27 December 2013

The "World Peace Game"

I'll get to the truly important fact about the World Peace Game: the recent well-received book about it mentions Me in the Acknowledgements.

Yeah, Me. Makes Me proud.

The World Peace Game was developed by John Hunter, as a teaching tool in the areas of problem-solving, creativity and current events. John's TED talk about it is amongst the most-viewed videos of that ever-growing series of events.  Here it is, and it's well worth 20 minutes of your day:


In his talk, John describes how he developed a simulation involving four countries and what is now over 50 major problems that the world faces, from hunger, epidemics, bigotry and destruction of the rain forests to lack of water, pollution, religious strife and economic inequality. The countries have different resources, random events can alter the game in drastic fashion, and to win, every problem has to be solved and all countries must show progress.

Oh, and the players? Fourth graders.

Yeah, what were you doing in 4th grade?

In his over 30 years of using the World Peace Game, John has made changes to the game, to not only reflect new realities, but also to accommodate the impact of new technologies. In early versions, John provided the students with binders filled with information on the problems to be solved. Now, the players do most of their own research, working off a descriptive list of the problems. What hasn't changed is the immersive nature of the game, as the players come face-to-face with new concepts and have to develop strategies to not only understand problems, but find ways to fix them.

I learned about the game through a blog post and was immediately taken by the concept. I sent John e-mail and he was kind enough to respond. In a few exchanges, I addressed issues I saw might be pertinent to expanding the game so that other teachers could host it. As much as I wanted to jump in and help John and the World Peace Game organization, I couldn't stretch enough to do it. Didn't matter, as John and his organization expanded workshops and the Game to reach a much broader audience.

The book (did I mention I was thanked in it? Okay.) is a wonderful read, packed with experiences that good teachers thrill about, those that have students reaching far beyond their expectations to explore their greatest potential. I defy any teacher who thinks they are goof to read about the World Peace Game and not come away prouder of their profession and inspired to do more.

One thing John learned early in the Game--and that he still has to challenge himself with--is to sit still and let the students do. The urge to jump in and "correct" them is ever-present, and the Game's overwhelming success--and it is an overwhelming success--is due to this "the students learn through their efforts" process. The current education system is a top-down, fully-imposed, authoritarian, command-center, conformist, shut-up-don't-ask, memorize-and-vomit sausage factory (My words, not anybody else's) while the World Peace Game is a "Here, experience this directly" journey.

There are only two things I regret not being able to participate in as a kid: parkour/free running (although We did do "run away through obstacles to avoid getting beaten up" a lot) and this Game. I love strategic games, the more complex the better, and I can only imagine what it would be like to face the challenges John places before his students. Workshops and Games are held often, for students and teachers, but time and travel constraints can limit participation.

Now the game is more accessible, as the online version allows players to join in from around the world, even using cell phones. The format is adapted to asynchronous play, and though I'm sure that the challenges are as riveting, in many ways the direct and personal sharing involved in classroom or workshop play adds a rich dimension to the entire experience.

You can see the results yourself in the film about the Game, a companion piece to the book (where My name appe--Oh, you know that already...).  If you have kids, want to have kids or were ever a kid, I urge you to see the film, read the book, watch the video...and support similar projects.

Our children's education is far too important to leave in the hands of government. We need to do more to support dedicated teachers, visionary principals, community resources and Our own talents in order to make education less destructive. (Yes, I said "destructive." It is.) John Hunter has his way of improving education, but he'd be the first to say that his way is certainly not the only way. Whether it is through a game, dance, journals, music, lab experiments, robots, painting, making films, building castles or making costumes, kids will learn better when they are (a) engaged in activity and (b) allowed to explore their solutions and their mistakes.

And no, not everything has to be a game. But it helps if the lessons are merged with a sense of excitement that can be treated as fun. And kids can tackle more than you think, as John has shown over and over again in his Game.

All of the world's major problems solved, and everyone making progress together. Sounds utopian? Most great ideas do, and through the World Peace Game, fourth graders are getting a chance to experience that maybe, just maybe, Utopia is not as impossible as adults believe.

The Jenius Has Spoken.


John Hunter said...

Beautiful Gil, as always. Thank you for the heart-felt words and review about the Game.

One correction; there is no online version. Some rather ambitious young people designed an unauthorized version, unrelated to the actual World Peace Game. They site has kindly been deactivated.

Happiest of New Year to you, and thanks again!

John Hunter
World Peace Game Foundation

Gil C. Schmidt said...

Thank you, John, for dropping by and clarifying the online game presence. It seemed odd, and I didn't delve into it as much as I should have to notice it wasn't authorized.

I still want to participate in a workshop and I'm keeping my eyes open for a break in my schedule. Keep up the good work!

Prometeo said...

This is great! This is thinking out of the box and out of the educational mold. This is what teaching properly is all about.

Gil C. Schmidt said...

Thanks, Prometeo. Too bad some people think this whole exercise is a "the Man and his Bilderberg-Illuminati tool" rather than seeing it for what it is: a negation of "things as they are" in order to learn "how things can and should be."

And the worst part? The people who don't get it actually swear that they do. They'd rather live with their clogged filters than actually see what's placed in front of them.

No one so blind or ignorant as the willful....