I’ve taught a couple classes to talented and gifted youth using board games. But never in a context in which I could assign homework. Which is a shame, because I have an idea for what I think would be a wonderful class!

Overview

This class would integrate one of my favorite instructional aids, playing historic and strategic board games (in this case A Brief History of the World), with independent research, creative writing, and public speaking. I think drawing on such diverse activities and intelligences in a single class would be a highly productive, stimulating, and exciting experience for students. Class time would be spent in several ways: 1) an introduction to history as a varied subject beyond a series of events and dates, including the notion of embedded historians using examples like Thucydides and Homer as well as more contemporary historians. 2) Playing games! 3) Presenting research and discussing how it relates to what happens in the game. Homework would include independent research on the kingdoms, empires, and nations students have played as within the game, as well as writing, either purely historical or historical fiction, on some aspect of the history of that kingdom/empire/nation.

I did use A Brief History of the World in a week-long class for Saturday Academy‘s week-long summer camp in 2011. Although I couldn’t assign any homework, I did use a watered-down version of this curriculum by offering the option for students to do some research and present it to the rest of the class each day. Although it wasn’t as deep as I would expect from a longer course, it did add some additional detail to the events students were playing through in the game.

Image of A Brief History of the World from BoardGameGeek is copyright its creator.

Learning

By playing A Brief History of the World, students would start to see history as not merely a sequence of events and dates, but as an interaction of systems. By making decisions within the game, they will come to understand some of the forces that influenced historical actors.

Playing the game would be complemented by their own research on the kingdoms, empires, or nations they represented in the game. Depending on the age level, this research would be supported by providing research material, an in-school trip to the library, discussions with librarians, or other research resources. Because board games are necessarily abstracted and simplified versions of reality, this historical research would add depth to the class as students relate it to the events that happen during the game. They would also cultivate skills like using primary and secondary sources for research, keeping track of their sources and collected information, and evaluating sources.

After being introduced to a range of historical texts, including those written by the people living through the events they’re writing about, as well as those on topics other than typical wars and nations, students would write their own histories (or historical fictions) informed by their research. In addition to expository and narrative writing, they would develop their ability to synthesize, summarize, connect, and creatively deploy disparate information from varied sources.

At the conclusion of the game, students would select one of their researched histories to expand into a presentation to deliver to the class. Because public speaking is so frequently feared, this practice would help students become more confident and engaging presenters.

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