The Potential For Good as Citizens of Local and World Communities
By Ryan Brown, 7th & 8th-Grade Social Studies,
8th-Grade Religion and Advisor
One of the parts of our school mission at St. Anne’s that I have always felt was extremely important is that we are striving to help our students grow to “realize their potential for good as citizens of local and world communities.” However, before they can begin shaping the world, they need to have a better sense of awareness and understanding of global affairs.
With over 190 countries in our world today, one of the unique challenges that I find myself facing as a social studies teacher is finding ways to highlight as many of these countries as possible throughout the school year. Thankfully, a few years back I was made aware of a website called FANschool.org. This website, which was originally created by a high school social studies teacher, contains games designed to help students engage with world news and build global competence. I knew immediately that I had to find a way to implement one of their games, Fantasy Geopolitics, within my eighth-grade World Cultures and Geography classes. Fantasy Geopolitics operates like fantasy football, which has become increasingly popular throughout the United States. Rather than selecting players and earning points based on athletic performance, in Fantasy Geopolitics players draft countries throughout the world based on the frequency and ways in which those countries are involved in current events. Ultimately student-players want to construct a team of countries that will earn the most points based upon a combination of two metrics. First, countries gain points automatically each time they are mentioned in New York Times articles over a specified period of time. Second, the scoring system adds and subtracts points based upon a “TONE” scale, which is a reflection of the types of news that are occurring in the country. Positive events, such as peace treaties, earn bonus points for a country, and negative events, such as human rights violations, lose points for a county.
I have been using this game over the course of the last five years, adjusting the requirements and types of additional assignments that coincide with it. This year, each student was required to draft at least one country from each different level of development within the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI). As a teacher, I find the enthusiasm and the level of effort that the eighth graders have been putting into our game this year to be inspiring. On an almost daily basis, I see students taking a few minutes to check scores and look into trends, trying to explore options to add and/or drop countries to improve the overall performance of their teams. I have also seen the ways in which our eighth graders show their support for one another. While the game is technically a competition, the students have been great at keeping that competition friendly, offering tips and making trades to help each other construct high-performing teams. One of my students reflected upon the game, stating “It is probably one of the best things I have done in any class and has made my learning of countries and current events very fun” (Andrew T.).
More importantly, Fantasy Geopolitics has helped to spread awareness of global events in our classroom. During class discussions, students have shared news stories and information that they have learned in order to make connections with pieces of content. Studying global affairs has created a stronger sense of understanding of our world. For example, Andrew also added that it “has made us more appreciative of what we have.” The current events have also brought to light questions with regard to differences throughout our world and the potential ways in which we can work together to tackle problems or acknowledge and address inequality. Alternative energy research and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are two examples of topics that have been a part of our discussions so far this year. In a world that is increasingly becoming globally connected, the current eighth-grade students are using friendly competition to build their awareness of the complex ways in which the actions of one country can have widespread ramifications on other countries, and they are pondering the ways they can help shape the world community moving forward.
For those who are interested, in addition to Fantasy Geopolitics, FANschool.org also offers additional games related to United States politics, Olympics season, and elections. These games are free to play at a base level, though some games require a paid membership for larger leagues.