Bringing 100-Year-Old History to Life

Bringing 100-Year-Old History to Life
Posted on 12/14/2020
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students in groups and a graphic of MartinlandLakota East teacher Hannah Martin learned the causes of World War I in high school by memorizing a bulleted list. But she wanted something different for her students.

“I truly believe history is so powerful and interesting and engaging all on its own if you actually dig into it, connect it to today, and make it experiential and immersive,” said Martin. She was an innovation specialist at West Freshman before moving to the classroom this year to teach World History (in-person) and Honors American History (VLO).

One of Martin’s favorite activities in her World History class is called the Game of Alliances, which focuses on the causes of World War I. She came up with the idea several years ago when she was a student teacher. 

“I created the Game of Alliances to make it a real ‘minds-on’ experience, where students are being creative, analyzing global trends, problem-solving, and making thoughtful decisions based on our material (and having some fun),” said Martin.

Here’s how it works.

Martin created a fictional continent called ‘Martinland’ and divided it into seven countries. She then divides her class into seven groups, with each group choosing a country. The groups come up with a name for their country and other things like a flag or motto or government type. Martin then gives the groups some information about their country (the facts vaguely represent an actual country at the time of World War I with data points such as what things it wanted, what kind of relationships it had with other countries and the global trends it was experiencing such as imperialism, militarism and nationalism).

The objective of the simulation is for the student groups to create a good alliance for their country with another country in Martinland. To kick off the simulation, each country is introduced – and then the alliance-making process begins.

Once all the alliance choices are made and finalized, Martin tells her class that someone from one country shot the leader of another country (representing the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand). Those two countries then stand because they're at war. And then slowly Martin has all their allies stand, and their allies, and their allies until the entire class is standing.

“The part I always look forward to is the very end, where students look around and see that everyone in the room is standing,” said Martin. “There is inevitably a student in each class that says ‘Whoa! The whole class is at war!’ and that is the golden moment because the students physically see how an entire continent got pulled into war so quickly.”

Student Sydney Parks agrees. "The Game of Alliances has helped me a lot to visualize how all the countries got involved in WWI. I thought it was very cool at the end when everyone stood up because war was declared. This was a great way to get into the start of WWI and show how everything played out."

Martin said this year’s Game of Alliances was especially interesting, because she had some groups that really got into the alliance-making process, making negotiations based on real content the class had learned about different countries' navies, colonies, and territorial acquisition. She enjoyed watching her students apply their knowledge and use higher-order thinking skills to take it a step further all on their own.

"I loved the game of alliances,” said East student Carson Hill. “I thought it was a great way to teach us how the alliances worked and why the war started because of them."

Her class will revisit Martinland to ‘battle’ it out during the review for the unit on WWI. 

“I try to do activities like this as often as I can,” said Martin. “I find that this is what students remember and enjoy, and these are the days that are so rich and rewarding as a teacher!”