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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Crisis~ the Game

During the last week of school~ I decided to try an experiment. Inspired by a documentary about John Hunter~ the fourth grade teacher who created the World Peace Game~ I began playing a simulation with my gifted fifth graders.

I called it Crisis~ the game.

The reason I called it Crisis was because I wanted my students to become problem solvers~ and what better place to solve problems but in the world.

The rules were simple:

  1. 1. Solve whatever issues or problems presented to your team.
  2. 2. Collect as much money and resources for your country as possible.
  3. 3. Avoid conflict and violence

I broke the class into groups and allowed them to name their countries. I labeled the countries using an outline map and projected it on the overhead. Each day~ I presented new problem~ tying it to the lessons covered that week.

For example~ while studying global warming and learning about the effects of flooding on populations~ I had students deal with flooding in their various countries. Countries in coastal areas realized they were significantly affected~ while other countries had to decide whether to provide financial assistance. Countries unaffected by flooding discovered that coastal countries~ if unassisted~ could not afford to ship oil~ gas and other resources~ which in turn~ affected the entire world. Students also learned that by helping countries~ they placed themselves in good standing~ and could find an ally when attacked or hit with economic turmoil. Alliances were formed~ and countries realized as the old saying goes one hand washes another."

On another day~ I presented the teams with threats of terrorism. While studying the topic by watching videos of Al-Qaeda~ students learned some important lessons when their countries were attached without warning. The solution was much more complex than simply attacking another country or waging war~ especially when you did not know where the enemy was hiding. Some of the more clever students figured out that they could better protect themselves by strengthening their intelligence gathering and going after the financial interests of the terrorist groups.

Within a week~ the game took on a life of its own. Spies were introduced as well as stealth bombers~ drones and other tools of espionage. Students also requested that additional ways of raising money be added to the game~ so we included tax increases and discussed the cause and effect relationship of tax rates on people and the economy. The class became so excited about playing Crisis that backroom deals were being made at recess and lunch. Ultimately~ we had to impose a fine on teams that discussed official business outside of the classroom.

On the last day of school~ I gave the class a survey and asked them what they learned from playing the game. It was amazing to see that many had realized that all actions have consequences~ and that you must think long-term before making decisions. They understood that gut reactions~ like going to war or resorting to violence~ might work in the short-term but had major consequences in the future. They also realized that conflict is not an easy issue to handle~ and that finding a peaceful solution requires critical and creative thinking.

While things like creating world peace~ avoiding conflict~ and seeing the bigger picture may not directly be assessed through standardized testing~ these are skills and tools worthy of our attention. The good news is that through simulations like Crisis~ these goals might not only be possible with children but attainable.

To share your thoughts on Crisis or othersimulations~ please visit the Innovative Teaching group at http://community.educationworld.comcontent/crisis-game-0?gid=NTEyMQ==