My Grade 12 students tend to zone out in early May with their case of “Senior-itis.” Once conversations of Prom and post-secondary acceptances begin, it becomes more challenging to motivate. Earlier in the spring, I came across a link to Eric Nelson’s Fantasy Geopolitics (Kickstarter campaign). This would be my solution to May disengagement.
Fantasy Geopolitics is essentially mimics a sports fantasy draft. Instead of players, students draft countries which then earn them points depending on how many times the country is mentioned in the New York Times. Nelson’s online app for Fantasy Geopolitics automates the draft, scoring and links to the NYT. It’s a management tool to make this sort of activity very easy. His newest verison also makes links to the UN Millennium Development Goals.
We’re not just trying to gamify learning. We’re going after the “learnification” of gaming. We encourage students and teachers to get curious about the world in which they live and then become fans of global competence, all the while playing, reading, and learning!
Three days before our Draft Day, I introduced my HSB4U Challenge and Change students to the program. In teams of two, they went off to research what countries might provide them the greatest end score. We would be playing for 3 weeks and students could swap their picks later if they wanted using the FG App.
Draft day was intense. Students were forced to make last minute decisions when their top picks were selected by others. We ate potato chips. We chirped each other’s choices. It was a hoot. It also only took about 40 minutes.
As the game progressed, students got down to business and used the “Scores” tab to help predict “up and coming” countries.
I planned to award prizes for 1st, 2nd, 5th and second last. That way, even the students who ended up with the countries least interesting to Western eyes, could still be engaged. (I also found this helpful to lead a discussion about why countries like Malawi or Laos rarely make North American news).
Each subsequent class, we’d analyze who was winning, which countries had gained points over the last 24 hours and why. Students realized France was more than its Cannes Film Festival (while we played, the country was making headlines for a shift away from its a role in the European Union and for problems between citizens and refugees).
Students came to class with stories about the countries they had selected. Others were excited about a potential point coup because they had traded Vietnam for Thailand – “Ms! They just issued Martial Law! It’s gonna get crazy!” Each new idea was a great win for global awareness and global connections.
Other lessons started with “Africa is not a Country” themes. We would conclude with Countries of Africa (or other continents) on the smartboard.
We discussed what limitations the New York Times had in teaching us about world issues. We sought out alternative news sources like Al Jazeera and New Internationalist, and discussed the differences between coverage of events in the BBC and CBC.
After 3 weeks and Post-Prom, we had our winners. Nelson had been following our game on Twitter and sent us t-shirts for our winners.
Short surveys indicated my students really enjoyed the game. Eighty percent said they spent more time reading about international issues. Sixty percent said thought more about global issues and media coverage. All students said it helped them stay interested in the course over an otherwise challenging period.
I would use this program with grade 7 – 12. It’s got clear links to the 2013 Geography- History- Civics curriculum. Strand A2 focuses on Transferable Skills developed through investigations. The grade 9 Geography program asks studetns to analyse selected national and global population issues and their implications for Canada as part of Strand D. I would also use it in Civics to “assess ways in which people express their perspectives on issues of civic importance (C2).”
One of the suggestions I got from a student was that each person choose the rank he/she would want to meet. For Example, Nic and Matt want to end up 6th. Jill & Carrie want to end up in 4th position rather than all students aiming for 1st. That way, they would have to be more strategic to select more media-heavey countries or those less in the spotlight. This helps to reduce disengagement when one country seems to have a lot more points than anyone else.
What might you do or try with this program? Let me know in the comments or drop Eric Nelson a line!
Nelson and his team are seeking small donations to keep the site up and running. This allows you to commission as many leagues as you want for a year. It’s worth it. Pay the guy.
You can follow Eric Nelson here: Tweets by @nelson_ejn