By Jeffrey Shoemaker
When I was a Graduate Assistant at The Ohio State University Lima Campus I worked with elementary and middle school children on a simulation based on local history. When they came to my building, they would be taken back to the early part of the 1900’s working at the Lima Locomotive Works. They would watch a short video to introduce them to the Lima Locomotive Works, and the locomotive they would build.
The students were told they will build a 20 foot replica of a 1925 Shay Locomotive. To do this they would be broken into teams and each team had a certain job to do. One group would be in-charge of putting on the wheels; another group would be in-charge of putting the cab together; and another group would be in-charge of putting the boilers together. These area students were taught how to read blue prints, from which they would work, and they were put under stress as the foremen would try to rush them to get the locomotive finished on time.
After each locomotive was built, we would sit in front of it and review what they learned. The foremen would share some of the working conditions in the real factory, and each student would be given a card describing a short biography of a real person who lived in Lima, and worked at the factory. Students would be engrossed by the whole situation. I had decided if I could replicate this kind of learning in the classroom I would, because what we did was take something that was abstract like working in a factory in the 1920’s and made it tangible. Students could get the feeling of being stressed to make the locomotive on time.
I have done small simulations in the classroom during a lesson, but nothing really big. One of new units this year that I am currently doing with my fourth graders is Storms. We are looking at how certain storms form, and where they form. Part of this unit is how humans and storms interact. Here was my chance to put my knowledge of simulations into practice. I wanted them to go through data and discuss a solution.
So I got on line and found a great simulator on a hurricane getting ready to hit a small Florida community on Weathereye. Even though this is for middle schoolers; I thought it would be good to see how my 4Th grader students would handle a simulation that would make them critically think. I modified it some because of the vocabulary that was used, and some of the information was overwhelming for them. I broke them into groups and gave them a few roles. One student was the mayor, another was a tourism director, another mayor’s assistant, another the emergency manager, and the last person was the police chief. They had to think and make decisions based on that role. I had them break up into their groups and randomly pick their jobs out of a hat. I had looked up what each job did, and created a place card for each person so the groups knew who each person’s job was. I had the students get on the laptops and continue the simulation through the website.When it was over we gathered together to discuss what each decided to do. I had each group get in front of the class and describe the process they went through to get their decision to either evacuate the city or have the city wait out the storm. After all the groups completed their presentations, we had an open discussion on their groups similarities and differences.
My students loved the simulation. They had a chance to talk, debate, explain, and listen to each other in a way for them to connect to the situation. It was wonderful. I saw and heard learning going on through discussion, and debate, and though discussion making. I saw my role not so much as teacher but as facilitator.
It is important to use role play and simulations, and virtual tours in the classroom. If we expect out children to learn about history, math, science, or any other subject we need to place them in learning situations. Role play and stimulating simulations are a great way for students to feel as if they are part of the history, or story of the simulation, or have the opportunity to gain some self esteem through trial and error. Students need to be exposed to as much information as possible, and be able to talk about what they are learning and experiencing.
It reminded me of the history curriculum History Alive!. In that curriculum the students are often placed in a situation and asked to role play in order to empathize with a person or event. For example, I can remember reading a lesson in which the students would role play a soldier during WWI. They would pack a backpack with some books to show the heaviness of a soldier’s backpack during WWI. The teacher would rearrange the classroom so the desks would make a system of trenches. Then the students would have to write a letter home to their parents, wives, or siblings pretending to be that American soldier during WWI.
A famous role play and simulation is a court room. In this simulation you have students role playing the parts of judge, jury, prosecutors, defendants, lawyers, and witnesses. This is a great way to teach young people our judicial system. Through this simulation some students will decide if being a judge or lawyer is what they might want to as a career.
Simulations are a great way for students to get more computer time and to see the Internet as a learning tool. This generation of students are so familiar with video games, MYSPACE, and FACEBOOK, that they can maneuver the Internet well when it comes to entertainment. We need to teach students there is more on the Internet than the social media websites. I am a big proponent of social media. Having the ability to connect with family and friends, and to get news in real time is great. Those sites are popular and do have their place, but they need to begin to see the Internet as a tool that can help them as well as entertain them.
Simulations expand the classroom when budgets are tight. Teachers can use the simulations to visit museums, and other places of interest. For example, you can take a virtual tour of the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa, and other great works of art; you can take a virtual tour of the Cairo Museum and see the King Tut artifacts; you can take your class on a virtual tour of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. and see great exhibits there. There are science experiments that students can do over and over when conventional labs might take several minutes to hours to reset so students can redo a lab.
In conclusion, as teachers who teach gifted students we have an opportunity to take gifted students deep into a topic, event, or subject. Why not give them a chance to act it out in a simulation and see that there are many different facets that take place when you have to make a history or life changing decision. Why not take a virtual tour of museum or monument that students wouldn’t have the ability to go to otherwise? You will, as I had the chance to, see real learning going on through the discussion with other students and with the facilitator. I want to encourage you along with myself, to use more simulations in the classroom when it is possible. Students will remember longer the material that they learned through the simulation than if they heard it through a lecture. Simulations take a lot of work but in the end it is worth it. It will be an activity that students will have the chance to talk about for a long time.