Berlin Lecture Series #1 – Learning from Role Play


Lecture given by Augusta von Nassau at the library in the 1920s Berlin Project.

Welcome and I am so glad that you could attend!

What I wanted to talk about today is how participating in role play at the 1920s Berlin Project has helped me expand my understanding of an era that is covered in both courses that I teach.

The online PD course that I took ended up going far beyond the one lesson plan that we were required to write.  I can thank my RL son-in-law who kept telling me that I needed to start integrating gaming into my teaching.

Knowing that kids are benefiting from online, and especially from immersive experiential learning, I decided to give it a try.  I had an injury that was keeping me at home that summer and I thought this would be a good way to keep busy.

I had spent a great deal of time on the differentiated unit on the French Revolution, and thought of going to see the SL version of Versailles right away.  It is a visually rich sim and I thought it would be a good way to introduce historical France to 9th grade students.

Unfortuately, my experience with Versailles in SL was not what I had anticipated.  I couldn’t attend some events (such as the lever or coucher) because I hadn’t reached the right status yet, and those were the kinds of things that I wanted to include.

What we often try to do with students is to get them to have a sense of connection with history, and that can be very difficult to do when limited to the classroom.

Dry facts and dates are not what students should be limited to.  Experiential learning can be very powerful, as my own daughters discovered when I took them on trips when they were little.

While I wouldn’t bring my students into SL at this time due to administrative and net safety issues, virtual environments do provide the tool with which learning can be enhanced.  I now have a much richer understanding of life in inter-war Berlin than I had received in more traditional learning environments.
For many residents, the clothes are probably a major hook.

But once here, the overall environment created by the structure of the sim provides a truly immersive experience.
By coming to the sim frequently because of my injury, I was able to find out what it was like to become a member of an established community.  I learned what was expected and the other residents would provide needed support.

I was taught the etiquette of the door at the Keller.  And I learned that the Wachtmeisters were real when griefers arrived.

Newcomers have the freedom to develop a character that fits their personalities.  Again, this establishes a stronger connection with the experience than having to take on a character designed by someone else.

Gradually, conversations at the Keller allowed me to provide more depth to Augusta.  But she also had to be realistic.  I had to really stop and think about what her character and history would have been.

This is when I found that this was more than an interesting way to recover from surgery with a lot of time on my hands.  I found myself becoming more aware of the challenges Berliners of this time had to deal with, especially for the Berlin Kids I teach at the school.

Interacting with different people allowed me to ask “why” different people were in the situations they were in.  WW1, for example, is a common denominator and has impacted the residents in different ways.

Students tend to think of history in chunks that have little connection.  This experience is one way to show long term consequences of events, not just the short term ones.

Teaching the Berlin Kids has been vitally important in the development of my RL teaching.  This year I plan on making students aware of “presentism” — taking today’s values and knowledge and assuming that people of the past thought, felt, or reacted the same way.

They need to learn how to value the lives and experiences of the past, not only their own.

These other opportunities also have allowed me to really get in depth with the era.  I already show film to 12th graders, and these resources from the Berlin sim can be used in differentiation of instruction as well.

This is where the experience of the sim and the classroom meet.  Instead of the “usual” responses, I can give my kids a much more insightful explanations.  The pictures of RM tell one story, but experiential learning would give them a richer way to access that understanding.

I have always taught about how the political structure of Weimar didn’t work, but now I know how this played out socially, even between children.

Again… these pictures are one way to convey the political situation.  Immersion into this environment virtually would allow students to grasp this problem on a different level.
This slide shows another way to enhance instruction this year.  I was compelled to find out more about Augusta’s class during the Weimar era, and found this story.

It explains why and how the Nazis manipulated individuals and even entire groups… by playing to both their strengths and weaknesses.

This is the kind of experience that I hope students will be able to have in the future, by living a little bit in the past.

Pictures accompanying this lecture can be found here;

Next lecture;

Vegan Oulander:
The Electron Tube and the Radio: The new and growing science of electronics

Sunday, September 30th, 11am SLT

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