Bret Clifton
United States
Spokane Valley
Washington
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This is my third (and easily BEST) attempt at using Twilight Struggle to teach the Cold War in an American History class. My first attempt was 6 years ago under very different circumstances and can also be found in the sessions forum. The second was last year with this same class setting and is also in the sessions forum. The format of my reports are the same but have differences throughout as each attempt was done a little differently and with different results.


This is posted here in the hopes other teachers may learn from my successes and mistakes and either do the same and/or come up with an organized variant to be posted in that forum.

This session was done for a 6th Grade 2nd Half U.S. History Class over the course of 8 class periods of approximately 1 hour each with parts of 2 workdays prior going over and clarifying rules. The students spent the prior weeks learning some of the major events, causes and consequences of the Cold War through lecture and various assignments with particular emphasis on its application to current foreign affairs as well as comparing/contrasting domestic culture then/now.

My goals for playing the game:

1) To facilitate students' understanding of Cold War politics and the spread/containment of Communism, including the struggles and stresses of government and the friction that develops between branches of government as well as between nations and their ideals
2) To reinforce their knowledge and understanding of Cold War events and their affects
3) To challenge their skills at overcoming breakdown in communication (as explained below) and
4) To have a little fun in learning by playing an excellent game

My modifications

This was a class of 26 6th graders (and great kiddos, too, I might add) so much has to be done to facilitate keeping a large group engaged and learning throughout the session. This of course changes gameplay dramatically and has varying results with each student. Please keep in mind that the primary goal here is education with hopefully some enjoyment and interest through good game play and NOT the other way around

--Completely cut out the Military Ops points. I was in need of ways to simplify the game; partly to make the game quicker but mostly because the students were pretty overwhelmed as it was with all the rules. The Space Race I also left out in the first turn but integrated it into subsequent turns.
--The Early War was cut down a by one turn but surprisingly, we moved quickly and efficiently enough for an entire 9 turn game.
--Each side was required to make at least one coup attempt each game turn.
--To attempt to somewhat simulate politics and communication breakdown and at the suggestion of Jason Matthews (to which I further modified for good or ill) I set up each side as a government:

United States
Presidency (4 students)
Congress (8 students)
Pentagon (4 students)

USSR
Premiership (4 students)
Politburo (7 students)
Red Army (4 students)

Duties:

Congress/Politburo--Pick the card to be used on their turn (including the Headline Phase) and give it to the Presidency/Premiership

President/Premier--Decide whether to play the card as an event or use the Ops Points and pick the region they are to be used in, then give the card to the Pentagon/Red Army with that instruction

Pentagon/Red Army--Play the event or Ops Points following game rules

As the moderator, I would announce to the class each action taken by each branch of government as it happened and often spend a minute talking about the historical aspect of it to help them see the connection and remember why we're playing the game!

After each era started I would rotate the students around their governments so that everyone had a chance to play in each branch

How the game played out

It took a turn or two (as you would expect) for the kids to figure it all out, but after that we got it humming pretty well. I had to come down on some of them those first few turns as the U.S. made a couple poor moves that put them behind due to lack of involvement by some of the students (part of their grade was participation points). However, they made up for it by Mid-war due to some savvy play at that time as well as a few lucky rolls. They stayed well ahead in the Space Race the whole game, which did help keep it closer, as well. The Soviets, however, were generally better involved and organized and it helped they had one student who went out and bought the game and played it a few times with his dad by the time we were half way through! The score never swung more than a few points from zero by the end of the Early War but by final scoring, the USSR had made some key moves that put them up by 10 to end the game.

Below is how the end game looked:




Student assignments

This year, at the suggestion of others, I decided to have them report on the event cards. They picked 3, one from each era, no duplicates. I created a simple rubric for criteria of what to include in a Powerpoint presentation on them (basically tell us about the event and its results and your opinion. Include some pictures, make it clean, present well and at least 3 minutes long)

My reactions

Most of all, I was extremely pleased with the students' enthusiasm even more so this year! I had to often reel some students back into focusing on the game (usually the same students, as you'd expect) but when I did they always got back to work. I loved watching them strategize and discuss the best course of action as well as get frustrated when another branch of government didn't do as they hoped! I think this time I did the best job of prepping them and explaining things so it all went a LOT smoother and as planned than ever before. It also helped that I made more time for this project to kind of end the year for us even better than last year. The presentations were mostly pretty good but could've been better and I need to fine tune my expectations and instruction on that going in. However, I definitely think, of all the ways I've tried to assess, THIS was easily the best way so far as it did the best of giving context and understanding, as well as a more detailed interest in specific aspects of the war for students to explore.

What I would have done differently

I'm still doing a lot of tweaking. I'd love to cut the game time down somehow but if you want to do a full or close to full game, it's going to take least two weeks of class. The kids did well with a lot of influence spreading and I'm very glad I required the coups this time as well. It made the game much more dynamic, as we all well know! Introducing the Space Race after they got the game down worked very well and I'd definitely do it that way from now on.
Really, the only major change I would make is have the students do their reports BEFORE we started the game rather than after, as I think that would help them connect it better than after the fact. Maybe that would stimulate side and after-class discussions more.

Wrap up

Again, this was definitely the BEST attempt I've made with this project. Third time's a charm, I suppose! I had a MUCH easier time preparing, teaching and monitoring everything using what I learned the other two times and it paid off well. In my limited experience, students respond extremely well to games. Even if they don't like the game, if it is set up well and thought out, they will find themselves thinking about it well after it is over. I highly recommend any and all well thought out attempts. I certainly recommend the use of Twilight Struggle and games like it in the classroom and I especially hope to do all I can to encourage savvy game designers to build more games that can be so well used and helpful in education. If this post can help them get the gears in their head turning then I feel I've made a useful contribution to BGG!


Your thoughts and comments are always very much appreciated, especially from game designers and educators
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Hillsborough
North Carolina
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Pretty cool! I wonder if, since game length is a concern, you could get to similar historical topics using some of the shorter games like 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis or Wir sind das Volk! (although the latter is less engaging since the cards just have icons; you'd be better off making custom cards with a little historical blurb)?
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Christopher Yaure
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Plymouth Meeting
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Consider playing music in the ackground while they are playing - there are several suggestions on BGG for relevant music.
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Jason Matthews
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Alexandria
Virginia
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I love these reports and this kind of conversion. Waaaaay back when we were approached about doing a curriculum and modifications to go with a games package to bring Twilight Struggle into the class room.

To shorten game length, consider dropping some plays per round. Try perhaps 6-4 early and then 7-5. You might also shorten the game with a double headline phase since you always play the event, and they can be chosen simultaneously.

That actually was my imagined (never tested or implemented solution to game length). More simultaneous play. Make every round a bit more like a headline phase -- both teams choose their card simultaneously, you see which card is played first based on Ops points or maybe DEFCON -- some other factor.

Additionally though, and this is something to consider for next year, I wanted to build in some of the differences in the political systems into the decision making process. For instance, I considered having the President rotate with the Congress depending on whether or not the Americans were winning. I would give the premier some sort of purge mechanism (every failed roll?) but have the politburo work on a consensus model, while the Congress needed to vote on everything.

This stuff could cost time, but actually enhances the group dynamic of the game, which seems worth doing if you have the opportunity to try it.

Jason
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JasonMatthews wrote:
Additionally though, and this is something to consider for next year, I wanted to build in some of the differences in the political systems into the decision making process. For instance, I considered having the President rotate with the Congress depending on whether or not the Americans were winning. I would give the premier some sort of purge mechanism (every failed roll?) but have the politburo work on a consensus model, while the Congress needed to vote on everything.

This stuff could cost time, but actually enhances the group dynamic of the game, which seems worth doing if you have the opportunity to try it.

Jason

That's a cool idea! I almost wish there were a group of people for the US, where the president and congress would be voted out if they weren't doing well!
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Andy Daglish
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Cheadle
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Quote:
United States
Presidency (4 students)
Congress (8 students)
Pentagon (4 students)

You need someone to play Mrs. Thatcher.

By the time I was due to meet him at the main ranch I was quite clear what we must do.

Fortunately, the President began by asking me what I thought. I told him my conclusions in the clearest and most straightforward terms.
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Bret Clifton
United States
Spokane Valley
Washington
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JasonMatthews wrote:
To shorten game length, consider dropping some plays per round. Try perhaps 6-4 early and then 7-5. You might also shorten the game with a double headline phase since you always play the event, and they can be chosen simultaneously.

That actually was my imagined (never tested or implemented solution to game length). More simultaneous play. Make every round a bit more like a headline phase -- both teams choose their card simultaneously, you see which card is played first based on Ops points or maybe DEFCON -- some other factor.

Additionally though, and this is something to consider for next year, I wanted to build in some of the differences in the political systems into the decision making process. For instance, I considered having the President rotate with the Congress depending on whether or not the Americans were winning. I would give the premier some sort of purge mechanism (every failed roll?) but have the politburo work on a consensus model, while the Congress needed to vote on everything.


These are excellent! I remember you talking about voting/displacement of the heads of state now that you say it again. I'd prefer that with a High School or older group I think but with these kids I felt it was important to all experience the different branches or government/gameplay. I've cut down on time by cutting down the turns and/or cards played each turn before and that probably is the best way to do it, though I'm very intrigued with multiple headline phases.

I really like the music idea and am upset I didn't think of that myself I'm actually a music teacher most of the school day and even used 'We Didn't Start the Fire' with a Ppt to introduce the Cold War unit!

Unfortunately for this project (though actually very fortunate for me, personally right now) I no longer teach that class, so for me it will be on hiatus for awhile. I'd love to hear of others taking this and running with it, though.
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Christopher Hill
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Wilmington
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This is so cool! I wish you were my teacher in middle school. Then again, the Cold War was still being played out while I was in middle school...
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Carl
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I'm curious when in a Cold War unit you did this. Had the students had some time to learn the players and the background, or did the game serve that function by throwing them into the setting right off the bat?

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Max DuBoff
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CarlZog wrote:
I'm curious when in a Cold War unit you did this. Had the students had some time to learn the players and the background, or did the game serve that function by throwing them into the setting right off the bat?


bretcliftawn wrote:
The students spent the prior weeks learning some of the major events, causes and consequences of the Cold War through lecture and various assignments with particular emphasis on its application to current foreign affairs as well as comparing/contrasting domestic culture then/now.
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