The World Peace Game
By Mindy Bhuyan, Fourth Grade Teacher
Last spring, the Fourth Grade class experienced The World Peace Game. Started by Master Teacher, John Hunter, The World Peace Game is a simulation of world governments and crisis solving. Visually, the game has four layers made of acrylic: the top level is space, the next level is airspace and sky, the third layer is land, and the bottom layer undersea. On the land layer, there are four countries on each edge with a Secret Empire in the middle. The countries all have different resources, budgets, cultural beliefs, and values.
The game begins with each country starting out with a brand new cabinet: Prime Minister, Secretary of State, Minister of Defense, and Chief Financial Officer. There are also four organizations: United Nations, The World Bank, The Arms Dealer, and Legal Counsel. There is also a Weather Goddess who controls the stock market and the weather and there are two “secret” roles: The Head of the Secret Empire and the Saboteur. Students are given a dossier that lays out 23 crises they need to solve. The crises involve water rights, land disputes, religious tensions, climate change, refugee crisis, natural disasters, chemical and oil spills, and more. Each game day begins with a quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The students make their own meaning from the quotes and realize that Sun Tzu’s wisdom is giving us ways to stay out of war.
John Hunter, the founder of The World Peace Game, is an award-winning gifted teacher and educational consultant. He created this game because he believes that students learn best by doing. His project spoke to me as a College School teacher because we, too, believe experiential education is the best way for students to learn. He says in his TED Talk, “I endeavoured to create the empty space for students whereby they can make meaning of their own understanding.”
I have been teaching at The College School for 22 years. There are many things I love about being a teacher at TCS and one of them is the opportunity to engage in ongoing professional development. When I saw John’s TED Talk and watched the documentary, I was intrigued. Over the summer, I read his book, World Peace and other 4th Grade Accomplishments, and I knew I had to play this game with TCS fourth graders. In March, I attended the training week at The Miami Country Day School in Miami, Florida. There were educators from all over the globe watching John play the World Peace Game with a group of Fourth Grade students, and each afternoon, we had the opportunity to debrief and work closely with him. I learned so much from him and the other teachers there, and I am connected to this group via a facilitator forum that was included in my training.
The World Peace Game offers students the very real possibility of failure. John Hunter speaks of the “gifts of failure” in his book. Failure allows them to think in new ways, to consider other possibilities, and to reinvent their own understanding. He says, “I don’t try to deny them that reality of being human. They find out what is right their own way…”
Our fourth graders loved the game and were eager to play each day. Because our role as facilitators is deliberately set up to allow them to flounder and fail, our students certainly felt confused, overloaded, overwhelmed, and despair. They felt certain they would fail. As they began to solve a few crises and find their “flow,” their confidence increased. John Hunter observed that learning happens in seven stages: overload and confusion, failure, personal understanding, collaboration, “click”, “flow”, and application of understanding. We saw this happening with our students as they played the game. They even started to identify times when each of these stages was happening to them personally or the whole group.
By the end of the game, we could hardly hold them back. The room erupted with cheers, high fives, and shouts of joy when they solved all 23 crises and came out above their starting budget. They had solved world peace and most importantly, I think the students felt empowered to make a difference and in their own way, they did. This feeling plants a seed for them that will grow in ways that we cannot know.