Whenever I sit down to write a game-simulation for my classroom I always seem to progress through a set of steps. Here are a list of the steps that guide my thought process along the way.
I used the following example for a World History class when we were studying World War I.
1. Determine Primary Objectives–I really wanted my students to get a feel for what the warfare was like but since it took place on so many fronts and literally all around the world I know I needed to focus my objectives. I decided to focus on the Western Front, trench warfare and the stalemate that ensued for four long years. I wanted the students to understand why the stalemate occurred and perhaps get a sense of what life was like on the Western Front. I also wanted my students to sense the frustration involved in trying to cause a breakthrough in the enemy’s lines. Furthermore, I wanted the students to be able to grasp the human toll on this type of warfare the resulted both from the tactics that were used and the modern weaponry involved.
2. Determine Game Play, rules and conditions for victory–Based on by primary objectives listed above, I knew I needed a game that would simulate death on a wide scale and victory difficult (but not impossible) to procure. I decided to divide the class into two teams or armies and send them off to opposite sides of the room. The game would be played in a series of rounds. The winner of each round would be the first team to walk across the room and simply touch a designated desk in enemy territory. This would simulate a flanking manouvre or a successful breakthrough in the enemy’s line. However, while the objective needs to be simple, the execution of the objective cannot. Just as in World War I, the objectives were clear and simple but very difficult to achieve.
In order to make the objectives difficult to obtain and keep the casualty rates high, made death easy to come by. Each side was given hundreds of pre-cut pieces of paper in three sizes: Large (full sheets of paper); medium (two-inch strips of paper) and small (half-inch strips of paper). The different sizes of paper are used to simulate the different weaponry involved. The large pieces of paper represent artillery. Since no one was out of range of the artillery on the Western Front, so too would no one be out of rang of a large, crumpled piece of paper.
I need to clarify the fact that I did not tell the students they had to crumple or wad the paper. I simply told them that if they were hit by a thrown or projected piece of paper that they were “dead” and removed from the round. I expect the teams to begin crumpling up the paper at first but, I also wanted to same room for innovation. A wadded, full-sheet of paper would be able to travel the full length of the classroom and therefore simulate the range of an artillery shell. A wadded, middle-sized piece of paper would simulate a simple rifle shot–able to reach across no-mans-land but not the back of the room. Finally the small pieces of paper are designed not to be able to cross the mid-point of no-man’s land. The small pieces are designed to simulate machine gun fire and are the only type of paper that can be thrown more than one piece at a time.
Each army would be able to designate two artilleriasts and two machine gunners. Everyone else, it is presumed, only carrying a rifle. Only the artillerists can fire the large pieces of paper (one at a time) and only the machine gunners can throw the small pieces of paper (as many at a time as desired). It is at the discretion of each army, how they will utilize their man-power. For example, they may choose to have two people just crumpling paper or maybe one person trying to figure out how to fold a piece of paper to make it more effective.
It is essential that this game encompass multiple rounds. I want each side to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t work and be able to make adjustments from round to round.
3. Give the students real choices–it is essential for the students to be given real choices. They should be made to feel like they are being guided to a particular outcome. If the pre-planning is done correctly, it doesn’t matter what the students do, their choices will approximate or imitate choices made by various groups of people on the Western Front.
Don’t give them a huge list of rules of what they can and cannot do. Just give them a wide range of parameters within which to operate freely.
At first, I would tell my students that they needed to crumple the paper to simulate bullets, but later I left that up to them. Sure, most of them did crumple but a few tried different things, like paper airplanes etc. I even had one student build a paper airplane and load it with machine gun bullets. His idea was to crash the plane on the ceiling above the enemy and rain the bullets down on their heads. It is essential to allow the students to innovate. After all, when the western front bogged down into trench warfare it caused both sides to come up with methods of breaking the stalemate (such as tanks and poison gas).
Also, I used to tell my students to build barricades or trenches with the desks on their side of the classroom. But, this too, I left up to them. They quickly learned that this was essential but, I think it was more effective for them to make the connection under fire rather than me taking this decision out of their hands.
4. Determine Secondary Objectives: Once the parameters for game-play have been worked out, it is now time to think about any secondary objectives that can be taught within the existing framework. In other words, what can the teacher add or change during each round that may communicate a different reality of World War I. This can be difficult because you do not not want to limit, much, the kids’ choices. Also, you do not want to hinder their ability to learn from the failures and successes of the previous rounds.
For example, you may want to introduce the element of disease or trench foot. One round you could reduce each side’s ranks by a certain percentage and have them be casualties of disease.
Or, you could simulate weapon shortages by limiting the number of paper each side has. Also, if you feel that the students are missing out on an opportunity you may offer up the suggestion of “what if we built something like a tank out of a desk and cardboard?”
5. Determine method and timing of reflections. An essential component of any game or simulation is a debrief or reflection time. This is necessary for allowing the students to process everything that happened and make important connections between and to the objectives. The question here is when while this time occur and how often (if multiple times). For this simulation, I think it is best to have a large debrief session after all the rounds of the game have been completed. An alternative, might be to have a small debrief session between each round but I fear that might break the continuity between rounds. Of course, if one or both sides are completely missing some key component to the game, it is clear that they will not come up with it on their own then a short, between rounds clarification is necessary. For slower, more methodically paced games or simulations (i.e. ones that last for a week or so) a daily debrief session is desired.
In this particular instance a longer debrief following the action is preferred.
A typical debrief session may include some general reflection questions that ask students to make connections between the game and the particular content objectives. However, there may be other methods that could be more effective. If students were asked to keep a journal of their role in the great war they could, perhaps come process the content objectives on their own. Other debriefing activities might include have students produce a news cast or write a newspaper covering the events that occurred. Another intriguing Idea, although it would take a longer time, would be conducting a trial for one of the generals for war crimes or, for one of the soldiers for cowardice.