Essay About Gamifying History

I love turning points in history. The type of battle or event that if it had gone the other way would have resulted in a totally different world. Things like Thermopylae, the Battle of the Midway, and my personal favorite the Spanish Armada.

The Spanish Armada is so cool for so many reasons:

1. A gigantic fleet of gigantic warships that the Empire from Star Wars would have been proud of.

2. Plucky English pirates led by Sir Francis Drake pilfering the Spaniards ill-gotten gains from the Americas.

3. A world changing battle whose outcome was really, really, really unlikely. That is to say, the English never should have won.

How did the Spanish Armada did change the world? It opened the way for the English colonization of the North America, and began the English naval dominance that would last 400 years and create a world-spanning empire of their own. For U.S. history teachers it provides important context to Jamestown, whose settlers arrived in 1607 more worried about Spanish attack than hostile Native Americans.

As fascinating as turning points like these are, they also present a problem. We can’t have them taking up all of our precious class time. A U.S. History teacher probably doesn’t have the time to spend even a whole lesson on the Spanish Armada. How can you moments like these in an efficient way? Gamify history!

Games, gamify, gamifying. It’s all over my #sschat Twitter feed these days. And with good reason. Games in the classroom are fun, enriching and well… fun.

So with the Spanish Armada, I made a short Power Point role play putting the students in the shoes of Queen Elizabeth. After some background, I presented them with this:

“You are Queen Elizabeth. The Spanish Armada is approaching England. You are badly outgunned, however, your ships are more maneuverable and your sailors are better trained.  What do you do?

A. Bravely sail out and fight to the last man, hoping to delay long enough for Dutch reinforcements.

B. Attempt hit-and-run tactics, using superior mobility to avoid heavy Spanish guns.

C. Use fireboats to scatter the Spanish fleet, and then try to pick off the ships in small groups.

Each student makes their own choice, then I reveal the outcomes (two hypothetical, one real), and most importantly the consequences of the English victory.

It works so well because the students get the ones making these world-altering decisions. Being in control makes the weight of the moment a little more relevant, the history a little more real. They really understand, my world could have been totally different!  It’s fun way to start class, while teaching important content at the same time. 

High School
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