learning about civilisations with computer games

While investigating the Incas a question was raised “How did they get so big and the why did they disappear when they seemed to be such a big empire?

The next day a student said, “There are lots of civilisations that got really big and powerful, but what happened?”

Another replied It’s like Clash of Clans, but real! If you fight someone and you are not strong you could loose it all or if someone stronger attacks you there is not a lot that you can do. The stronger your civilisation gets and the bigger your army the longer your civilisation will last”

Thank comment brought me back to the early days of multiplayer games and Age of Empires was my favourite. Your strategy, patience, planning, resource management and research was the difference between a successful civilisation or destructionIMG_7791n. So I searched for a copy of the game and installed it on the iMacs and off we went.

Lesson 1 – Play & Explore (45 minutes – Paired)
Learning Intention – learn to control the game.
In pairs they set off to explore the game. There was not a lot of instructions from me other than some basic mouse controls and off they went. There were a lot of aha moments (Mirriam Webster Dictionary: a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension) as they stumbled upon different tasks or ways of doing things. Then, like a game of Chinese Whispers, the new found skills and tips world spread around the room.Reflections

At the end of the session the students reflected on the lesson. The successes, the failures and the problems that they faced. The identified the need to spread their resources, to plan for their development, to act strategically rather than spur of the moment and they found out that as their civilisation became bigger it became tougher to control and keep track of.

Lesson 2 – Multi-Player Chaos (60 minutes – Individual)
Learning Intention – work out what makes a good ‘Virtual Civilisation’.
The next day I set up 16 computers linked through a LAN and spaced out the class. I wanted them to have the opportunity to learn through each other, but also have to rely on themselves. They randomly joined one of 2 8 player worlds and had an hour to survive, dominate or fail.

This was a great session as it leveled the abilities of the children. You could really see Pano Gamificationthe gamers in the group and those who were unsure of how to play these sorts of games. As they were all playing each other and the world map was black if you had not explored there were a lot of children caught off guard by others. There were no tears or tantrums, but there were students being suddenly attacked and wiped out by others.

This post game reflection was the best as every action and reaction was personalized to the student. Their choices and planning effected the outcome of their civilisation. Some talked of defenses, others talked of resource gathering and they all identified they needed an army for defending themselves and removing their rivals.

Lesson 3 – Leveled Multi-Player (1 1/2 hours – Leveled to three groups: Beginner, Intermediate and Highly Competitive)
Learning Intention – Create a successful civilisation.
This is where the real competition began. From the previous lesson there were three clear groups – those new to gaming, those with some experience and those who were very experienced and competitive gamers. We set up three worlds and each student was evenly matched.

Characteristic CardsTo give the competitive group an extra challenge we created Civilisation Characteristic Cards that were based upon our previous learning. We brainstormed different characteristics and then categorised what teach characteristic would look like in the game. There was the peaceful civilization, a raiding civilisation, a civilisation that had the goal of a large arm of an academic civilisation where research and learning was the goal. They randomly drew their card and had to secretly play the game based upon the civilisation that they had been given.

At the end we again reflected and the statements that were made showed a far superior and deeper understanding thank I had expected. All I asked them was “What to you now know about the rise and fall of civilisations?” Here are some of the groups responses.

  “In the beginning it is easy to have a small group of people, but as a civilization gets bigger there are a lot of problems that happen. You need to have enough food and you need to control people.”

  “You need to change the way that you do things. It is easy to grow food for a small group of people, but you have to farm better when you are growing food for a whole city. Like how the Incas grew their food on terraces.”

  “You have to choose where you live carefully. If you live in the wrong place there might not be many resources or much food. Also you might not be able to defend yourself if you choose the wrong place.”

  “Civilisations needed to become educated and improve to survive. If they did not they would be destroyed by other civilisations. This was how the Incas were beaten by the Conquistadores because they had weapons like guns, swords, crossbows and armor, but the Incas only had leather armor and spears. Small numbers can beat large numbers if they have better technology” 

So at the end of this week of exploration I know 100% that there has been some amazing and deeper learning happening. It is my first attempt into gamification of learning and I know that there is much for me to learn and to improve on. It was personalised, the students made connections that they would not have made otherwise and they will remember this lesson for a long time. There was complete engagement of students and they were able to make clear parallels between the real world, virtual world and the past.

As I this lesson sequence was almost completed I had a Twitter conversation with Mark Anderson and Phillip Cowell. Phillip Cowell sheared with me his post Sim City – it’s a Simulator, not a Game. If you are interested in this type of lessons I urge you to follow the link and read Philip’s  post.  It has a lot of good points and ideas. I prefer the idea of naming it a ‘simulation‘ rather than playing a game. Looking at how cities are planned and what cities need is a great topic and all students seem to cover at some point in their primary schooling no matter what education system you are in.


6 thoughts on “learning about civilisations with computer games

  1. Pingback: Simcity-It's a simulation, not a game. | Virtually School

  2. You sir, are the best teacher I have ever heard of.
    I myself am a huge of the Age Of Empires series and other real time strategy games.

    p.s- should have tried them on Age Of Empires 2 😛 much more child friendly and it now even has its own Inca history campaign.

    Love what you are doing, keep it up man 😀

  3. Great article, very inspiring indeed.
    I remember how much I loved AoE when I was little and how I spent quite a lot of with the campaigns, which taught me quite a lot about Attila, Genghis Khan and the Middle Ages.

    I also teach astronomy to children and use a very similar method. There’s a great software called SpaceEngine, which allows you make a virtual trip though the universe. I’m still amazed by the amount of information which these children have absorbed, considering the fact that they already know the deal behind black holes, galaxies, big bang; at the age of 7! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment Rolf. I will look into Space Engine as it sounds like a great way to bring the galaxy to the students in a way that they can make true connections.

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