I love doing using simulations strategically in the classroom. This is half from my own passion for strategy board games and half from a desire to be creative in the classroom.
Among the reasons I think simulations can work well in the classroom are because they:
- Engage students in unique ways that let them have fun.
- Help build positivity and rapport with students early on in the year – this pays dividends during difficult lessons later.
- Encourage inquiry and application of learning and skills.
- Act as great introductions to content or can serve as capstone experiences.
To be fair, there are arguments against simulations. Specifically that they run the risk of turning into “alternate history” which does not support content acquisition, can be time consuming, or can easily be hijacked by energetic students.
I think these arguments are valid, but the context of the simulation, the teacher’s specific goals, and student ability need to be considered.
I have found the risk of “alternate history” when simulations turn out differently from a real historical event to be muted with the use of a purposeful debrief. But simulations can also be created that get students active in the world of historical content without actively changing how the history has unfolded. Certain topics lend themselves better to simulations, and the age, maturity, and reasoning abilities of the students should be taken into account.
All that being said, below is a simulation on the Roman Republic that I created during the second year of COVID. After a two month period of online learning I made a promise to my students that we would do something creative and fun when they returned to “cap” our learning before beginning a unit project. After making the promise, I had to deliver. This is one of my commitment devices that seems to work. The simulation below is what I came up with.
This simulation has two components, the economic and the political. The economic component is a fairly standard trade simulation. The use of import/export goals adds a bit of complexity here. The political component is a bit more fun for the students and takes place after the trading.
I have used this simulation as a capstone on a 2-3 week unit on the Roman Republic with 9th graders. With a debrief, it has served as a good bridge between the unit itself and a DBQ on the government of the Roman Republic that serves as my unit assessment. In terms of time, this has taken me 1.5-2 blocks to complete. It can be rushed in one block, but that spoils the debrief and the politics phases. If you pre-teach some vocab and are willing to take extra time with the directions, I could see it being an intro to the unit as well.
I have run this with two students per region acting as a team. I have also run two of these simulations simultaneously because I had a larger class and did not want more than two students per team.
I use the chance cards simply as in-game trivia review. These can be easily changed.
The role cards are just assigned randomly at the beginning. They serve no other function than to assign students to locations. The names are not real people, I just used a Roman name generator.
I use different color tokens that I already had for the trade goods. You could also easily create resource cards to use.
I think everything else should be fairly clear from the directions and resources in the file.
The directions along with all the various pieces, placards, and cards are located in the .zip file below. The directions are in both English and Chinese since I teach in China.
Full Disclosure / Reflection
- I have only tested this in class about four times. However, I have had winning teams from four different regions using multiple strategies.
- I make no claims about the simulations connections to historical skills. I think the connections that can exist occur indirectly and can be made relevant with a strong debrief.
- Students can earn points in many different ways. My inspiration was board games by my favorite game designer Stefan Feld. #pointsalad (This is in no way comparable to one of his masterpieces…) This encourages students to make choices about how they will play without those choices creating alternate history.
- Change anything you want. Depending on classes or time I have removed individual components from the game, such as the technological wonders.
If you find this and use it, let me know how it goes. If you make any changes to it, please pass your idea on to me so I can use it. The simulation is a work in progress, I am sure someone who is more artistically inclined than myself could do a better job with the visual appeal of the components.