Simulations in the Classroom

Simulations in the Classroom

Monday, 1st September, 2014

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. 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.

An example of a historical simulation that is available free online involves the issue of child labour at the beginning of the 19th century.

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.

Simulations in the Classroom (1st September, 2014)

The KGB and the JFK Assassination (21st August, 2014)

West Ham United and the First World War (4th August, 2014)

The First World War and the War Propaganda Bureau (28th July, 2014)

Interpretations in History (8th July, 2014)

Alger Hiss was not framed by the FBI (17th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: Part 2 (14th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: The CIA and Search-Engine Results (10th June, 2014)

The Student as Teacher (7th June, 2014)

Is Wikipedia under the control of political extremists? (23rd May, 2014)

Why MI5 did not want you to know about Ernest Holloway Oldham (6th May, 2014)

The Strange Death of Lev Sedov (16th April, 2014)

Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy (27th March, 2014)

The KGB planned to groom Michael Straight to become President of the United States (20th March, 2014)

The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)

Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)

Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)

Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)

Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)

Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)

The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)

The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)

Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)

New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)

Murder Cases in the Classroom (6th November 2013)

Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)

Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)

Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)

The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)

British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany (14th October 2013)

Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)

Wallis Simpson and Nazi Germany (11th October 2013)

The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)

The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)

What did Paul Dacre's father do in the war? (4th October 2013)

Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)

Simulations Can Change the Course of History . . . Classes

I went to a Professional Development workshop several years ago with a master history teacher, Eric Rothschild, who spent his career teaching at Scarsdale High School. He was a brilliant workshop facilitator, and I learned more about teaching history in that workshop than in any other professional development experience I'd had up to that point in my career.

He ran a workshop on teaching AP U.S. History, and it was unlike anything I had seen before. He introduced me to the idea of using simulations to teach the AP course, and also to the principle of fostering student ownership, with a strong foundation in historical research.

After taking his workshop, I began to apply his approach to teaching AP European History and found it to be liberating and transformational as a teacher. And my students loved the approach as well.

With each unit of study, I made sure to incorporate an active simulation, ranging from mock press conferences and trials to murder mysteries and dinner parties, from spy dilemmas to mock Survivor games. Once I cracked the code to designing curriculum with Eric's approach in mind, the sky was the limit.

5 Tips for Bringing History to Life

Here are some tips to get started in transforming your history classroom into a simulation-driven, game-based learning environment:

1. Adopting a New (Actually Old) Identity

At the start of a unit, give each student the name of a historical character to portray and become. I would put names in a hat and have them each draw one at random. For high school students, the opportunity to "play" someone else opened them up to historical imagination and freed them from their high school selves. When a student adopted that character's thinking and point of view in one of the simulations, passion and purpose soared.

2. Setting the Scene

Set up the environment so that students will be speaking and debating with each other in the roles of their historical characters and around a framing problem or issue. Ideally, once the conversation begins, as the teacher you can step back and witness student-to-student dialogue and debate.

For example, in an AP European History class, five students can play the roles of artists applying for the position of court artist in a royal household. Other students can play the roles of the royal leadership councilmembers charged with listening to and challenging the arguments of the individual artists who are making their cases. The council can then deliberate and vote on who makes the most compelling argument to be the court artist, utilizing a well-developed set of criteria.

3. A Part for Everyone

Make a space for each student to play an active role. Even the quietest, most introverted student, given the opportunity to play a personality from history, can step up and into the opportunity to speak from that person's perspective.

4. Background Checks

Bring in a variety of sources for students to analyze and research. By taking on a personality from history, students are then more open to digging into primary sources to find actual quotes for their characters.

5. Historical Reenactment 2.0

Social media is a wonderful connector for these kinds of simulations, with students setting up Edmodo, Schoology, or Facebook pages for their characters in a simulation, figuring out friend groups, posting photos, and speaking from their character's point of view.

Student Engagement Pays Off

The first year I utilized this approach, I was blown away by the responses of my students after they took the AP European history exam. They recalled which of their classmates had played which historical figures and drew upon that knowledge to answer questions on the AP exam. Their recall was phenomenal, and they had internalized the different simulations we'd experienced over the course of the year.

Using game-based simulations can transform history classrooms and, more importantly for middle and high school students, the opportunity to play a historical character is liberating, transformative, and lasting.

Simulations and Instructional Games

Nobel Prize- The Nobel Prize organization has a whole section on education simulations/games that have been nominated and/or won Nobel prizes! Social studies topics can be found in multiple categories: medicine, peace, and economics.

Historical Simulations - A collection of historical simulations

Flight to Freedom - This role-playing game simulates the experience of fugitive slaves.

Westward Ho! – (6-12) Travel the Oregon Trail! Lots of laughter, learning and realism in this online simulation.

Edo Japan, A Virtual Tour - A detailed virtual tour of 18th century Edo (now Tokyo) using traditional web pages.

iCivics- Lessons and games that include simulations for studying constitutional rights, debating, roles and responsibilities of the president, and the 3 branches of government.

Playing History- A collection of historical simulations and games that include various areas of social studies.

Teaching Hard History: Is There a Role for Simulations?

Simulations encourage students to “learn by doing.” The goal in using simulations in the classroom is for students to understand a concept or historical experience by acting it out. Creating a kinesthetic experience isn’t quite the same as reading about something in a book.

While it might be appropriate for students to learn about a cattle drive by pushing pieces of paper with brooms down a school hallway, or simulating a French Salon conversation by discussing art on the walls of the classroom, simulations should never be used to help students understand cruelty between humans. The potential for harming students emotionally and socially by asking them to play out periods of inhumanity is just too great. We recommend avoiding simulations for the following difficult topics:

    • Slavery and the Triangle Trade
    • Indigenous peoples’ interactions with European conquerors
    • The Holocaust
    • Genocide
    • Japanese American internment
    • Discrimination
    • War crimes
    • Racism and sexism
    • Sex and sexuality

    While each of these topics is important for students to learn and understand, there are methods that are better suited for these difficult (and often emotionally laden) topics. Here are some helpful online sources that summarize the downside of using simulations and provide guidance on other ways to teach these important topics.

    Why simulations are not the best route for hard history

    According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), while simulation-type activities may appear to be a compelling way to engage students on topics and events involving genocide and oppression such as the Holocaust, slavery, racial segregation, internment of Japanese-Americans, etc., we strongly caution against using such activities for the following reasons:

    • They are pedagogically unsound because they trivialize the experience of the victims and can leave students with the impression at the conclusion of the activity that they truly know what it was like to experience these injustices.
    • They stereotype group behavior and distort historical reality by reducing groups of people and their experiences and actions to one-dimensional representations.
    • They can reinforce negative views of the victims.
    • They can put students in the position of defending and/or identifying with the oppressors.
    • They impede critical analysis by oversimplifying complex historical events and human behavior, leaving students with a skewed view of history.
    • They disconnect these events from the context of global history.
    • They can be emotionally upsetting or damaging for students who are sensitive and/or who may identify with the victims (ADL).

    Alternatives to simulation activities from the ADL

    While we cannot stress enough how important it is to teach these themes and give accurate representations of history, below are examples of effective and pedagogically-sound methods that can be used instead. These activities will foster a sense of empathy and help students understand the motivations, thoughts, feelings, and actions of those who lived through terrible experiences.

    • Provide ample opportunities for students to examine primary source materials, including photographs, artwork, diary entries, letters, government documents, and visuals. Such exploration encourages a deeper level of interest and inquiry on a range of topics from many perspectives and in proper historical context.
    • Assign reflective writing exercises or lead class discussions that explore various aspects of human behavior such as scapegoating or making difficult moral choices. These activities allow students to develop compassion and empathy, share how they feel about what they’re learning, and consider how it has meaning in their own lives.
    • Invite the voices (through a variety of strategies) of survivors and other eyewitnesses to share their stories with students (ADL).

    One of the goals for teaching about these horrific historical events is for students to determine their own roles and responsibilities in the world around them. To advance this thinking and learning, we encourage teachers to give students opportunities to consider meaningful actions they can take in their schools and communities when they see injustice or are faced with difficult moral and ethical decisions.

    Facilitate these themes through discussion

    In an article from Cult of Pedagogy, Jennifer Gonzalez (2019) expanded about what teachers can do in the classroom instead of simulation-based learning:

    "Rather than trying to re-create these traumatic experiences, Professor Hasan Kwame Jeffries (director of the Teaching Hard History Project) recommends a more thoughtful, discussion-based approach where teachers use literature or other texts to learn about particular phenomena then ask students to think about and discuss the decisions people made in those circumstances.

    'You don’t say, hey, what would you do if you were this person? You say, what did this person do? And what were some of their options? And so you’re inviting children on their own terms to put themselves in the shoes of another person simply by thinking about the decisions that they have in their lives,' says Jeffries.

    These kinds of conversations should be happening all year, not just as part of an isolated unit. Harmful simulations, Jeffries says, are part of a larger problem of teaching topics like slavery in isolation. 'We do such a poor job of integrating these difficult subjects, throughout the curriculum over the years, but rather we just sort of drop it in. In Ohio, they get a little Underground Railroad in the third grade, and then they don’t deal with early American history and slavery until the eighth grade. So there’s these two moments with nothing in the middle.'

    Instead, we can integrate our study of these issues throughout the curriculum. The Teaching Hard History curriculum created by Teaching Tolerance offers a solid collection of resources and lessons that help us do just that.

    Teachers who are used to offering students active-learning lessons might be concerned that giving up certain simulations will make their classrooms less engaging, but Jeffries points out that engagement doesn’t necessarily have to equal fun.

    'Education is not always entertainment,' he says. 'We just have to accept that. Sometimes it’s just sitting down and literally having a conversation, getting students—even at the younger ages—just to think critically about things in conversation, in dialogue, without trying to make it entertaining. Because it is traumatic. And we have to treat it with the sensitivity it deserves (Gonzalez 2019).'"

    A Voting Simulation in Your Classroom: Steal This

    How one teacher staged a voting simulation in her classroom to empower her students as future voters.

    This story is part of a monthly feature called Steal This. Every month, we will highlight creative classroom projects that can be easily replicated by other teachers without special training or budget. Last month we shared how one teacher designed a peer education program that brought students, parents, and an entire school together. Got a project you’d like to see covered in Steal This? Let us know about it.

    Carly Priest is passionate about helping students advocate for themselves. She is currently a second-year corps member and teaches fourth and fifth grade at Frederick Douglas Elementary in Miami, Florida.

    As the midterm elections approached last year, Carly knew the moment presented a critical learning opportunity for students. She wanted her students to not only understand how our government works, but to also see their role in the process.

    So, Carly decided to hold a mock election and let her students experience the voting process firsthand.

    Read on to learn how you can steal this idea for your classroom.

    Setting Up the Voting Simulation

    During the weeks preceding the 2018 midterm elections, Carly’s students were hearing about the election and started asking questions. Carly wanted to integrate a civics lesson in her classroom, but she knew it needed to be engaging. Then during her lunch break, she got the idea to set up a voting simulation in her classroom.

    Carly dug out a cardboard box from the recycling bin in the copy room and found a large tri-fold cardboard divider in the library. She salvaged some leftover tissue paper from a previous class project and stapled it to the box to make her booth. She then designed simple ballots and directional signs for each voting district.

    Aside from the $9 roll of “I Voted” stickers she purchased from Amazon, everything else was made from easy-to-source, free materials.

    Carly tied the voting simulation to a writing lesson on using different sources of information to form opinions. In preparation for voting, students discussed the issues in class and weighed differing views. They also wrote their reflections about whether voting is an important part of our democracy and why.

    In order to make the voting process fun and engaging, Carly introduced ballot initiatives that were intentionally playful. Her class voted on whether to add a sixth day of school to the week and amending the classroom bylaws to require students to complete their late homework during P.E. class.

    After students cast their votes, they each received an “I Voted” sticker.

    “My thought was that they would then go out into the neighborhood wearing their stickers, feeling proud, showing the community that they are taking part in an important part of our democracy,” Carly says.

    Carly's students voted on amendments to the classroom bylaws.

    Student Response

    Carly says that her students did feel proud. They found the lesson engaging and eye-opening as well. They realized how important it is to be informed about the issues they are voting on before they enter the booth, and how their decisions can impact their community. The voting simulation also brought up class discussions about rules, and why they are important for keeping everyone safe.

    “I was impressed by my students’ ability to think maturely about what we do in our classroom, and how that impacts the greater good,” Carly says.

    The voting simulation took place on the same day Florida's voters cast their ballots. She says students came into class the next day buzzing with questions about what they heard from their parents and on TV. Some students felt frustrated with the outcome of the election, which led to fruitful discussions about increasing voter turnout and ways to remove barriers to voting.

    Carly says the voting simulation helped students begin to break down some of the common obstacles that can hinder people from voting, such as knowing how to register to vote, finding voting information in other languages, and bringing identification to the polling place in order to be eligible to vote.

    Final Words of Wisdom

    Carly is teaching fourth grade this year and plans to hold a voting simulation again this fall. One thing she wants to do differently is to incorporate more Florida history into the lesson. She’s already begun curating a collection of articles to help her students build deeper context around historical events and why local civic engagement matters.

    This time around she’s also going to add an additional activity where students register to vote so that they start building awareness about all the steps they will take as voters.

    “The number-one way to disenfranchise someone is by not explaining their roles and responsibilities in the government or even how that government works,” Carly says. “I want my students to understand the system, end to end.”

    Did you steal this project for your classroom and get students’ published? Let us know.

    Historia: Game-Based Learning for Middle School History

    Middle school students learn social studies through Historia, a paper-based simulation game that incorporates a world cultures curriculum aligned to state standards.

    History is the greatest story ever told. However, what makes history so compelling a story too often gets lost in translation in the classroom. As a result, students start tuning out social studies -- sometimes as early as middle school -- despite their teachers' best efforts.

    As public school teachers turned game designers and entrepreneurs, my partner Jason Darnell and I know of what we speak. Like so many others in the teaching profession, we struggled to find ways to bring history and social studies to life for our middle school students.

    That is, until we folded learning games into the mix.

    Whenever we used learning games, the classroom atmosphere was electrified, and our students were seemingly hooked on history. Game-based learning excited them -- and it showed. So we asked ourselves a very simple question as a teacher/game-design team: "Why can't our classes be fun and compelling like a learning game every single school day all year long?" And we set out to make a curriculum-aligned social studies learning game that would take our middle school students through the coursework for the entire school year.

    We thought it might take a single summer to build a game like the one we imagined. Instead, it has taken us nearly eight years to perfect our classroom-ready game, Historia.

    Curriculum-Aligned Gameplay

    Historia is a curriculum-aligned social studies simulation and strategy game that teaches middle school world history and cultures, economics, geography and government through interactive gameplay. The game covers over 4000 years of history -- from before 2000 BCE to 2000 CE -- so it connects the ancient past to the present day.

    In the beginning, student teams form governments that guide their citizens through the triumphs and tragedies of history. The Historia timeline is divided into 21 Epochs, or rounds of interactive gameplay, which include a tutorial Epoch that teaches students how to play the game.

    Anything that happens in history can happen to the people they protect as a government, so they must be prepared for everything that comes their way, Epoch after Epoch. If they make good, wise decisions as a team, their people will prosper and their civilization will grow bigger and stronger. If they don't, their people will suffer and their civilization will grow smaller and weaker.

    Each government's wisdom is dependent on knowing as much as possible about the people, places and problems encountered in Historia, so students conduct rigorous, content-based research and use the lessons they learn along the way to solve problems, shape strategies and create their very own people's history. For this reason, we like to say that Historia teaches the human experience through the human experience. And yes -- it is as much fun as it sounds!

    Building Skillsets via an Interactive Graphic Novel

    After conducting research and settling on a strategy as a team, each government crafts a balanced budget and spends the money their economy produces on advancements and improvements that prepare their people for their times. In other words, students learn the lessons of history and then apply them in the gameplay.

    From there, Historia unfolds like an interactive graphic novel in which students shape their people's history by making timely decisions and solving historically accurate problems called Dilemmas -- again, all as a team. For example:

    • Will their civilizations make peace with Alexander the Great -- or not?
    • Should their people pay the price to produce an architectural wonder of the world?
    • Or should they spend big on science and win the space race instead?

    Anything is possible within the game, so students learn history by leading history.

    How Does the Game Work in the Classroom?

    Historia was designed by classroom teachers for classroom teachers. It will be playable on PC, Mac and interactive white boards.

    Eventually, Historia will be loaded with digital curriculum content and formative and summative assessments embedded in the gameplay experience, possibly replacing textbooks in many history classrooms. The game can also give new life to traditional textbooks if teachers want to pair it with a favorite that they're already using. The game will be elastic enough to be used daily for an entire school year, or episodically, starting and stopping at strategic spots. Additionally, teachers can tailor the timeline to fit the scope of their state curriculum, so if your class ends with the Fall of Rome, Historia can end there, too.

    We're excited about Historia coming to a classroom near you in the Fall of 2014. And we hope you're excited, too. Game on!

    About the Citizen Z Project

    U.S. public education is rooted in the belief by early American leaders that the most important knowledge to impart to young people is what it means to be a citizen. If America is experiencing a civic crisis now, as many say it is, schools may well be failing at that job. To better understand the role of education in the current crisis, Education Week consulted experts, visited classrooms, and conducted surveys. This article is part of that ongoing effort. Look for more pieces from our Citizen Z project in the months ahead.

    In the context of a history classroom, some educators say that kind of role-playing can make oppression in the past feel more real to today’s students. The late John A. Stokes, a civil rights activist who was also a teacher and principal in Baltimore, used to conduct a simulation of a segregated bus ride in the Jim Crow South with K-12 students. Stokes, who grew up in Virginia in the 1940s and 50s, helped lead a student strike for better conditions in his segregated high school and was one of the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education. The simulation he designed “presents students with some of the actual facts and conditions that are part of our nation’s history” and gives them an opportunity to discuss what this history means to them today, he wrote in a 2010 article in Social Education , the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies.

    But anti-bias simulations differ in an important way from slavery reenactments, said Jones. An exercise like Elliott’s can expose the structural foundations of racism and demonstrate how bias can lead to prejudice, and prejudice can lead to discrimination. But in a slavery simulation, “the objective is not for students to understand bias and discrimination. They want students to understand the psychological trauma of slavery,” said Jones. “I’m not sure if that is a teachable goal.”

    But other educators think that there is a way to do slavery simulations well. Karen McKinney, an associate professor of biblical studies at Bethel University, a Christian college in St. Paul, Minn., has long practiced experiential learning in her college courses. In her dissertation, she studied several simulations that gave high school and college students the opportunity to be alternately powerful and powerless, with the goal of helping students and teachers understand oppression and systemic racism.

    One of these activities was an outdoor simulation of escape on the Underground Railroad that took high schoolers through a three-mile course in the woods. The activity, held at a YMCA camp, was attended by a group of students of color and run by a black facilitator.

    In a debrief after the exercise, some black students who had participated reported feeling fear and strongly disliking parts of the experience, including when facilitators had pretended to sell members of the group at a slave auction, McKinney wrote in her dissertation. But these students also said they felt like they had a better understanding of black history after the simulation. Experiencing some small part of what enslaved people went through conveyed to black students “you are important, you have a voice, you have a story,” said McKinney.

    White educators can also lead simulations that deal with racism, said McKinney, but it’s necessary that any facilitator undergo training beforehand and work to understand how their own privilege would operate in the space. Even still, she accepts that students may have intense reactions to simulations, including tears. “It’s OK for people to be in emotional pain, if we can talk about it,” said McKinney.

    ‘The History Is Painful’

    LaGarrett King, an associate professor at the University of Missouri’s college of education, agrees that educators and students are going to have to navigate discomfort to learn about slavery.

    “The history is painful, people feel uncomfortable, there’s no way around it,” said King, who is the founding director of the university’s CARTER Center for K-12 Black History Education.

    But when black children are asked to play-act as slaves, that violence disproportionately affects them in a way that reproduces historical oppression, said King. He opposes the use of slavery simulations, which he says are “about continuing to reinscribe pain on black people and black bodies.” Even though white teachers aren’t trying to hurt their black students, said King, simulations of slavery can be traumatic.

    Often these exercises can mimic the power dynamics of slavery, said Jones, such as in the incident in New York, where a high school teacher pretended to “auction off” black students to their white peers. In a simulation like that, “What exactly do teachers want? What is the objective?” Jones asked.

    Above all, there’s agreement that educators need to approach slavery simulations with caution.

    “Teaching controversy is what we do in social studies,” said Lawrence Paska, the executive director of NCSS. The organization doesn’t take a position on simulations, but Paska said these exercises around sensitive topics like slavery can pose unique challenges. “How do you do a simulation in a way that’s authentic, that’s not in any way derogatory or minimizes historical perspective, or in any way marginalizes the experience of the individuals or the groups that are being portrayed?” he said.

    Teachers Need Slavery Education, Too

    Many say educators need more guidance on how to teach slavery. At the elementary school level, especially, teachers are often reading or math specialists, and don’t have specialized training or content knowledge in social studies, said Costello of Teaching Tolerance. These teachers also generally have a lot of flexibility in how they approach the social studies curriculum.

    ”For many teachers, they’re looking for something that will engage kids and be fun,” she said.

    But Jones, the Grinnell professor, thinks putting an end to slavery simulations will require more than better resources and more professional development.

    “Teaching this [history] in a real way means that teachers are going to have to talk about complicity—that they have benefited from this system that they’re trying to reenact in their classrooms,” said Jones, noting that most teachers in the United States are white women.

    Often, teachers present slavery in passive terms, said King: Bad things happened to enslaved people violence was done to them. This framing erases the fact that white Americans were the perpetrators of this violence.

    Simulations can rob lessons on slavery of that context, said LaKeshia Myers, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, and a former middle and high school social studies and special education teacher.

    When she taught the subject, Myers explained to students that slavery was also an economic mechanism—that America was built on the exploitation of black people. “That portion is sometimes lost,” said Myers.

    For teachers looking to convey the trauma and pain of slavery, educators say there are far better ways than asking students to imagine the experience.

    For instance, Costello said, teachers can introduce primary sources around slavery, such as the Lost Friends messages , which were personal ads placed by freed slaves seeking lost loved ones after the Civil War.

    Even dramatized versions of first-person accounts can have a strong impact on students. Myers used to show her middle schoolers parts of the movie “Roots,” an experience she said gave them a deeper understanding of slavery than reading the textbook.

    Patrice Preston Grimes, an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, recommends field trips. For several years, she has taken her preservice teachers to James Madison’s Montpelier estate. They spend hours immersed in the history of the enslaved people and their descendants who once lived there, examining primary source documents and walking through the buildings where they slept.

    “That was far more effective than me trying to do some sort of simulation in the classroom,” she said.

    Teaching Civil War Battles and Leaders through Classroom Simulations

    For as long as historians have chronicled and interpreted war, they have confronted the intertwined issues of contingency and battle. Historical contingency is a difficult concept, but it is fundamental to historical thinking and essential to understanding the significance of battles, military leaders, and decisions in war. A working definition of contingency is how past events, circumstances, contexts, and outcomes influence possible futures within the context of that past. For purposes of teaching the Civil War, then, war’s military history is why and how the war unfolded on the battlefield and beyond, which determined what followed. None of it was predetermined, and the decisions that created and shaped military operations, subject to friction, fog of war, chance, weather, logistics, incomplete or erroneous information, and human frailty, provide historians with avenues to explore contingency, possibility, and leadership in war.[1]

    One of the toughest challenges in teaching the military history of the Civil War is to get students to fully understand the complexity and contingency of war from the perspective of its participants. Historians such as Ken Noe and Carol Reardon encourage us to think of perspective in war and to consider battles as puzzles or mosaics with multiple pieces making up the whole.[2] Put another way, Civil War battles were complicated, frightening, confusing, and uncertain, and outcomes often hinged on key decisions or actions. These were fragmentary experiences lacking clarity and, in some cases, even coherence for participants. Most of what we know about Civil War battles and leaders stems from more than a century-and-a-half of hindsight. Therefore, to understand why the Civil War unfolded as it did, and more fully empathize with its participants, we ought to try to experience, in some small way, a measure of that fear, uncertainty, and pressure of critical decision-making that Civil War military commanders often faced. As my review essay in the June 2019 issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era demonstrates, careful deliberation and comprehension of the decisions, alternatives, and context of military events, and the leaders who shaped them, can open important avenues into our understanding of the Civil War. To accomplish this, students must be equipped to engage in judicious interpretation of evidence, contextualization, and empathy.[3]

    The Battle of Antietam, 1862. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

    How might historians bring these issues into a teaching environment? Professional military educators have already been doing this sort of thing for years, and with excellence. Campuses across the United States incorporate some form of participatory military history exercises into their curriculum. These “staff rides” trace their origins to the Prussian general staff of the nineteenth century and have proven extremely useful in imparting the complexity and contingency of battle to military professionals, historians, and students for decades. The U.S. Army Center of Military History explains the purpose of these exercises as exposing students “to the dynamics of battle, especially those factors which interact to produce victory and defeat,” along with the so-called “face of battle,” or “the timeless human dimensions of warfare.” Through case studies, intensive preparation, and field trips to battle sites, staff ride participants learn the specifics of combined arms operations, technology, doctrine, leadership and group dynamics, unit cohesion, logistics, terrain, and any other number of aspects of war.[4]

    While staff rides may be too technical, complex, or impractical for some faculty to incorporate into their curriculum, many of the techniques and principles that go into the professional staff ride are readily adaptable to a classroom environment for undergraduates or graduate students. I have conducted simulation exercises for the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam alike, and I find both to be stimulating and useful in helping students come to grips with many of these issues. Antietam is particularly suitable for this sort of thing, for several reasons. First, the Battle of Antietam unfolded over a single day, and in several distinct and easily grasped phases, simplifying the technical details students would need to master. Second, Antietam involved a number of famous episodes that appeal to students, including Robert E. Lee’s infamous “Lost Order,” A.P. Hill’s last minute arrival on the battlefield, the heroics of units like the Irish Brigade at Bloody Lane, the tragedy of Burnside’s Bridge, the difficult relationships between leaders like George B. McClellan and Abraham Lincoln, and so on. Third, and perhaps most important, Antietam illustrates both the importance of battles to historical contingency, and the relationship between war, politics, race, and slavery in paving the way for President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Naturally, any number of Civil War battles can accomplish these goals Antietam is simply a good place to start.

    Lincoln and McClellan at Antietam. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

    The simulation itself is not a game there is no dice rolling or tactics. The purpose of the exercise is not to win or lose the battle, nor is it to change the outcome of history or “improve” a flawed strategy of the past. Rather, students should understand from the beginning that a simulation is an attempt to recreate the process of battle, and in doing so to gain a deeper and clearer understanding of the decisions and actions that informed the sequence of events that followed. In the simulation, as in a staff ride, students are assigned roles to assume these are usually commanders, from army leaders like Lee or McClellan, to corps commanders like James Longstreet or Joseph Hooker, all the way down to division, brigade, or in some cases, even regimental level. Once students have their roles, it is their responsibility to dive into the sources to discover as much relevant information about their assigned leader’s experience in the battle. As I point out in my review essay, historians and students seeking a deeper understanding of issues like motivation, personality, and relationship dynamics among military leaders can take on the approach of the historical biographer. Students can, in uncovering these details, see how patterns of behavior often spring from the lives and experiences of military leaders and thus help to shape military operations.[5]

    This can be a great opportunity to teach students how historians conduct research, introducing them to the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, letters, diaries, postwar memoirs, and other archival material, along with the vast corpus of scholarship on the Civil War. I have found it helpful to compile lists of relevant resources for students and even to provide them with some of the many freely available staff ride and primary resource collections available online from the Center of Military History, the Civil War Trust, the Library of Congress and National Archives, National Park Services sites, and other institutions or organizations. If you are fortunate enough to be near an actual battlefield site, as I am, field trips are also invaluable. It may be necessary to guide students’ research efforts through handouts or worksheets, so they have a clear understanding of their objectives and are not overwhelmed.

    Map of the battlefield of Antietam. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

    In my experience, students react favorably to a physical representation of the battle simulation. The Library of Congress and the National Archives provide copyright free historical maps of battles like Antietam and Gettysburg on their websites. These images may be transferred to posters or, even better, to large photo blankets, at many retail photo centers. Students can mark the locations and movements of their leaders by using simple paper markers, and troop lines and columns are easily represented with popsicle sticks or even toy soldiers. Providing participants with a detailed timeline of the battle helps keep the simulation moving along, and as the ebb and flow of the simulation unfolds, students chime in by sharing their research and explaining their participant’s role in the action. Students should come prepared to explain their figure’s biography, their place in the chain of command, their objectives and orders during the battle, their historical actions, and the student’s plan to implement and explain all of this to their fellow students.

    Implementing a battlefield simulation in the classroom requires extensive preparation. Students, particularly undergraduates, may be at a loss as to how to approach an exercise like this. There are, of course, many ways a simulation like this can develop, and, as in war, there are many opportunities for confusion and even disaster. I have found that preparing a briefing packet for students containing the timeline, a copy of the map, detailed orders of battle and chains of command, and additional readings beforehand is essential. Perhaps the most important component to a simulation like this comes after the fighting ends students ought to provide a written reflection on the experience, describing lessons learned, insights gained, questions raised, and possibilities for further inquiry. I suggest posing questions such as:

    • What did you learn about your person’s participation in the battle, and how did their decisions or actions shape the outcome?
    • Were you confused, and does that confusion tell you something about the nature of battle in the Civil War?
    • How does your experience correlate to how historians have written about your person or this battle?

    These kinds of questions encourage students to think historically about contingency, complexity, perspective, and war in ways that stretch the limits of what we can normally accomplish in a traditional classroom setting.

    Resources and Recommended Reading:

    Ballard, Ted. The Staff Ride Guide to the Battle of Antietam. CMH Pub 35-3-1. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2018,

    Bledsoe, Andrew S. “Beyond the Chessboard of War: Contingency, Command, and Generalship in Civil War Military History.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 9, no. 2 (June 2019), 275-301,

    Johnson, Robert Underwood, and Clarence Clough Buel, eds. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume II. 4 vols. New York: The Century Company, 1887, 545-695.

    McPherson, James M. Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Robertson, William Glenn. The Staff Ride. CMH Pub 70-21. Washington, DC.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2014,

    Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1983.

    U.S. War Department. War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901. Series 1, Volume 19, Parts 1-2 contain most of the relevant material on Antietam, including reports, returns, and orders of battle,

    [1] Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke, “What Does It Mean to Think Historically?” Perspectives on History, January 2007, Civil War historian James M. McPherson believes that “at numerous critical points during the war things might have gone altogether differently.” James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 858.

    [2] Carol Reardon, “Writing Battle History: The Challenge of Memory,” and Kenneth W. Noe, “Jigsaw Puzzles, Mosaics, and Civil War Battle Narratives,” both in Civil War History 53 (September 2007): 252-63, 236-43.

    [3] Andrew S. Bledsoe, “Beyond the Chessboard of War: Contingency, Command, and Generalship in Civil War Military History.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 9, no. 2 (June 2019): 275-301.

    A guide to social learning theory in education.

    Every teacher has those students. The ones that make the classroom difficult. They speak out of turn, bully other children, and express many behavioral problems that can bring a teacher to the end of their rope. Every classroom has students like these, and it can be incredibly frustrating for a teacher to deal with this all the time. At the root of the problem may be the student lacking guidance in the classroom.

    “The content of most textbooks is perishable, but the tools of self-directedness serve one well over time.” -Albert Bandura

    Current and aspiring teachers know that one of their most important jobs is to help give students guidance to be better learners and people, not just try and teach them one or two things out of a book. Understanding learning theories can help teachers connect with students who are acting out or having trouble learning. The practical applications of the social learning theory can directly address behavioral issues in some students and help them improve. In both their actual learning, and their behavior as a student, the right learning theory can make a world of difference.

    What is the social learning theory?

    Simply put, social learning theory is the idea that children learn from observing others. This learning can be acted on, a child sees a sibling politely ask for a treat and get one, or not acted on, a teenager hears a friend talking picking a lock and they learn something new, but don’t try it themselves. Especially when it comes to aggressive behavior, social learning theory plays a big role in how all people and especially children learn.

    There are four elements to social learning theory including:

    Attention. Children can’t learn if they aren’t focused on the task. Students who see something unique or different are more likely to focus on it, helping them to learn.

    Retention. People learn by internalizing information. We can then recall that information later when we want to respond to a situation in the same way which we saw. In order to learn from what we see, we have to retain that information.

    Reproduction. We reproduce our previously learned behavior or knowledge when it’s required. Practicing our response in our head or in actions can improve the way we respond.

    Motivation. Motivation is required in order to do anything. Usually our motivation comes from seeing someone else be rewarded or punished for something they have done. This can motivate us to do or not do that same thing.

    Teachers have found that social modeling and examples are a very powerful tool in education. If children see positive consequences from an action, they are likely to do that action themselves. And if they see negative consequences, they are likely to avoid that behavior. Unique, novel, and different situations often catch a student’s attention and can stand out to them.

    If students see other students paying attention, they are more likely to pay attention. So teachers utilize reward systems and punishments to help students learn from the examples of others. Social learning theory also has a great root in encouraging self-efficacy by using constructive feedback. Students who get positive reinforcement have more confidence in themselves and their abilities—this stands out in their mind and they want to repeat this behavior.

    History of social learning theory.

    Albert Bandura is considered the father of social learning theory. In the 1960’s he conducted a now-famous experiment called the Bobo doll experiment that led to his official writings on the social learning theory in 1977.

    The Bobo doll experiment was a group of tests performed from 1961-1963. The experiments involved studying children’s behavior after they watched an adult act aggressively toward a doll-like toy with a low center of mass that rocked back after being knocked down. The most important element of the experiment was seeing how children behaved after seeing the adult get rewarded, punished, or no consequence for physically abusing the Bobo doll. These experiments helped show how children can be influenced by learning from the behavior of others. Albert Bandura’s insights focus on behavioral development of students

    Lev Vygotsky is also known for his work on understanding how children learn from their peers, but his work is more focused on cognitive and language development. Lev Vygotsky focuses on the difference between what a child knows and what they want to know, the zone of proximal development. He focuses on how seeing other adults and peers helps children be able to overcome that zone of proximal development.

    Social learning theory vs. social cognitive theory.

    Albert Bandura is known as being the creator of both of these learning theories. Social cognitive theory is a more specific and detailed element of the social learning theory, and is connected to the cognitive theory of learning. It takes the idea that people learn from other people, and adds their personal or cognitive factors, the behavior itself, and the environment as combination factors for determining learning and behavior.

    In social cognitive theory, Bandura broadens the theory by saying that humans aren’t just shaped by their environment and inner forces, but they also shape their environment and inner force. Self-efficacy is an even more crucial area of social cognitive theory.

    Social learning theory is the more broad approach to the idea that humans and children learn from observing others.

    How to incorporate social learning in your classroom.

    While it’s one thing to think about social learning, it’s another to really incorporate it into your classroom. It’s important to understand strategies for how to incorporate this theory and help students succeed with it. Empathy and care are crucial to making sure this learning theory goes well in your classroom. Teachers should always remember that they can focus on reinforcement to shape behavior, model appropriate behavior, and build self-efficacy as part of their classroom model.

    The flipped classroom model. A flipped classroom model involves changing the way students would traditionally learn. Instead of a teacher lecturing during the school day, students watch an instructional video or reading material at home. Then in class, they apply what they learned through activities or assignments that might have been homework. Teachers act as guides and coaches, helping them continue their learning. This embodies the social learning theory because students are able to observe the behavior and action of other students during the learning and activities, seeing when they are getting praised and encouraged, and apply those observations to their learning.

    Teachers can incorporate this model by recording themselves lecturing on a certain subject so students can watch that video as their homework. They can then take their homework assignments and plan to work on them the next day with the students. It can be beneficial for teachers who choose this model to be available to help answer student questions if needed.

    Gamification and simulations. Gamification and simulations help teachers turn their classroom into a more interactive experience. It takes assignments and activities and put them into a game. Gamification involves turning an activity into a competitive game, creating rewards for winners, and creating that unique and novel spark that will attract the interest of students.

    Simulations in the classroom help add interest and fun to a classroom situation. A mock trial, a mock city, a digital simulation—all of these simulation options are great ways to enhance a classroom setting and make students feel more engaged. They also get the opportunity to learn from their peers.

    Gamification and simulations connect to social learning theory by allowing students to make real observations for rewards and punishments in an engaging way in the classroom. Students can win a game or see someone succeed in the simulation, and then emulate that behavior.

    Teachers can start by creating a unit that has a simple game or simulation to test it out, and then continue to add new games or simulations whenever possible.

    Peer coaching. Peer coaching is a great way to help students learn from each other. Students connected to each other can observe and learn, helping each other along the way. It’s important to be careful when instituting peer coaching—you don’t want students to feel uncomfortable or insecure about another student helping them. This can work well for math learning, paper writing and editing, and more. To institute peer coaching, carefully observe students first to see who would be a good fit to make the experience a success.

    Teachers can be a peer coach for students, or another aid can help act as peer coaches for students, especially when it comes to older students. Older students can directly learn from adults who have been in similar situations, and they can see how then ended up and how they got to where they are.

    Teacher resources for social learning.

    These resources will help teachers be prepared to incorporate social learning in their classroom and help students improve behaviors and be successful. This resource is a simulation of the sky that can help students learn about astronomy. Padlet can help students and teachers collaborate. Students can communicate and work with each other while watching instructional videos or reading articles written by the teacher. Edpuzzle allows teachers to create video content for students to consume easily. Quizizz is a great game option that makes learning and quizzes a more fun, game option. How-to videos are a great way for students to learn at home, particularly in a flipped classroom environment.

    If you're a current or aspiring educator, it's important to understand how different learning theories can benefit your classroom and help students find success. Get more help and knowledge about teaching and education with a degree from WGU.

    Online University Experience

    Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations (2011)

    This chapter considers the use of simulations and games for science learning in the context of formal education. After describing the variety of contexts in which individuals interact with simulations and games, it discusses opportunities for using simulations and games in classrooms as well as constraints on their use. It goes on to outline alternative approaches to addressing these constraints and realizing the potential of simulations and games to support learning in science classrooms. The chapter ends with conclusions and recommendations.


    Individuals interact with simulations and games in a variety of different contexts, comprised of interrelated physical, social, cultural, and technological dimensions (Ito, 2009 National Research Council, 2009). One dimension is the physical setting, either the formal environment of a school or university science classroom or an informal learning environment (the home, museum, after-school program, or other setting). Dimensions of the context that may influence learning include the involvement of other participants, who they are (experts, peers, family, teachers), and the technology itself (e.g., handheld devices, immersive environments provided on laptops).

    Games and simulations can create local contexts that can similarly engage learners, whether at home, in school, or in after-school programs. At the same time, however, research has shown that the surrounding context can significantly shape how a learner interacts with a simulation or game and the extent to which this interaction supports science learning (Linn et al., 2010). Perhaps the most important psychological difference between using a simulation or game at school or college and using it informally is motiva-

    tion. In the context of formal education, the professor or teacher requires the students to interact with the simulation or game, and the students may or may not be motivated. In informal contexts, individuals play a game or manipulate a simulation for fun, motivated by their own interest and enjoyment (see Chapter 4 for further discussion). Reflecting this difference, most studies have focused on using educational simulations and games in either a formal or informal context few have explored their potential to support learning across the boundaries of time and place. This chapter therefore focuses on formal educational settings, and informal settings are discussed separately in the following chapter.


    Simulations and games have great potential to improve science learning in elementary, secondary, and undergraduate science classrooms. They can individualize learning to match the pace, interests, and capabilities of each particular student and contextualize learning in engaging virtual environments. Because schools serve all students, increased use of simulations and games in science classrooms could potentially improve access to high-quality learning experiences for diverse urban, suburban, and rural students. The U.S. Department of Education&rsquos (2010) draft National Education Technology Plan states (p. vi):

    The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students&rsquo daily lives and the reality of their futures.

    In higher education, where faculty members generally have more control over selection of curriculum and teaching methods than do K-12 teachers, the use of simulations is growing. The number of higher education institutions accessing the PhET simulations online more than doubled over the past five years, from 580 in 2005-2006 to 1,297 in 2009-2010, and the number of online sessions by users at these institutions grew from 13,180 to 269,177 1 (Perkins, 2010). Among physics faculty responding to a 2008 survey about research-based instructional strategies, small proportions reported currently using other simulations and simulation-based learning environments, including Physlets (13.0 percent), RealTime physics virtual laboratories (7.3 percent), and Open Source Physics (21.8 percent) (Henderson and Dancy, 2009).

    The use of simulations and virtual laboratory packages is also gaining

    The PhET simulations can also be downloaded and installed for use offline, but no data are available on the number of offline sessions.

    momentum in high schools and middle schools (Scalise et al., 2009), and games are being tested in a few schools and districts. In K-12 settings, science teachers may use a simulation or game to engage students&rsquo interest at the beginning of a unit of instruction, build understanding of a particular topic in the unit, or as a form of assessment. Alternatively, a teacher, often in collaboration with researchers, may focus an extended unit of instruction on a simulation-based learning environment or game.

    Opportunities in School Settings

    Although many different types of simulations and games have been tested in K-12 and undergraduate classrooms, only a few have been widely implemented. Some examples are the Taiga Park curriculum unit in Quest Atlantis, which has been used by thousands of students in elementary schools, after-school clubs, and science centers, and the simulation-based learning environments developed by Songer, Kelcey, and Gotwals (2009), which have been used by hundreds of students in the Detroit Public Schools. The developers of the River City game-based curriculum unit have investigated the process of widely implementing the unit, as well as its effectiveness for learning (see Box 3-1). To capture lessons learned from this experience and research, the committee asked lead developer Christopher Dede (2009c) to outline the opportunities and constraints that formal classroom settings offer for simulations and games.

    Dede (2009c) identified five opportunities that classroom settings offer for using simulations and games. First, the teacher is a resource to support learning and can also provide valuable information to developers on student misconceptions inadvertently generated by a game or simulation. For example, a teacher observed that a student team using River City once spent substantial time repeatedly using the mosquito catcher (a virtual tool to help students assess the local prevalence of insects that serve as a vector for malaria), well beyond what was needed for statistical sampling. When she investigated, she found that the students believed they could reduce illness in the simulation by &ldquocatching&rdquo enough mosquitoes to block the disease. The teacher informed the developers, who used this feedback to modify the instructions for playing the game.

    Second, classroom settings offer the opportunity to reach students who might otherwise view science as boring. The growing popularity of gaming outside school reduces teachers&rsquo work to prepare students for using educational simulations and games and builds learners&rsquo motivation for them. Some students who enjoy gaming for entertainment but shun educational games find that assigned gaming experiences in the classroom are unexpectedly fascinating, building their interest and self-efficacy in school (Clarke, 2006 Ketelhut, 2007).

    Third, the responsibility of the teacher to grade students can present

    Implementation of River City

    In 2002, River City was piloted, along with a matched control curriculum, in three Boston area public schools with large percentages of English language learners and students eligible for free and reduced-price meals. A total of 63 sixth- and seventh-grade students participated in the River City unit, and an additional 36 students received the control curriculum. The students used either River City or the control curriculum during their regularly scheduled science classes over the course of two weeks. In 2003-2004, three variations of the curriculum unit, along with the matched control curriculum, were tested in urban schools in New England, the Midwest, California, and the Southeast (Ketelhut et al., 2006). Like the students involved in the pilot, the 2,500 urban students in this larger test included large percentages of English language learners and students eligible for free and reduced-price meals. By 2007, over 8,000 students had been taught using River City (Ketelhut, 2007).

    both an opportunity and a constraint. Students and teachers using River City reported that, when the learning experience was evaluated by the teacher as part of the course grade, some students took the game or simulation more seriously, while others lost engagement. Fourth, classrooms present the opportunity to use study designs that control for confounding variables, allowing researchers to more clearly isolate whether, and to what extent, a simulation or game affects student learning. Finally, public schools offer the opportunity to deliver educational games and simulations to an entire population of students, scaling up the potential learning gains.

    Opportunities for Individualized Learning

    Simulations and games designed for science learning allow the learner some control over the pacing and content of the learning. This and other features provide the possibility of individualizing learning to match each learner&rsquos unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses. Classroom settings provide opportunities to both tap and extend this capacity (Dede, 2009b).

    First, teachers can assign students to teams based on their knowledge

    of students&rsquo intellectual and psychosocial characteristics. For example, River City and other immersive learning environments use &ldquojigsaw&rdquo pedagogies, in which each team member has access to data that others do not, requiring collaboration for collective success (Dede, 2009a). Teachers assigning students to these teams have worked to ensure that each team includes students with interests in science, in games, and in collaborative leadership. Teachers have also tried to place each learner in a role that matches his or her current capabilities. For example, students who struggle to read English text can aid their teams by gathering numeric data. Finally, teachers have tried to select team members so that one person does not dominate the interaction. Such nuanced composition of learning groups is much more difficult in unsupervised informal settings.

    Second, science teachers can alter their classroom instruction and support on the basis of the feedback that games and simulations provide. For example, teachers working with the River City curriculum unit received daily, detailed logs of students&rsquo chats and behaviors, as well as their scores on embedded assessments and their postings in online notepads. Most teachers reported that they liked receiving these data (Dieterle et al., 2008). In classroom settings, the teacher can take advantage of feedback from the simulation or game to enhance and individualize learning&mdashan opportunity that is not available in informal settings.

    Third, science games and simulations can be adapted for students with special needs, allowing them to be mainstreamed in science classrooms. For example, the developers of an augmented reality curriculum adapted it to meet the needs of a student who was visually impaired (Dunleavy, Dede, and Mitchell, 2009). Hansen, Zapata-Rivera, and Feng (2009) are testing a new simulation-based learning system with integrated assessment that shows promise of supporting science learning for all students, including those with disabilities. As another illustration, a special needs teacher modified the River City curriculum so that her class of cognitively challenged students could complete a substantial part of the curriculum, with very positive effects on their motivation and self-efficacy. Classrooms offer opportunities for teachers to extend the supports that can be embedded in science games and simulations to meet special needs.

    Fourth, educational games and simulations can potentially help prepare students to take full advantage of other science learning activities. For example, Metcalf, Clarke, and Dede (2009) are currently designing and studying a learning environment focusing on virtual ecosystems. The researchers plan to study whether students who experience this learning environment are better prepared to take full advantage of their visits to real ecosystems.

    Fifth, teachers, through their knowledge of students, can relate virtual experiences in science games and simulations to what is happening in the real world or in students&rsquo lives. For example, some students in urban settings

    noted that the tenement houses in River City were infested by diseases that, over a century later, are still prevalent in their neighborhoods immigrant students experiencing River City made similar observations about current conditions in their native countries. Teachers were instrumental in helping learners make these types of connections.

    Further research is needed on what types of professional development are most effective in helping teachers to realize these opportunities for individualizing learning with simulations and games (Schwarz, Meyer, and Sharma, 2007).

    Opportunities for Psychosocial Learning and Motivation

    Games and simulations draw on psychosocial factors to motive and to educate. There is evidence that well-designed games and simulations can enhance students&rsquo psychosocial development, particularly in adolescence (Durkin, 2006), and schools can support this potential.

    Schools provide a setting in which students can informally discuss simulations and games, complementing the more structured, formal discussions in their science classes. As described in the previous chapter, Steinkuehler and Duncan (2008) found evidence that online discussions of the commercial game World of Warcraft supported shared learning. In schools, teachers can leverage students&rsquo physical proximity to foster similar discussion and learning, face to face. For example, some River City teachers were amazed by students&rsquo eagerness to spend extra time on the curriculum during lunch hour or before or after school. By providing supervised access to the curriculum at these times, the schools allowed students to develop communication skills and social relationships centered on science learning.

    Schools also host clubs and other organizations that provide opportunities for learning informally with simulations or games. The growth of robotics illustrates this potential similar to augmented reality games, robotics adds a kinesthetic dimension to learning (Rogers and Portsmore, 2004). Science games and simulations may motivate informal learning in similar ways, if they allow the user to modify the game or simulation, similar to modifying one&rsquos robot. &ldquoModding&rdquo is now possible in many games and is extensively used by many participants for fun and informal learning about the models underlying the entertainment experience. Some games (e.g., Little Big Planet, Spore) even require learner design of processes that involve scientific principles, although no support is provided for this. Science teachers can employ modding to encourage students to learn by designing simulations or games (Annetta et al., 2009 see Chapter 4 for further discussion).


    Dede (2009c) identified several constraints on the use of educational games and simulations in formal classroom settings, some of which are closely related to the opportunities described above. One is that the classroom teacher may not always implement the game or simulation in the manner intended by its designers, inadvertently undercutting student learning. For example, although River City is designed to motivate and support students in moving from exploring the virtual environment to formulating and testing a hypothesis, some teachers have asked students to use the curriculum to simply confirm correct answers that the teachers provided in advance (Ketelhut et al., 2007). As noted in Chapter 1, students often find inquiry learning difficult (National Research Council, 2005b). To effectively help students through these difficulties, teachers require deep content knowledge and effective teaching strategies. These requirements, together with practical constraints, such as lack of time and the press of high-stakes science assessments focusing on content knowledge, may discourage teachers from using games to engage students in inquiry learning.

    Another constraint is that schools often lack the technology infrastructure required to support a game or simulation. A chronic problem in implementing the River City curriculum has been teachers&rsquo lack of access to an adequate, reliable technology infrastructure. These problems include difficulty providing one-to-one student access to computers and challenges in obtaining network access to outside resources.

    The requirement that teachers grade student work, including work with simulations and games, can also pose a constraint. Both students and teachers who worked with River City reported that, when the teacher evaluated students&rsquo learning in the curriculum as part of the course grade, some students became less engaged and interested, while others took the game more seriously. Another constraint is posed by current assessment methods. Current high-stakes science tests do not accurately measure the complex understandings and skills developed by high-quality simulations and games (Quellmalz et al., 2009), yet current education policy focuses on student performance on these high-stakes tests. This can discourage the use of simulations and games. For example, science curriculum coordinators for three large urban districts refused to allow teachers to use River City because an emphasis on science inquiry might interfere with students doing well on content-oriented high-stakes science tests (Clarke and Dede, 2009).

    Although science classrooms offer opportunities for research designs that control some variables, obtaining permission to do research in schools is typically very difficult. For example, in taking the River City curriculum to scale, the developers had to satisfy one school district that demanded three times the documentation that the Harvard University institutional review

    board (IRB) required, mandated customized changes to the researchers&rsquo standard letters of consent approved by the Harvard IRB, and took almost a year to reach a favorable decision. Another district required researchers to be fingerprinted by the district, because the state refused to accept finger-prints done elsewhere. Other challenges arose in school districts due to breakdowns in internal communications between the curriculum, research, and technical departments.


    Experts have proposed alternative approaches to overcome these constraints and realize the opportunities for using simulations and games in classroom settings. For example, to address the constraint that teachers sometimes undercut the intended goals of a simulation or game, Dede (2009c) emphasized the value of teacher learning, both formal and informal. Teacher learning improves the fidelity of implementation of the curriculum. Among teachers using River City, the number of years of experience implementing the curriculum was significantly correlated with both greater teacher comfort with it and better learning outcomes for students. In addition, a large majority (94 percent) of teachers rated the developers&rsquo 4-hour online preimplementation training as useful. Trainers working in the field to support River City reported fewer problems with teachers who participated in the developers&rsquo professional development. Students of teachers who were trained online performed significantly better on the posttest, on average (controlling for gender, socioeconomic status, reading level, and pretest performance), than students whose teachers were trained face to face. These findings on successful online training build on other research demonstrating the effectiveness of several models of online professional development (Dede, 2006 Falk and Drayton, 2009). Such research could lead to the emergence of new models of online professional development to help teachers adapt science games and simulations for effective use in their particular situations (Dede, 2009b).

    To address technology constraints, the River City team included a part-time technology specialist to handle the unique school-by-school and district-by-district network configurations. 2 When technical problems arose, science teachers reported that often their students were adept at resolving them.

    Horwitz (2009) suggests that both technology and assessment constraints could be addressed by outsourcing technology services to an educational service provider. The service provider would provide updated hardware and

    Schools systems and developers are exploring web-based delivery of games and simulations to avoid the need to install games on school networks (see Chapter 6).

    software to support continued innovation in simulations and games and would maintain data on students&rsquo progress, as measured by embedded performance assessments, in secure databases. More broadly, financially self-sustaining educational service providers could provide simulations, games, and related curriculum, instruction, and assessment scaffolds to schools on an ongoing basis. These entities could potentially address the problem that technological innovations rarely last beyond the time frame of the grant-funded project that created them. 3 However, the logistics and business models of this approach have not yet matured.

    Despite these possibilities to overcome constraints, Dede (2009c, p. 11) concluded that &ldquocurrent educational systems pose formidable challenges to implementation at scale.&rdquo Noting that many variables influence adoption (or avoidance) of any educational intervention, he observed that scaling up an intervention is very difficult, even if it has been demonstrated as effective, economical, and logistically practical in a few classrooms (Dede, Honan, and Peters, 2005 Venkatesh and Bala, 2008).

    One important variable influencing adoption is the learning goal (or goals) of the game or simulation. A simulation focusing on development of content knowledge&mdashwhich is a widely accepted goal in current science education&mdashmay be less challenging, but also less transformative, for a teacher to use than a game that engages students in authentic scientific inquiry in a complex virtual environment (Dede, 2009b). The challenges of inquiry teaching and learning were noted earlier in this chapter. At the same time, state science standards and assessments emphasizing science facts encourage teachers to emphasize content knowledge, leaving little time for inquiry. Science teachers who use a game to engage students in inquiry will require extensive support to transform their teaching practices in the face of these challenges.

    An Evolutionary Approach

    In a response to Dede, Culp (2009) suggests that wider use of simulations and games to enhance learning might best be realized through incremental, evolutionary change, rather than dramatic shifts in teaching and learning approaches. Drawing on three decades of research on the integration of technology into classrooms, Culp (2009) argues that adoption of any educational intervention is driven not only by the factors discussed above&mdashthe personal capacity of teachers and the institutional capacity of schools and

    In a few cases, private foundations have solicited proposals from learning technology projects that are nearing the end of their federal grants. Foundations have selected the most promising proposals and provided funding to prepare the technologies for large-scale deployment and also to create a business plan.