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Dr. Jim Gigantino, Department Chair and Associate Professor of History, discussed his successful use of games in teaching historical events and ideas during a History Department Series on Teaching. The game series that he uses is called “Reacting to the Past” which are multi-week, interactive, role-playing games. The “Reacting to the Past” Series consists of […]

Jim Gigantino faculty imageDr. Jim Gigantino, Department Chair and Associate Professor of History, discussed his successful use of games in teaching historical events and ideas during a History Department Series on Teaching. The game series that he uses is called “Reacting to the Past” which are multi-week, interactive, role-playing games.

The “Reacting to the Past” Series consists of of relatively inexpensive books on different historical topics that not only teaches the content but allows students to “experience” the historical event or topic. Each game is a different length and relies on different documents. This role-playing enables instructors to provide a deeper examination of the period as well as a memorable classroom experience. Gigantino noted that his students often will not remember his name or the content he taught 10 years from now but they will remember this game and what they learned through it.

However, it is not all just fun and games. There is a lesson with objectives and assignments (see link below to Indian Removal Act Assignment). The students must first do the relevant readings on the person, ideas, and topics. They will then use this reading to write a 1-2 page simulation paper that will serve as their resource for the game. This should include specific information and arguments and clearly articulate the position the student is taking on. The students are responsible for portraying that character and the ideas that they researched during the in-class game. He then breaks the students into groups based on their position/character and allows them to consult with one another for a few minutes to be sure they all have accurate arguments. Then, it begins!

Students debate, interact with one another, and play out the situation. He serves as facilitator and ensures that all students participate, present information, and that the conversation and action keeps flowing. Dr. Gigantino also will “egg on” certain groups and students to stimulate conversation and argument. 

After the game, Gigantino notes that a “debrief” session is essential.  What did the students learn?  Did they learn what you wanted them to learn? How can you tie it all back to the course and learning objectives?  This allows students to see how the game is connected to learning. He also noted that you need to be specific and explicit in telling them what content was important.

What are the benefits?
  • allows students to engage with historical documents in meaningful ways
  • more interactive and engaging for students
  • allows them to take on the role of characters which forces them to understand the lives, ideas, and arguments of those they portray
  • if you allow them to “earn points” for different things, it increases motivation
  • often creates a camaraderie among students
  • because it is the “character” talking and not the student’s own view, it allows them to feel more comfortable expressing ideas
  • games are successful because they tie in to your learning objectives
What if a student is not participating?
  • Sit down and have a conversation with the student about your expectations and that they need to participate to recieve points for the assignment.
Well, what happens if a student does not come and a position or view is not represented? 
  • Gigantino uses this as a teachable moment!  He claims that “History often happens because certain people were there at certain times. If those people did not show up, history changed!”  A bill passed, a war started (or didn’t), etc. In one example he shared, a trader did not show up so no one was able to trade goods.  This shifted the focus and dynamic of the class but showed how things can change based on who was and was not there!

Further Resources:

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If you would like more information on how to incorporate technology or different teaching methods into your courses, reach out to us at tips@uark.edu.

For more information on Jim Gigantino’s teaching methods, an example of one of his “Reacting to the Past” assignments can be downloaded and viewed as a PDF: Jim Gigantino – Reacting to the Past – Indian Removal Act or you can email him at jgiganti@uark.edu.

This content was developed from a presentation by Jim Gigantino which was sponsored by History Department at the University of Arkansas.