Create a List

List Name

Rename this List
Save to
Back to the Top Teaching Blog
January 8, 2016 Simulations Bring Learning to Life By John DePasquale
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    If you are searching for a way to channel your inner Ms. Frizzle, look no further than a classroom simulation. From the moment you step inside a classroom during a well-organized social studies simulation, you are magically transported to another time and place where students truly bring history to life. 

    What Is a Classroom Simulation?

    A simulation is a classroom activity created by a teacher that presents authentic problem-solving scenarios to students for them to tackle through reenactments and role-playing. Simulations work especially well to develop historical concepts in social studies because they provide students with the opportunity to assume various viewpoints that reflect the people, places, and times of particular historical periods. Students use primary and secondary resources to support these viewpoints and to inform the decisions they make as they respond to the problems presented in the simulation’s scenarios. Although students deepen their understanding of history through hard work and careful analysis of these resources, they are also engaged and motivated as they relive history because simulations are fun and feel, at times, like a creative and imaginative game.    

    Easy Simulations

    If you would like to try a simulation with your students, I recommend the complete tool kits in the Easy Simulations series. You will find all of the resources you need in these step-by-step guides to get a simulation started in your classroom. This series includes simulations on the American Revolution, the Civil War, Pioneers, and How a Bill Becomes a Law. I recently used Tim Bailey’s Easy Simulations: Explorers with fifth grade students.

    Young Explorers

    Despite physically being in Brooklyn, New York, our classroom of young explorers was transported thousands of miles away and hundreds of years in the past to the Age of European Exploration. After reading a description of the lives of European explorers, the students, in groups of four, selected a role to play during the simulation. From the ship’s navigator to a skilled interpreter, these unique explorer roles became the students’ new identities and guided their thinking throughout the entire simulation. The Easy Simulations resource provides complete descriptions of the different roles that help students develop convincing explorer identities. The newspaper hats worn during the simulation also added a touch of fun!

    The students then worked together as problem solvers as they made decisions to respond to difficult situations described in different historically based scenarios. For example, the groups first evaluated the benefits and drawbacks of accepting a royal charter to explore from either Portugal or Spain. The groups decided whether to accept Spain’s charter that includes excellent supplies but ships in poor condition, or Portugal’s offer of seaworthy ships with limited supplies. The groups discussed and debated the value of each offer and came to a consensus before selecting one option. I had a blast watching: most students never broke character during these lively and animated discussions.  

    Students keep personal logs throughout the simulation to record their experiences. The personal log entries were written in the voice of their selected character and provided them with the opportunity to take on a different perspective in order to experience the direct impact of historical events on the lives of ordinary people. Since primary and secondary resources inform the perspectives in logs, they are  excellent tools to assess the students’ understanding of the historical content. 

    I did not use all of the simulations that are included in the Easy Simulations resource. I found it helpful to modify or eliminate some of the scenarios because they were rather lengthy and overly convoluted. 

    I also extended the simulations to develop the perspectives of the Taíno people who first encountered the European explorers. 

    Circle of Viewpoints

    We paired our European explorers simulation with reading Anacaona, Golden Flower by Edwidge Danticat. Anacaona was a Taíno chief on the island of Haiti when European explorers first arrived to the island. The book presents a fictionalized account of Anacaona and her reaction to the explorers. We used a Visible Thinking routine, Circle of Viewpoints, to consider the perspectives of Anacaona and the Taíno people.    

    There are three parts to the Circle of Viewpoints thinking routine:

    1. I am thinking of . . . from the viewpoint of . . 

    2. I think . . .

    3. A question I have from this viewpoint is . . .

    The students used this routine to think about the arrival of the first Europeans from the different viewpoints of Anacaona and other Taíno characters depicted in the book. Throughout the routine, the students developed and supported their thinking with text evidence from the book. 

    Finally, the students reflected on how their thinking about the arrival of the Europeans was changed or confirmed after considering the viewpoints of the Taíno people. 

    This straightforward thinking routine enhanced the simulation because it allowed the students to consider perspectives beyond those of just the European explorers.    

    I hope this inspires you not to suppress the Ms. Frizzle that lives within you. I encourage you to lift your anchors and set sail soon on an astounding journey with your own classroom simulation!   

    If you are searching for a way to channel your inner Ms. Frizzle, look no further than a classroom simulation. From the moment you step inside a classroom during a well-organized social studies simulation, you are magically transported to another time and place where students truly bring history to life. 

    What Is a Classroom Simulation?

    A simulation is a classroom activity created by a teacher that presents authentic problem-solving scenarios to students for them to tackle through reenactments and role-playing. Simulations work especially well to develop historical concepts in social studies because they provide students with the opportunity to assume various viewpoints that reflect the people, places, and times of particular historical periods. Students use primary and secondary resources to support these viewpoints and to inform the decisions they make as they respond to the problems presented in the simulation’s scenarios. Although students deepen their understanding of history through hard work and careful analysis of these resources, they are also engaged and motivated as they relive history because simulations are fun and feel, at times, like a creative and imaginative game.    

    Easy Simulations

    If you would like to try a simulation with your students, I recommend the complete tool kits in the Easy Simulations series. You will find all of the resources you need in these step-by-step guides to get a simulation started in your classroom. This series includes simulations on the American Revolution, the Civil War, Pioneers, and How a Bill Becomes a Law. I recently used Tim Bailey’s Easy Simulations: Explorers with fifth grade students.

    Young Explorers

    Despite physically being in Brooklyn, New York, our classroom of young explorers was transported thousands of miles away and hundreds of years in the past to the Age of European Exploration. After reading a description of the lives of European explorers, the students, in groups of four, selected a role to play during the simulation. From the ship’s navigator to a skilled interpreter, these unique explorer roles became the students’ new identities and guided their thinking throughout the entire simulation. The Easy Simulations resource provides complete descriptions of the different roles that help students develop convincing explorer identities. The newspaper hats worn during the simulation also added a touch of fun!

    The students then worked together as problem solvers as they made decisions to respond to difficult situations described in different historically based scenarios. For example, the groups first evaluated the benefits and drawbacks of accepting a royal charter to explore from either Portugal or Spain. The groups decided whether to accept Spain’s charter that includes excellent supplies but ships in poor condition, or Portugal’s offer of seaworthy ships with limited supplies. The groups discussed and debated the value of each offer and came to a consensus before selecting one option. I had a blast watching: most students never broke character during these lively and animated discussions.  

    Students keep personal logs throughout the simulation to record their experiences. The personal log entries were written in the voice of their selected character and provided them with the opportunity to take on a different perspective in order to experience the direct impact of historical events on the lives of ordinary people. Since primary and secondary resources inform the perspectives in logs, they are  excellent tools to assess the students’ understanding of the historical content. 

    I did not use all of the simulations that are included in the Easy Simulations resource. I found it helpful to modify or eliminate some of the scenarios because they were rather lengthy and overly convoluted. 

    I also extended the simulations to develop the perspectives of the Taíno people who first encountered the European explorers. 

    Circle of Viewpoints

    We paired our European explorers simulation with reading Anacaona, Golden Flower by Edwidge Danticat. Anacaona was a Taíno chief on the island of Haiti when European explorers first arrived to the island. The book presents a fictionalized account of Anacaona and her reaction to the explorers. We used a Visible Thinking routine, Circle of Viewpoints, to consider the perspectives of Anacaona and the Taíno people.    

    There are three parts to the Circle of Viewpoints thinking routine:

    1. I am thinking of . . . from the viewpoint of . . 

    2. I think . . .

    3. A question I have from this viewpoint is . . .

    The students used this routine to think about the arrival of the first Europeans from the different viewpoints of Anacaona and other Taíno characters depicted in the book. Throughout the routine, the students developed and supported their thinking with text evidence from the book. 

    Finally, the students reflected on how their thinking about the arrival of the Europeans was changed or confirmed after considering the viewpoints of the Taíno people. 

    This straightforward thinking routine enhanced the simulation because it allowed the students to consider perspectives beyond those of just the European explorers.    

    I hope this inspires you not to suppress the Ms. Frizzle that lives within you. I encourage you to lift your anchors and set sail soon on an astounding journey with your own classroom simulation!   

Comments

Share your ideas about this article

My Scholastic

Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2
About Us