Photo: Eric Nelson
Editor’s Note: Eric Nelson is the Founder and Chief Learning Officer of Fantasy Geopolitics — a game teachers play with students that uses a fantasy football model to increase awareness about countries and world events. His self-professed love of sandwiches is the stuff of 4.0 legend. A high school social studies teacher by day, Nelson is also a Big10 junkie, having graduated from both University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota. Follow Eric on Twitter at @nelson_ejn.
In my first years of teaching, I struggled to keep 9th grade students engaged in developing global competence, a 21st century imperative. While there were many engaging resources available on the Internet, they were all short-term and fleeting. Even though there were longer-term curriculum programs available, many were inefficient and expensive. Knowledge was becoming ubiquitous in my classroom thanks to increased access to technology like smart phones, but many of my students still couldn’t locate Iraq on a map. They all knew the latest news about the death of Michael Jackson, but many seemed scared to struggle with more relevant content related to countries like Afghanistan or the global economic crisis.
I was up late one night planning around these problems and decided to check my fantasy football team. An hour or so into researching, I realized I was learning. I wondered if I could recreate this experience–getting curious, becoming more aware, and using that awareness to compete better in fantasy football–in learning about the world with students.
Fantasy Geopolitics was born the next day.
Think “fantasy football for social studies and literacy standards”. Teachers sign up, facilitate a draft of world countries in class, and use scores and resources however they want.
Students draft teams of countries, become more aware as they turn into fans, and automatically score points every time their countries are mentioned in the New York Times. The software tallies scores every evening based on what happened each day.
Fantasy Geopolitics immediately turned my students into fans of learning about the world in which we live by ramifying the news, engaging us with global information sources, and providing relevant standards-based lessons, assignments, and resources from around the world wide web. It was not only fun, but also capitalized on their curiosity and competitive nature!
Fantasy Geopolitics is also lightweight so teachers can use it however they want with any other content they want. Many used it as the focus of an immersive unit on foreign policy, world geography, current affairs, or international relations. And many utilized it as a support for existing content in a history, humanities, or literacy course.
I ran Fantasy Geopolitics as a 6-month league in my 9th grade Civics classes to help students become more aware of what was happening around the world before our unit on foreign policy. I even created a classroom system for student-teams in the bottom half of leagues to form alliances or showcase additional learning to increase their game points.
A World Geography teacher had students draft countries from the continents they were studying each new unit every 2-3 weeks to become more familiar with current events and geopolitics in each one.
A middle school Humanities teacher used the game as a way to keep her students engaged in learning outside of her every-other-day class and utilized resources like Newsela to find leveled reading content for younger students.
A U.S. History teacher had students draft modern-day World War I and Cold War countries to examine the legacies of those conflicts while studying their history.
The possibilities for use are endless!
Here’s how the online version developed for you to use:
Started the game in my 9th grade Civics class, and used this website to score manually.
Traveled to Startup Weekend EDU event in Chicago, where a more efficient and scalable tech scoring solution was hacked using open news APIs.
Traveled to New Orleans to test the idea with other teachers as part of 4.0 Schools Launch program.
Built www.fantasygeopolitics.com with a developer over my winter break and launched Kickstarter to crowd fund the project.
Enabled student invites to teacher-created-leagues and attended EdSurge’s Summit in Nashville as a Startup Weekend EDU sponsored project.
Declared winners of our first-ever Fantasy Geopolitics elective class league and awarded T-shirts to student-champs!
Top 3 takeaways so far
So what are you waiting for? Let’s play!