Before we go to continuing to examine the process of creating an effective simulation let’s consider the issue of where, how, and to what extent that content and / or skills need to be factored into the activity.
One thing I like about the Common Core is the impression if not the actuality that teachers are now expected to go more deeply into topics rather than to surface-skim them in a headlong race to heaven knows where.
A simulation certainly benefits from this new mindset in that a drawback, for some, would be that experiential teaching activities like simulations, take more time than customary chalk and talk approaches. Nonetheless, a well designed simulation must be sure that it addresses the important skills, concepts, themes, and content that students must master.
An interesting and an important question presents itself to the thoughtful teacher. Should she teach the targeted content and skills objectives in another manner and THEN use a simulation to reinforce the learnings? Or, should she use the simulation first and then support the objectives through a variety of debriefing strategies.
The coward answer is that the teacher has to do what she what most nearly aligns with her basic teaching and learning philosophy. However, I say “coward” because I will obviously advocate for the latter approach.
There is merit in taking the coward approach. If our phantom teacher is teaching a unit on the Revolution, there are for sure, basic facts, concepts, and themes, not to mention a spectrum of thinking and basic social studies skills that must be addressed. A simulation might miss or gloss over some of these intended targets. If the teacher used other strategies for these she could feel more effective and assured that she had “covered” everything.
Then, she could use the simulated activity to reinforce the concepts already taught.
That works. However I would offer that you consider what this approach does to the simulated activity in the first place. Think about it. If I were previously taught that the Second Continental Congress authorized Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence to tell the British that we intended to be our own country and that same decision point were a part of a simulation, students would KNOW that the “right” answer was to declare independence.
But the second path, using the simulation first, would place students in making decisions without knowing the “right” answer! They might decide to NOT declare independence!
Then, the teacher in the debriefing could have students examine and explain their decision and COMPARE their thinking to that of the historically accurate decision.
Which is fodder for more analysis, more higher order thinking, more constructivist approaches????