They made allies. They battled with enemies. They created budgets and balanced the World Bank. They suffered through natural disasters and plummeting stock markets. They sold and bought arms. They began as four countries divided, but were given the task, over seven weeks, to work together to achieve the goal of world peace. And with six minutes to go on the final game day, that’s just what our UE3 students did.
The World Peace Game is an intricate, hands-on political simulation that gives players the opportunity to explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war. Developed by award-winning gifted teacher and educational consultant John Hunter, the game has no rulebook or manual, rather just two primary goals: To unravel and solve the 30+ global problems that could occur on any game day (including climate change, rogue satellites, nuclear warfare, massive oil spills, tsunamis, etc.), and by the end of the game, every nation’s asset value must exceed its starting point. In other words, everyone has to win, which makes the game more complex.
Our students were divided into four countries: Berk, Denizwalia, Middle Earth and Richmond. Within those countries, students took on roles such as Prime Minister, Secretary of State, Minister of Defense and Secretary of Trade and Commerce. Other global roles included Chair of the World Bank, United Nations Secretary General, Dealer of Arms and the Entity, who determined daily weather conditions and the state of financial markets.
Upper Elementary teachers Ms. Kearns and Mr. Swanson, as well as Tech teacher Mrs. Dodd, oversaw the playing of the game, and were there to guide the students and provide insight. “We didn’t tell them exactly how to solve their crises,” says UE teacher Ms. Kearns, “We would warn them to consider their actions carefully; to understand the consequences of each action they might take. We gave them historical examples of similar situations and had the students make their own conclusions.”
Soon enough, the students learned the consequences of spending too freely. “The biggest issue [within the game] was learning how to balance their budgets,” says Ms. Kearns. The students had to learn that each movement they made – whether it was moving a boat or shifting an army – cost money. By Game Day 4, every country was in debt, and the leader of the World Bank, Miranda L., found herself in the difficult position of trying to pull everyone out of financial crisis. “At first I thought it would be easy to manage the money, but it ended up being much harder than I thought, “ says Miranda. “I had to make sure everyone’s daily budget was correct, which was difficult. As the game went on, I had to make sure to pay close attention to everyone’s reports.” Eventually, Miranda and her assistant at the World Bank, Skylar F., worked to get each country out of their financial crisis – an achievement that awarded them the Commendation medal at the end of the game, as voted on by their fellow classmates.
Witnessing just how quickly each of these countries found themselves in debt, Ms. Kearns realized it was the perfect opportunity to tweak their curriculum in the classroom. “Next year, we will be focusing on money and understanding revenue leading up to the Game,” she says.
When watching the students play on a Game Day, it can seem a bit chaotic. Before the game begins each day, the students gather around the elaborate, four-tiered game board filled with game pieces like army men, oil tankers, even astronauts on the board’s uppermost level. They are asked to give reports or make declarations on what they would like to achieve that day. Finally, the Entity spins a wheel that will declare the day’s weather and the stock market report for the day. Each country will have to strategize their daily plans toward peace based on these reports. Once the game officially begins, students jump up and immediately begin their work, making negotiations with one another, buying arms or making payments to the bank. Deals are cut between countries in meetings that often take place outside of the game room. Yes, it may look chaotic, but within this busy room, students are creating the footwork to find their way to the eventual goal: world peace.
In his book about the game, World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements, John Hunter outlines the “Seven Stages of Learning” that take place as students work their way through the World Peace Game. The stages are as follows:
- Overload and confusion. Students are faced with so many new-to-them crises, and are just learning how to function in their roles, leading to a feeling of being overwhelmed.
- Failure: Though painful, this can be a "gateway to new solutions" that results in "spontaneous compassion."
- Personal understanding: Once limits are pushed, new solutions can be found; this leads to the forfeiting of one’s own personal gains to instead focus on the greater good.
- Collaboration: Becoming part of a greater process, students begin to understand that they can offer solutions they couldn’t have achieved on their own.
- "Click": The point in the game where students "get it." It's that shift when one experiences an "a-ha" moment.
- Flow: During this transcendent time, separateness and limitations dissolve.
- Application of understanding: Students realize that success in the game comes from truly becoming part of something larger than themselves, and decide together how to move forward.
Throughout the seven-week gameplay of the World Peace Game, the students ran the full gamut of these stages of learning. “On Day One I was so confused,” says Prime Minister of Berk, Olivia E. “There were so many things in the game to consider. We were all overwhelmed.” However, as each game day went on, the students got a better grasp on to how to solve crises, many times turning to lessons learned throughout the year to help guide their decisions. “The game brought up everything we’ve been learning throughout the year,” says Chyna B. “I gained a lot from the experience, learning about real-life situations countries face in the real world.”
Though the students made plenty of noticeable gains in their quest for world peace, Ms. Kearns believes they took away underlying lessons they may not realize for some time. “I don’t think the students will know the full extent of what they’ve learned until they are faced with a similar situation later on in life.” The lessons and takeaways from the World Peace Game will stay with the students throughout life, which is one of the original outcomes John Hunter was aiming for during the game’s inception in 1977. “One of my personal lessons from the game is that kids are so incredibly capable,” says Ms. Kearns. “We are lucky in this world that children like ours are coming up, learning this game and becoming aware of global issues. I am grateful for John Hunter’s concept of this complex game and for making children aware of these issues.”
Though it went down to the wire, in the last six minutes of the game, the students were able to settle all crises and work together to achieve world peace. To achieve this, it took a shift from focusing on what was best for their own countries to thinking more about the betterment of the entire world. “My favorite part of the game was signing my name to the game-winning treaty,” Sydney B. says with a smile.
Because of the success of the game this year, the World Peace Game will continue to be played by UE3 students at MMS for the foreseeable future. However, no game will be the same. Each experience will help mold and grow our World Peace Game, which inherently gives the game makers and players the freedom to tailor it to their own needs. Next year, with the use of the school’s 3D printer, students will have the ability to design their own game pieces to use in the game. UE2 students, after seeing their classmates become so invested in the World Peace Game, are already getting excited for their own turn at the game next year.
The World Peace game may be complex, and it may be difficult to fully understand its capacity until immersed within the game yourself, but it provides dozens of important lessons to the students involved, whether they realize it right away or not. In this way, the World Peace game works perfectly within the Montessori curriculum. Rather than being taught about global crises or reading about geopolitics, children are thrust into their own interweaving global climate and faced with real-world issues that they must decipher on their own. It truly is learning by doing, and if the lessons these children take away from the game stay with them throughout the years, perhaps they can play a role toward achieving real world peace for future generations.
At the end of the seven weeks, students each gave a five-minute video presentation about their reflection on the game. The students also voted to award certain players honors for their outstanding work during the World Peace Game. Below is the list of winners, as voted by their classmates:
Peace Prize: The highest honor, for the overall most outstanding efforts contributing towards world peace during The World Peace Game – Vincent D., Secretary of State, Berk
Commendation Medal: The most astute and clever management of financial matters contributing towards the achievement of world peace – Miranda L. and Skylar F. of the World Bank
Human Rights Award: Service above and beyond ordinary for upholding rights of those less able to help themselves – Neha P., Entity
Medal of Honor: Most creative and effective use of strategic thinking and tactical moves – Caterina V., Head of the United Nations
Watch John Hunter’s inspiring TED Talk, “Teaching with the World Peace Game,” here.