As an American History teacher I have a lot of issues with the state of our “public discussions”. It seems like every time there is a national tragedy or there is a surprising event in the news people flock to social media and post memes or links supporting their position. Here is a great example:

Image result for jefferson meme

The problem with this of course is that nobody bothers to check the information. I call this “drive-thru” history. Its cheap, easy, and terrible for you. In that meme above, people see the picture of Jefferson and assume this is a quote from him. The first problem is that Jefferson never said this. The second problem is that even if Jefferson had said this there is absolutely no context or nuance that would help the reader understand the context. This meme is simply confirmation bias about an issue that you have already made up your mind about. Here is another example:

This one makes my Historian brain go into a primal scream. This is obviously a conservative post and there may be some argument to reducing the United State’s international financial impact but this particular meme does nothing to dive into the complexities of the issue. Worse still it implies that if the country simply stopped working with other nations that money would be applied to needed social safety net programs. Again, the nuance and complexity of our governmental systems are never mentioned. It is a cheap and easy statement that has no “nutritional value”.

Unfortunately, this kind of public discourse by meme has taken over our social media led interaction and it is making our society less healthy as a result. Education has to play some role to play in solving this problem. The Humanities (social studies, english, etc…) are built to combat the lazy thinking involved in this thinking. A good history class will not simply have students memorize content from a powerpoint as the teacher lectures. Instead the students are actively engaging in primary and secondary sources, learning how to build and defend arguments, and – most importantly –  learning to analyze sources for bias and trustworthiness. It is important for students to learn that all sources are bias but that a good argument will find multiple sources to corroborate information and that recognizing bias is essential to building an argument.

This is where the game-inspired design elements are helpful. It is easy to get lost in “covering content” but using game mechanics to engage students in a better flipped classroom opens up class time to allow more choices and opportunities to work with these deeper skills and critical thinking activities. It is easy to forget the goals of a classroom when applying game design mechanics. Like integrating technology remember that these are tools that need to be applied in meaningful ways.

Here is an example of a lesson some of my students will chose to do based on Sherman’s March to the Sea – This is the first part of the lesson. Future blog posts will go into how the lesson is completed, the feedback loops, and grading systems.