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World Peace Game

This week we engaged in a thought provoking day of professional development at Fenn, in our Multicultural Educators Forum, where we heard the inspiring story of the World Peace Game created by our workshop speaker, John Hunter. He created the game 35 years ago as an enrichment activity for a gifted and talented program in his Virginia-based school. Over the years he has refined and broadened the game, which is now the subject of an award winning movie and is outlined in his 2011 TED talk.

In a previous post this fall I discussed some common characteristics identified by a study conducted by the International Boys' School Coalition (IBSC) that describe classroom environments where boys thrive, and in that post I promised to follow up in my next with examples that illustrated these characteristics. Today I was struck by how elegantly the World Peace Game does just that.

In the game 4th grade students are tasked with solving 50 interconnected world issues as they represent four countries or play other key roles. The game is won when all 50 problems are solved and the asset value of the four countries has increased for each individual country. Over the course of a 10-week period the game is played two times a week for approximately an hour each day. Students wrestle with issues of global warming, politics, war, poverty, hunger, competition for natural resources, etc. while studying Sun Tzu's book, The Art of War. The game is played on a 4 ft x 4ft x 4ft multileveled Plexiglas structure, where each level represents a physical layer of our world: the ocean floor, sea level land and ocean, the atmosphere, and space. Countries own and maneuver assets at each level as the game is played. The students move around the structure during the game, negotiating with other country representatives, announcing declarations of intent, or making moves within the game.

While the movie centered on a fourth-grade experience with the World Peace Game, John Hunter shared with us that it has been played with students from first grade all the way through high school and even into college. In his 35 years of facilitating the game in his classroom, John says that the game is rarely ever lost and students almost always solve the 50 interconnected issues.

When one views this game through the lens of the IBSC study, he or she realizes that it represents all the best in teaching, especially for boys.

  • Boys benefit most from a positive relationship and connection with their teacher - In the game John selects students to play roles such as prime ministers, cabinet secretaries, ministers of defense, and members of the United Nations. His selections are based on his knowledge of the kids and how the roles they will play in the game may stretch and strengthen them as students. He would not be able to effectively make the selections had he not spent time beforehand getting to know each of his students individually and making a personal and positive connection with them.
  • Boys thrive in an active learning environment - A picture is worth 1000 words here. View the movie or Ted talk. You will see great examples of an active learning environment.
  • Boys love to move - Once the game is in motion, there's very little sitting, as students are up and moving around, interacting with each other and the game.
  • Boys long to create and make things - In the game students are building and creating nations, improving infrastructure, monitoring and moving troops, and developing natural resources.
  • Boys like to question and problem solve - The game is always changing and the students must assess and react to those changes continually.
  • Boys are motivated by competition and games - The idea of the game is to win, but win as a group, where everyone is working together to solve the 50 issues and also make sure each country has benefited financially in the end. There are moments within the game where one country may be pitted against another and has to resolve differences through diplomacy or possible military action, but in the end the primary goal is to achieve world peace as a group.
  • Boys appreciate new and different approaches to teaching and learning - This game is hands-on, in-the-moment learning at its best.
  • Boys learn best when the teaching is connected to practical, genuine, real-life experiences and tasks - It simply does not get more world real world than this, at least in the classroom!
  • Boys love to work with technology - Interestingly, technology does not play a large role in the game, however students may be required to research an issue or topic within the game in order to make informed decisions.
  • Boys generally thrive when working with one another on group oriented projects - As mentioned earlier, countries in the game are made up of a prime minister, cabinet secretaries, ministers of defense, and other roles. These groups represent the interests of the country and advise their prime ministers on key decisions within the game.

With his visit to Fenn, John Hunter reinforced these key characteristics we all strive as Fenn educators to incorporate in our classrooms, and at the same time he inspired us with ideas of how we may bring these characteristics into the classroom in new and different ways. The day truly represented the best of the best in professional development and reminded us all that great teaching requires great intentionality.


Posted by in George Scott on Thursday February, 20, 2014


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