Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Power of Real World Simulations: Rationale for Irresistible Engagement

When I was a full time classroom teacher teaching History, I was always looking for ways to make History seem as something that was vital and alive for students. I found that methods that I had learned in the Faculty of Education just weren't accomplishing what I wanted to see happen with my students. Too often these methods treated the learner as passive objects or even "sponges" who were commanded to absorb whatever I put out there and then be able to reproduce it on command in a test or an assignment. For me this was not good enough, even though many of my students were able to achieve high evaluations on exams they were still not thoughtfully engaged with the subject matter.
SO, I  REBELLED !! I changed what I did and made it my goal to make History much more interactive and engaging to students. I discovered that students loved to imagine what it would be like to live life in someone else's shoes. Therefore, I combined Drama with History and started engaging students in Historical role-plays. At first, I thought that shy students would recoil from such an activity. I was wrong! Somehow, they drew on inner strengths that I had never seen in them before. It got to the point where students started talking to other students in the school and they put pressure on their teachers to do the same thing.

So this would not be simply be social interactions, I re-designed the role plays to challenge their decision making abilities, to have them consider the merits of alternative points of view, to introduce confounding variables such as changing circumstances within the event that they were recreating and then have them examine the thoughts and decision making of the actual historical figures as shown in actual diary accounts and historical journals.

Later, when I coupled this activity with the use of technology, my students soared. Not only were they engaged in the thoughts of History but they were also making connections with Historical events in their own times, without my prodding. You can understand how exciting this was for me as a teacher. In the past, what often had taken me weeks through Socratic lectures, assignments and repeated testing, I was able to accomplish in a week. Extrinsic motivators were replaced by intrinsic motivators offered up by the students.

My point is this. Students when they start school come to their classes with active and healthy imaginations and for a time we support them but by the time they reach junior high school we have dutifully regimented them and have conveyed to them the message that their imaginings are only meaningful  if they fulfill our mandate. Otherwise they are to suppress these unrealistic ideas.
The creation of real world simulations using the powerful technologies that we have available to us presents us with a great opportunity to once again kindle a deep, sustained desire to be re-engaged with learning. It starts with creating a hybrid learning experience that is a combination of real world scenario and an interactive simulation.

In my own meager efforts, I have started creating such scenarios and I will suggest how to lay such scenarios out in the next posting.....

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