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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Game-Based Learning Brings the History of Civilization to Life

Middle school students learn social studies through Historia, a paper-based simulation game that incorporates a world cultures curriculum aligned to state standards. Learn more about Historia.

Game-Based Learning Brings the History of Civilization to Life (Transcript)

Jason Darnell: Somewhere down the line learning became not fun. I think somehow kids started coming to school and saying, “I’m not gonna have fun today. I’m going to school.” And the reward of Historia, it’s fun.

Rick Brennan: Historia is game-based learning. It is a way to take a traditional subject, like social studies, but to teach it through experience and interactivity.

Student: Historia is using history and learning it through game play and you get to experience it as your own country.

Rick Brennan: All right, here we go. Twenty-eight.

Student: Oh, my god!

[ cheers ]

Jennifer Pung: Sixth graders, when they come into school it’s their first time in a big building. There’s kids coming from all different schools so they’re not from the same elementary school. So a sixth grade mind is very social. They’re gonna talk to each other at their table and not necessarily be listening. So when Historia comes around it’s definitely challenging the first few weeks while you’re setting it up, because they are confused. They don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, but then once it gets started all those things kind of go to the side. I still hear them talking to their friends, but the conversation switches from the latest movie into “Well, what points did you get? How did you do?”

Student: The best part of Historia, I think, is being able to create your own history, because not only do you learn about other countries during that time period, you get to learn about what has happened and what can happen to you.

Student: Have you ever heard of “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth”? That comes from Hammurabi’s Code.

Student: If I have a teacher stand in front of me talking, it’s very hard for me to remember ‘cause I get bored, distracted. With Historia it’s no place to get distracted. You working the whole time and making decisions as a group.

Jason Darnell: So what are you finding is the most important pillar that allows you to kind of build the other ones?

Student: Maybe education.

Student: Education and government.

Jason Darnell: Interesting.

It’s important that students feel success, ‘cause if they don’t feel successful they’ll give up. And at the beginning when we first made the game, it was too hard. And the students would-- you would have a group that was doing so poorly that by the second half of the year, you’d see them a little detached, because they’d say, “What’s the point?” You know, “I’ve done the best I can and now we’re still not successful. I don’t have time for this.” You know? So Rick and I tried to build in ways students could be successful each week, or every other week, to where it’s gonna get them to keep on coming back to it.

Student: You do learn a lot because you have to research everything and you have to learn what to do and how to make right decisions and you learn how to be a government and learn how to interact with other people.

Rick Brennan: Who’s the monarch here?

Carson: Me.

Rick Brennan: Carson. Okay. So what’s the bet gonna be?

Carson: Seven. Oh, wait. Eight, eight. Yeah.

Student: Eight. Yeah.

Rick Brennan: It’s eight. Okay, you all think that’s a good bet?

Carson: Mm-hm.

Student: Jared likes ten.

Rick Brennan: You like ten?

Carson: Four hundred forty-five.

Student: But then we remembered slave revolt, so I’m like, “Let’s do eight."

Rick Brennan: Okay, okay. We’ll see how it turns. Good.

If I look at my job as everything you need to know is in my brain and I am your source of information, I feel like I’m sending the wrong message, which is “Somebody else knows the answer”.

Jason Darnell: With Historia, the teacher is just there to facilitate. You’re there to guide the learning instead of being the center for learning. You’re there to help kids learn how to research better. You’re there to help kids compromise. You’re there to help kids learn to make better decisions and that’s how learning should be.

Rick Brennan: In my experience, thirteen years of teaching, this is best teaching practice. When I didn’t teach this way, I would still have ten percent of my class who I would struggle to get to pay attention even though I did projects and games and mixed it up in debate and all that. I tried to make the class the best I could make it. Even when I did that and worked very hard at it, took it seriously, ten percent of my class maybe wouldn’t pay attention. I don’t have that problem now.

Jason Darnell: When I started teaching my mantra was “I am not scared to fail.” Failing is how you learn, making mistakes is how you get more knowledgeable and become better. And so I would try anything in my classroom to make a connection with my students, to make my class more engaging.

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  • Director / Camera / Editor: JR Sheetz
  • Associate Producer, Edutopia: Douglas Keely
  • Senior Manager of Video, Edutopia: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Special Thanks: Histrionix, Lanier Middle School

This video was originally produced by Institute of Play, and was made possible through generous support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Made With Play Video Series

Intrigued by game-based learning, but not sure where to begin? Edutopia's new series takes a look at game-like learning principles in action and commercial games in real classrooms -- and offers tips and tools for bringing them into your own practice. Made With Play is a co-production with Institute of Play.
Get more resources for game-based learning.

Historia Resources on the Web

Comments (3)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Ben Bingham's picture

Great resources! I am excited to learn more about Historia. The "Historia Resources on the Web" posted above, have helped greatly. The "Historia Interactive Presentation (PPTX) does not download though. Anyways to get access to this resource?

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Community Manager at Edutopia
Facilitator 2014

Hi Ben, thanks for letting us know about the problem. We'll follow-up and let you know when it's fixed.

Doug Keely's picture
Doug Keely
Associate Producer Video

Hi Ben, thanks for letting us know about the Historia PPTX download. The link has been fixed!

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