FONT & AUDIO
Willamette fourth-graders try global politics
Kevin Baumbach teaches ambitious World Peace Game for first time
World peace is a particularly relevant topic considering the various international disputes and crises that exist today. An ongoing war in the Middle East, the United Kingdoms recent departure from the European Union, and the United States polarizing Presidential election this past week are just a few examples of worldwide conflict.
Students werent dealing with issues of that magnitude, but Willamette Primary teacher Kevin Baumbach and his fourth grade class spent the past couple weeks solving global conflicts of their own, participating in a special activity called World Peace Game. The game was created by John Hunter, a longtime teacher in Virginia, in the 1970s, and was later brought to the mainstream when it was featured in the documentary titled World Peace Game Foundation.
Baumbach came across the unique game while listening to a podcast driving to work last year, and immediately knew it was something he wanted to teach in his own classroom.
I thought Jeez, that sounds really cool. Thats the sort of teaching I want to be doing, Baumbach says. I looked into it and thought maybe it would be just some kit I could buy off the internet, but it turns out that theres much more to it than that.
Baumbach found out that to teach the game he would need to take a week-long class to learn the World Peace Games underlying philosophy. He took the class this past summer in Corvallis, meeting like-minded teachers from all over the world, and quickly got to work constructing the massive interactive game board and accompanying pieces.
When I went to the master class there were people from Japan, people from China, people from Canada and Arizona and California, Baumbach says. I got a lot of help from the people that have taken this class its like a family once youre done. There is a sense of comradery when you take this class for a week and youre spending all day together and have this common goal of creating this thing so that kids have some creative thinking tools.
The game Baumbach spent the summer mastering is essentially a hands-on political simulation geared for classrooms. World Peace Game gives students the opportunity to explore the connectedness of the global community through the perspective of the economic, social and environmental crises as well as the imminent threat of war.
During eight game days, over a two-week span starting in mid-October, students were split into various teams and international agencies. Some students were grouped into countries while other fourth-graders served as members of organizations that govern the game. Each group starts with a budget and list of assets, as well as a list of 23 interconnected world crises they must solve by working together as teams and as a global community.
Baumbach spent the first month or so of the school year identifying students he thought would make good leaders, appointing them to be prime ministers of their country for World Peace Game. Prime ministers then picked remaining students to fill out their cabinets. Teams then got to work getting to know one another, forming an initial strategy before the first round of declarations and negotiations where teams discuss strategy with other teams and then choose what actions they want to make when its their turn for declarations.
Its hard to make decisions because you dont want to lose the game for your team, says fourth-grader Vance Sheffield, who served as a prime minister. You have to make good decisions, which is kind of hard, and you have to know what everything is. Its really complicated because youre focusing on one thing and then you forget about something else. So youre basically juggling eight different things.
The game involves a large number of confusing concepts and complex terminology that might seem advanced for 9- and 10-year-olds, but Baumbach says students picked up on game protocol and what things like the stock market were almost immediately.
I dont define a lot of stuff, they kind of just pick up on it. Something we learned in the class is that the kids are going to surprise you with what theyre capable of. Its one of those things where if you give them this tool that is this game, and step back and let them go to work, their brains just start moving and the wheels start turning. It happened a lot faster than I anticipated.
To win, the global community needs to solve all 23 initial crises and up to 27 additional crises that can pop up throughout the game. Crises range from everything from wars between countries to food shortages, much like real-world problems. Teams barter with one another for resources like oil, weapons and food and can sign treaties when approved by the UN to end conflicts. The only other caveat to winning is teams must finish the final game day with more total assets than when they began.
It reminds me a lot of chess, because you cant just focus on one little piece, or one half of the board. You have to consider everything. Its challenged me to think of ways to help my country and get more money for them, says fourth-grader Caitlin Juenger.
Baumbach says students solved crises at a rapid pace, but that there were parts of the game where they struggled, specifically managing their money. The game is meant to teach a variety of skills, including math, communication, problem solving and creative thinking among other things, but there are always challenges given the games design. Baumbach wasnt allowed to give students advice, for example, and could only ask questions to spark student thinking. Students say the game has been challenging, but that theyve learned a lot.
Ive learned to think ahead and learned to be a little more creative, Sheffield says. Today I was thinking about firing nuclear warheads at a different country because I thought that was the only idea, but they had nuclear warheads too. I didnt know what to do at that time, and I kind of forgot to think about what was ahead of me and the consequences.
Im the leader of the UN, and Ive learned how important it is to work together because thats the only way we could solve the crises, Lucy Patrick says. I like being able to not just have one country, but work for all of them and try to keep peace between them.
While the game proved immersive for students, dominating recess and lunch table discussions that are usually filled with far different conversation, Baumbach says the game is about more than the strategy and winning. He says hes already seen a difference in his class thought process and critical thinking skills.
There was a fear of mine that maybe theyre fourth-graders and are too young for this, Baumbach says. I thought theyd be more equipped to handle some of these issues or to do some of the math thats involved later in the year, but I wanted to throw them into this to figure out some of these problems and gain these tools. I want them to have these tools for the rest of the year, and I really thought that this game would be a game-changer for me personally as an educator, that I could use throughout my career.
Baumbach says hell share his experiences with other Willamette teachers as well as instructors within the district. He admits the complexity of the whole thing and the fact that teachers need to take the week-long class to teach the game means its not for everyone, but that its been a teaching tool well worth all the hard work.
Itll be a while until I see the impact of this, but the hope and goal is that they gain something they can use in their lives. Maybe not solve all the worlds problems, but that sort of think globally, act locally sort of idea, he says. It is a major commitment and its not for everybody, but I think if people were able to get the feeling that Im feeling right now about how valuable of a tool this is I am hoping that other people can pick up on World Peace Game and teach it themselves.