Sunday, August 26, 2012

Discussion Simulations

Learning Objectives:
1.      Immerse the students into a historical period and historical roles.
2.      Use primary source documents as evidence in arguments.
3.      Prepare for debate and discussion on a historical topic.
4.      Present arguments effectively, using historical evidence.

Formative and Summative Assessment 
Outcome:  Students will debate and argue for or against a topic using primary source documents and historical evidence from the perspective of a historical role from history.
Assignment Description:  Conducting games in the classroom to teach concepts is not a new idea, but gaming is getting renewed attention particularly with the rise of immersive online environments.  If you haven’t had time to read about Reacting to the Past by Mark C. Carnes,  I encourage you learn more about what RTTP is doing in classrooms across the country.  This assignment is designed for a fully online environment and is not meant to be as elaborate as the experiences you will discover students having if you visit the links at the end of this post.  Although you could conduct a similar assignment with many topics, for this assignment, we will focus on the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan by the United States in WWII.  Students often are outraged by this historic decision and have difficulty understanding the arguments for such an act.  By immersing students into certain roles, they will begin to utilize primary source documents and learn to develop effective, research-based arguments to support ideas.
Steps and Instructor Notes:
1.   Provide primary source documents for the class related to dropping the atomic bomb on Japan in WWII. Be sure to include some government documents on WWII itself such as death rates of US soldiers in the Pacific.  Students can also find additional ones in their research of national archives and other online sources.  One useful starting point is the Truman Library which has 600 pages of documents related to the topic including oral histories and photos.   (Below I have included a few other resources.)  Students should be discouraged from using evidence that was formulated after the event.  This would not be information their character would know or be able to use in arguments for or against utilizing this weapon.
2.   Assign roles to students in the class.  Here are some to get you started:  Harry S. Truman, Albert Einstein, Major General Leslie R. Groves, Henry Stimson, General Arnold, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Dean Acheson, William S. Parsons, Shunroku Hata, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., Dwight Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Winston Churchill, and Emperor Hirohito.  There are other names to include but this gives you an idea.  If you run out of specific characters for your class, then select roles like Japanese citizen, American Congressman, Japanese Pilot, and US Foot Soldier in Pacific Region.
3.  As a class, develop rules for the game, particularly around how students will interact.  It may be important for the class to decide on off-limits vocabulary such as derogatory words that a character may have used.  However, if a student is using a quote or reading from a primary source, the quote should not be altered.
4.  Prepare the class with some information about how to debate.  Below, I have included a few resources on this topic.  Prepare rules for the conversation.  In an online class, use discussion or conferencing tools for the interaction.  You may choose that a student cannot read others’ posts until they first post their opening argument based on what their character would have supported.  Students will prepare counter arguments to each others' opening statements.  Set your expectations here on frequency of posts and length of responses. 
5.  Tell students that the discussion simulation is as if all the historical characters involved in this event were brought to one room to decide whether the atomic bombs should be dropped to end WWII or not.  The instructor will read every post and select the student who made the clearest argument.  The instructor's character is Thomas Ferebee on the Enola Gay, and the instructor will choose to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan or not based on the best arguments made by the class.  

This assignment is gradable, but this will be a new and potentially challenging experience for many students.  Your emphasis will want to be on the research, arguments, and participation.  You may want to have several small debates like this to give everyone experience and to provide coaching before grading the first discussion simulation.  You may also want to have the discussion to be formative and provide a summative assignment to follow the discussion simulation. 
Reacting to the Past:
Atomic Bombs: