to set up the dates of the information release during the course of the year. We could set in up in September and it would run itself through the course of the year.

#3 John Simkin

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Posted 15 March 2006 - 03:18 PM

As a big fan of simulations in the classroom (I do pretty much everything on the list above) and as someone who has expressed an interest in the Yalding role-play before, I'd like again to register our interest. I'd also like to see if blogging or forum software (International Student Forum) might not also provide some sort of online interactivity dimension. From what I understand, RSS newsfeeds might be a way of drip-feeding information to students about their characters over the timescale of the project. (I'd love to see it go through a whole school year, taking into consideration the seasons etc.) They also allow you to set up the dates of the information release during the course of the year. We could set in up in September and it would run itself through the course of the year.


This is a very good idea. I believe Yalding is the best thing I have ever done and would love to develop it using the latest developments in technology. It would make an excellent E-HELP case-study. Students would find a visit to Yalding interesting as there are still aspects that remain the same since the 14th century.

#4 Richard Jones-Nerzic

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Posted 15 March 2006 - 03:31 PM

If you have your own websites you might wish to host parts of the simulation. For example, at various times in the simulation the characters leave the village. This includes the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage, take part in the 100 Years War, on march on London during the Peasants' Revolt. Serfs in the village also get the opportunity to runaway and hide in a town.


We plan to develop the pilgrimage theme with some sort of self contained simulation later this term. This will be developed as a contribution to the e-Help project and as an adaption of the earlier Virtual School site: http://194.3.120.243...grims/index.htm. Pilgrimage allows us to exploit the European valua added potentials and in this context I am also interested in the 100 Year War possibilities.

#5 Juan Carlos

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Posted 15 March 2006 - 06:13 PM

Since 1995 I have been using a paper simulation based on a medieval village. This summer I plan to put it online. When I created the original I got a group of local teachers to trial the material. Would anybody willing to try out the online version?

If you have your own websites you might wish to host parts of the simulation. For example, at various times in the simulation the characters leave the village. This includes the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage, take part in the 100 Years War, on march on London during the Peasants' Revolt. Serfs in the village also get the opportunity to runaway and hide in a town.


Most probably, next year I will be teaching Middle Ages. It would be very interesting to carry out this simulation (maybe with some adaptation to Castilian context) at my school. Maybe Richard and I might somewhat do it together.
Is it appropriate for 13 years old students?

#6 John Simkin

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Posted 15 March 2006 - 06:39 PM

Most probably, next year I will be teaching Middle Ages. It would be very interesting to carry out this simulation (maybe with some adaptation to Castilian context) at my school. Maybe Richard and I might somewhat do it together.
Is it appropriate for 13 years old students?


It was created for 11/12 year olds. It is based on the feudal system introduced by the Normans in the 11th century. Was it different in Spain?

#7 John Simkin

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 10:53 AM

Since 1995 I have been using a paper simulation based on a medieval village. This summer I plan to put it online. When I created the original I got a group of local teachers to trial the material. Would anybody willing to try out the online version?

If you have your own websites you might wish to host parts of the simulation. For example, at various times in the simulation the characters leave the village. This includes the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage, take part in the 100 Years War, on march on London during the Peasants' Revolt. Serfs in the village also get the opportunity to runaway and hide in a town.

The scheme of work begins with a look at Richard FitzGilbert, a Norman knight who took part in the Battle of Hastings. After the battle he became the Earl of Clare and became one of England largest landowners. For the next few weeks the students follow the history of the Clare family between 1066 and 1330. This involves looking at issues such as castle building, feudalism, Domesday Book, religion, Thomas Becket, the Magna Carta, Origins of Parliament, the Clares in Ireland, the Clares in Wales and the Battle of Bannockburn, where the last of the Clare male line is killed. The Clare Estates (only the king owned more land than the Clares) are then divided up between Gilbert, 10th Earl of Clare’s three sisters.

The simulation looks at just one village under the control of the Clare family. The village is Yalding in Kent. I selected Yalding because a lot of its manor records have survived. It also has the same church and stone bridge that existed in the 14th century. It is still farmed and its common land still exists (they still hold the village fair there today as they did in the 14th century). The land is fertile but the village still suffers from the flooding that plagued medieval residents of Yalding.

The simulation starts in 1336. Each student is given a character who lived in Yalding at that time. They are all given a house in the village and details of their family, animals, land, farming equipment, etc. Some are serfs and some are free. Each student is a head of a family with children. In 1375 they will become the son or daughter of the present character.

Every week the students will receive via the website an update of their changing circumstances. For example, increasing revenues means they can buy more animals or if they are serfs, their freedom. During the simulation the students experience events such as harvesting, meetings of the Manor Court, a Village Fair, the Hundred Years War, the Black Death, Statute of Labourers Act, the Poll Tax, a visit from John Ball, and finally the events of 1381.

The highlights of the simulation includes when the village is hit by the plague and when they have to decide whether to join the peasants revolt (a slight majority usually decide to take part).

The whole activity was designed to deliver the Y7 unit on Britain 1066-1500 (Medieval Realms in 1995). All the material in the simulation is differentiated. So also are the characters. Therefore it is possible for the teacher to allocate the students roles that are applicable to the abilities of the individual.

Schools who use the simulation are recommended to arrange a visit to Yalding. Several features are the same as in the 14th century. The students get a particular thrill when they visit the churchyard and they see the names of the relatives they have been playing on the tombstones.

Unusual names like Singyard and Brickenden have survived in the village for over 700 years.

The simulation has detailed teacher notes and a commentary on the answers of the tasks set. The first draft of the Medieval Village Simulation is now online. I have a few more pages to do on the administration of the simulation. They will be ready by early next week. The first-half concerning the emergence of the Earl of Clare family is complete.

http://www.spartacus....uk/Yalding.htm


This is an email that I received this morning:

Dear Mr Simkin,

I am a science teacher who has just begun a part-time contract at a secure unit in Copthorne. Because of the nature of the education service here at Beechfield I have to teach more than one subject area. (I am primary trained, having only moved to secondary teaching about 5 years ago.) I volunteered for history, as I have always had a keen interest. Asking my daughter "What was your favourite bit of KS3 history at Sackville?" she answered "Yalding!", so I have plunged in!! Chris Trueman has kindly offered some paper copies of resources, as Amazon seems to be out of stock, but I am doing the rest from the website.

Despite only having 3 students (just gone up to 4) and a TA, so far the history lessons are making far more impact than the science! The care staff are hearing all about their 'lives' in the evenings, and it is promoting a good deal of discussion around the dinner table. We are making a collage of Yalding Village on Friday afternoons and the Young People are even discussing the possibility of a play.

So, this is an e-mail to say thank you for all your efforts and for sharing them so freely via the Internet. It is certainly going down well here, and the social workers are drawing all kinds of conclusions about the effect that the role play in particular is having on the personal relationships and interractions. And we're only on lesson 4.

Ann Rowsell

#8 Richard Jones-Nerzic

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Posted 04 November 2008 - 09:43 PM

This is the sort of email that makes the hours spend on the resource production worthwhile. I have always been interested in the Yalding project but have never had a chance to run it. And now I don't teach the subject anymore.

Reading my comments above about RSS feeds etc. I was reminded of what I had envisaged. I thought it would be a wonderful project for a group of older students to coordinate. Without ever being in the classroom or even knowing the students involved, IB students could drip-feed information about the characters to the partcipants. I thought about there being a blog of village news, filmed reports (of course) and some sort of awards ceremony at the end of the year. I am always doing empathy and rolepay in bits, the idea of doing something this ambitious really appeals.

#9 John Simkin

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 12:09 PM

Reading my comments above about RSS feeds etc. I was reminded of what I had envisaged. I thought it would be a wonderful project for a group of older students to coordinate. Without ever being in the classroom or even knowing the students involved, IB students could drip-feed information about the characters to the partcipants. I thought about there being a blog of village news, filmed reports (of course) and some sort of awards ceremony at the end of the year. I am always doing empathy and rolepay in bits, the idea of doing something this ambitious really appeals.


What a great idea? When I first published Yalding online I considered the idea of posting the information on a weekly basis. However, this would cause problems the following year. The idea of using older students to do this is one way forward.

I am thinking of making a film on Yalding and posting it on YouTube. For example, in the graveyard, the church and on local memorials you have evidence of family names such as Singyard surviving for over 700 years.




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