17 March 2013

Using Simulations for Deep Learning

This school year, I took over moderating our Model United Nations program at school. I knew the basics of how Model UN or MUN worked, but I really tried to let the students lead and teach me more about the process. We have had a successful year as our students participated in two conferences and came away with multiple awards. The students learned a lot from the experience that they had at the Model UN conferences, including deep understanding, analysis, critical thinking, negotiating and interpersonal skills.

As I learned more, I came up with the idea of trying to bring MUN into the classroom. I thought about it for a while and I finally came up with the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 as an interesting historical situation to try to introduce my students to the basics of parliamentary procedure and the consequences of resulting decisions.

We had been discussing the early 20th century and the First World War in my World History and AP European History classes and I gave my students about a week to research their roles. Students worked alone or in pairs (depending on the class size) to represent a nation at the peace conference. Along with the allied nations who dominated the conference, some countries who were not actually there were also played by students in this part of the conference. This included the defeated nations (Germany, Austria, the Ottoman Empire) and various colonies (Kenya and Vietnam). Students used various web resources to research their role and prepare and opening statement for the first day of the conference.

During the first day, students were very much learning the process, especially when it came to parliamentary procedure. Soon they got the hang of the methods and started to propose various resolutions and openly debate. Several students took their roles very seriously, dressing and acting the parts to the best of their abilities. The true measure of the learning in happening in the experience was based on whether or not students acted, spoken, and voted as the nations whom they were representing would have at the actual conference in 1919. I did not want this to restrict the students creativity or possibility of supporting various measures through negotiations and deals, but we also did not want to stray too far from the actual history.

Over the course of the three days of our model conference most of the debate that occured and the resolutions that were both accepted and rejected matched pretty well what would have occured at the Paris Peace Conference had it been set up this way. Even though many nations were there who were not their in the real conference, it was secretly established from the beginning that these nation's votes would not count. It was only toward the end of the conference when simple majorities of all of the nations were passing measures, but there was not a majority of the victors voting for it and, therefore, the resolutions were not passing did it become apparent that the "game was fixed." This made these students unhappy and even upset, but that was exactly the point. In it's own way it was suppose to reflect the feelings of these nations as a result of what happened at the conference and thus led to the further conflicts in the years following.

After getting feedback from the students, I am confident that it was a memorable learning experience for them. I think they learned far more in doing the preparation for the event and the event itself than reading about it, getting a lecture, or watching a video. The value of learning research skills, role-play, social interaction and learning the basics of parliamentary procedure and negotiation cannot be overstated. The students had a lot of fun as well. And we all know we learn more when we have fun.


15 January 2013

Moving Beyond the Classroom... Real World Connections

One of my continuing goals has been to get students involved in activities beyond the classroom that both improve their understanding of the content we are covering and giving them the real-world experiences of collaborating, working professionally, taking criticism and presenting what they have done. The best opportunities for this have revolved around student activities and with student club activities.
For in-class activities, my students regularly complete "History Labs" in which they conduct research, develop an interpretation, and create a product to share with the class (as a teaching tool) and with the world (via the web.) Students recently created eBooks and documentary videos that we published online. Students used the class iPads to create eBooks on the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment and videos on the revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Students shared these with friends and family and the rest of the world. My students are currently finishing their work on their National History Day projects. History Day also asks students to do original research based on a yearly theme and to be critiqued and judged on their work for continual improvement as they move from classroom to school to county to state to national competitions. Over the past several years, many of my students have made it as far as the state level competition. While doing serious historical research on a topic of their choice, students get the exposure to presenting their findings, defending them, and interacting with professionals in the field. It allows them to do the work of real historians.
Other opportunities for real-world interactions come with student activities and clubs. I have had the honor of moderating the Model United Nations Club and National History Bowl and Bee Team at my school. Through these extra-curricular activities, students learn so much about how to work collaboratively, think creatively, and interact with new ideas and people. The Model UN Club has to learn about the issues facing the people of the world, prepare a position (which may not be one they hold), present and debate with a diverse group of people as if they where really at the United Nations. This also gets them to look at real-world problems that the UN deals with on a regular basis. Our History Bowl and Bee Team also gets students thinking about historical topics in different ways and allows students to work as a team in a high pressure competition situation that keeps kids sharp.
Taking opportunities to give students a chance to learn in authentic ways cannot be overestimated. I see vast improvements in my student's engagement and desire to learn more. How do you get your students real-world experiences and authentically engaged inside and outside the classroom?