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.