Fantasy Geopolitics

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Students use their PEDs during Draft Day to maximize their picks.

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.

Nelson says,

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.

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The “Scores” tab in the Fantasy Geopolitics App

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).

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screen shot of game play.

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.

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2014 ChaCha Fantasy Geopolitics Winners

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: 

 

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The Internet is Awesome

I love the internet.

It’s true. Sure, just like everything else touched by humanity, the internet has awesome places and very, very dark places. Here are my picks for the best places for personal or educational growth.

Life and Education Inspirations

Planet Money podcast

I can’t get enough of this fantastic podcast. When I first started listening, my knowledge of economics was shakey at best. After listening for 4 years, I can understand conversations about quantitative easing, discuss the global impact of cotton subsidies and can identify the “new” ways to hit the top of the pop music charts. The bite-size 20 minute segments twice a week make listening manageable.

This year I asked my grade 12 Challenge and Change students to use analyze an episode and apply a socio-/psycho-/anthro- logical lens. They ate it up like candy. Many have become obsessive listeners. (assignment here: Plant Money podcast analysis.)

This American Life podcast

This show from NPR is representative of all that is good in public radio. Clever reporting, heartbreaking and heartwarming storytelling and the delightful charm of Ira Glass makes this the best hour on radio ever week. Don’t let the name of this show turn you off, Canadians. These stories are stories of humanity, not just Americans.

bonus: sometimes they have David Sedaris read his stories. *squee!*

The Story Globe is an awesome resource for a geographer like myself. I use it for my Challenge and Change class.

Here are two of my favourite episodes.

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#1: Nummi (Episode 403) – if someone had said, “Here’s a really great podcast about a car manufacturing plant, it’s awesome!” I would have laughed in their face. I believe I did (sorry, @gduncanclark). This episode is a testament to the outstanding journalism and storytelling I’ve come to know and love with This American Life. It is a fascinating (and awesome) episode.

#2: I now hesitate to eat calamari at restaurants. Episode 484: Doppelgangers

Sociological Images

I can’t say enough about my favourite website, Sociological Images. This site is curated by Lisa Wade, a professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Numerous other academics contribute to the ever-growing bank of social scientific reflections on the world around us.

#1: Course Guide to Sociology of Gender

#2: Pointlessly Gendered Products (with a contribution from yours truly!)

perceptions

#3: Rebranding the Prune (because nothing escapes the sociological lens)

#4: Heightism Most of us know about racism, ageism and sexism. @SocImages does a fantastic series of posts about Heightism – when people are judged as a result of their height.

Youtube for Learning

My favourite channels:

1) Crash Course: The Brothers Green have outdone themselves with this fantastic series of videos covering World History, world religions, American History, Science, Psychology and Literature.

2) PBS Idea Channel Check out “Bronies Redefining masculinity” and “There’s no Such thing as offline”

#3 Vihart – A beautiful union of math and art.

Great Places on Twitter

Personal Interests

spaceballs

I didn’t know I like astronomy. I have @Failedprotostar to remind me daily that space is cool.

Love Ottawa? Love Local History? Love Art? Love local Ottawa artist and amateur historian, Andrew King.

Education:

Russell Tarr @russelltarr – This British Ex-Pat in Toulouse, France exemplifies the marriage of History and Technology in the classroom. He loves “sharing creative ideas on Twitter & offending Mr. Gove [British British Conservative Party politician, the Secretary of State for Education].” He can also be found on Tweets as @activehistory and @classtools.

Megan Valois, @msvalois, is a local Ottawa teacher extraordinaire. She considers herself a “21st century teacher/learner.” Check out her Twitter feed or her website at meganvalois.com for great ideas for History and English as well as differentiated instruction, assessment for learning & #edtech!

The Good Doctors:

I’m pretty lucky to know some very intelligent people who have the degrees (and peer reviewed journals) to prove it! Beyond their talents in their respective fields, these Drs are also fascinating and humourous folk. Check out @thejennye (Canadian History, Women and Sport), @postWarHist (Canadian Cold War Military History) and @mittenstrings (Canadian Literature) for musings and links to amazing places and discussion about historical and contemporary issues.

Teaching Better Web Searching

The Ontario curriculum has a lot of “stuff” to cover. Facts, terms, concepts and theories are important and valid. Unfortunately, teachers often obsess over ensuring they ‘taught everything’ and there’s little time to teach skills.  This is the exact opposite of where we need to be heading to make our students productive, engaged adults of the future.

Dr. Sugata Mitra argues the future of education will require three core elements.

1) reading comprehension – students must be able to understand what they are reading and be critical about it

2) Search and retrieval skills (see below)

3) believe – thoughts and ideas have no limits. Create, inquire, challenge. Believe.

So, where do you start? Work these sorts of activities into your classes. Recognize your students will always go to Google first. Also remember, they have a lot of trouble finding things online. They aren’t necessarily the DIGITAL NATIVES they’re cracked up to be.

GoogleTipsAndTricksPres –> this is a great resource (thank you to Gabriel Massicotte for this document)!

My students often hear me say, “To the Google!” It’s their cue to pull out their smartphones and look for an answer.

As educators or parents, we also have to understand some of the more challenging aspects of googling. This fantastic TEDtalk addresses some issues we need to think about. Most importantly: how have my former choices on Google impacted the results I’m currently getting and how can I change that?

Graphic Organizers

I love graphic organizers like nothing else.  Many students are intimidated by the blank page. It’s amazing how adding some blocks or circles on a page to “fill out” make the work of writing or researching so much more manageable.

Students can be given graphic organizers to help outline “how many” concepts or ideas they should research. Further, an organizer can help ensure they extend their thinking beyond ‘gathering facts’ to ‘evaluate’ or ‘examine’ given teacher-directed language.

I found this AMAZING fill-in .pdf webpage a little while ago. I have gone back to using it again and again. There’s a webpage for so many topics and needs. Teaching students about these resources may help them to remember these as a starting point in their writing or organizing process.

Here is one of my Favourites: The Alphabet Organizer

alphabet exemplar – 3 Little Pigs

Wikipedia by Another Name

Our students love and rely on Wikipedia. I constantly remind them it’s a great resource for ‘general knowledge’ but they should not use it as a source on papers. I teach them to ‘mine’ the footnotes at the end of the documents to access more reputable sources.
There are many students who struggle with the vocabulary and heavy text of the original Wikipedia. Luckily, there’s been some pretty genius online sources which use the data from Wikipedia to make more accessible options.
Other Ways to Search Wikipedia
10 Word Wiki (gives you summary in 10 words exactly)
  – this might be inspiration for neat writing activity too!
Simple English Wikipedia (for kids, English Language Learners or for those who need a simpler version)
Wiki Mind Maps – connects ideas within Wikipedia links for word association
The Wiki Game (use the links to connect unrelated ideas – the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon for the web)