I was first introduced to the concept of using games to teach history when I read Larry Ferlazzo’s post about teaching with “Choose Your Own Adventure Stories” (CYOAS). (See, “The Best Places to Read and Write ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Stories,’” “‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Additions,” which inspired my own post: “Student-written ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Stories’ for learning history,” and a related post, “Writing Fiction as an Exercise in History Education.”) Using the provided links from Ferlazzo’s recommended sites (such as the Microsoft site with a PowerPoint tutorial and these clowns who actually explain a YouTube adventure quite well despite failing at humor), I created my own PowerPoint CYOAS: “Lord Nivelo and the First Crusade.”
The main character was based on a real historical knight who left a charter about his decision to give up his life of robber-baron crime and repent by accepting the call to the First Crusade. Links to online biographies, online primary sources, and an in-document glossary, provided the means for the students to build content-knowledge. The links that moved the story provided students with the opportunity to role-play and engage in decisions that would have been relevant to a late-11th century knight. Some decisions were purely moral and resulted in the same outcome, but the decision would have required careful consideration by a knight of the era who was opting to be moral or not. The story progressed based on the events of history and historical persons. In the below sample, for example, the knights in Emico’s entourage attacked the Jews of Mainz, sought to enter the Kingdom of Hungary, were repulsed, and then fell to bandits in the woods during their retreat. This is a dead-end scenario. If the student selects the option of Nivelo refusing Emico’s offer, the story continues.
To recap: the students, by participating the story, do all of the following:
- Read related secondary and primary sources (online in this case)
- Build relevant vocabulary for the unit (plus, in my glossary of, “Words you may not know,” I included, “Places You May Not Know” with links)
- Engage the thought-processes, problems, and decision-making challenges of the historical era
- Engage these within a realistic fiction of actual historical events and persons, based on primary document evidence
This is a pretty useful way for students to engage the familiar and the strange in a the foreign culture they are studying. (It is also a useful exercise for the educator who creates the CYOAS–assuming, of course, that it’s done right.)
It was thanks to Glenn Wiebe’s post, “Gaming the Past: How to Teach with Video Games,” that I was introduced to an entirely new and productive approach to teaching history with video games. (A fact that was strongly recalled to mind when I visited, “The Art of Video Games,” exhibit and learned about the incredible potential of modern video games.) Upon visiting Glenn’s site with the above link, you will be provided with links to Teachinghistory.com’s posts by Jeremiah McCall on using and creating simulation games in the classroom and the blog, Gaming the Past. These tools will give you another opportunity to provide an authentic role-playing experience that helps students learn about historical eras, events, or persons.
Students will benefit from playing these games–their knowledge and understanding will increase. These games are exercises in historical experiences. That’s useful for learning. There is another way to approach this, however. As you will learn from the links, above, software exists to create simulations. This means you can make games for your students to play, but it also means that the students can make the games!
I have already advocated for this learning experience in previous posts: “Creating Educational Games,” and, “Some advice and tips on creating educational games.” The same logic can be used in providing students with the necessary tools to create digital simulations and games. The same knowledge that was required in making my CYOAS, “Lord Nivelo and the First Crusade,” would be the researched portion of the project for the students in developing their games. The same ideas I suggested for board or card games in the above posts could be used to create digital simulations with the software available, today.
In this way, students are not only engaging in role-play learning for eras, but they are doing the necessary research to create a simulated historical era, and learning enough about the habits and ways of a historical period to create problem-solving scenarios in line with the era. This is an incredibly useful learning experience, a good way to engage the current generation, and valuable experience in traditional history research.