Future History Teaching: Gaming in the Classroom


Last month, Gavin, one of my Year 7 students came up to me after a lesson and said - "I already know about the Battle of Hastings, I know exactly how William won, his clever tactics!". I asked why and fully expected him to say either his parents had told him or he'd read it somewhere but no. Gavin is addicted to the PC Game Age of Empires which apparently contains some of the most famous battles in History, re-created for game players.

Of course, to Gavin, playing age of Empires probably didn't feel like learning, but he was. Not only that, the enjoyment and exhilaration he took from it was captivating. Due to the competitive nature of the game, he remembered even the tiniest details.

It got me thinking, am I utilising game play as much as I can in my own classroom? What do I have thats available to me today that I can use to re-create Gavins PC experience?

I think there is a huge amount of untapped potential in this area, and whether you use technology or not, I think in the future, its going to become a more and more prominent part of pedagogy in the History classroom.

John Heffernan (Thanks John!) brought to my attention this virtual reality "battle" software which puts the person in the heart of a WW2 battle in real time. The ability to influence the course of the battle using hindsight (i.e historical narratives) is mind boggling in its potential. The idea of decision making either based on no prior knowledge or a heck of a lot of it, holds an awful lot of power for me in terms of not only engaging students in the History classroom but also in teaching them what could have happened.

Imagine a tech version of this activity by Ian Dawson. Being able to actually virtually speak, in real time, to all the inhabitants of a medieval village about the impact of the monastery on their daily life. To ask them your own questions and get unique answers. We aren't that far away from being able to do that with Google VR.

When I was a teenager, I never wanted to leave my N64, even on Christmas Day. The single player versions of games like Goldeneye matched the particular details of the Bond film to a tee, including the scenery and characters. The realism coupled with the power of competitive game play could be an awesome combination, particularly for disenchanted boys.

This kind of thing does already exist, take Russel Tarrs Virtual Interviews. I have used them in class (Henry VIII and Hitler) and they work great.

Its easy to bring gaming into your classroom using zero or low tech resources that can create this element of "being there" coupled with an element of competition too.

This Peasants Revolt Board Game, free via TES resources, allows students to play each other in a board game with variable outcomes based on not only where you land but decisions you make.

The Thinking History decision making game for Elizabeth 1 is great as well as the this one on the Peasants Revolt. I should also mention my own attempt at this in my WW2 decision making game, recommended by TES and available here.

Anyhow, you get the idea. Its so easy to create things like this, just pick a person or topic. Think about different dilemmas they faced. Come up with decision options and outcomes for each choice. Throw it on a PowerPoint, bobs your uncle. Of course, making something academically rigorous and accurate is the challenge, but the idea is pretty simple in itself.

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