Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The day we colonised another planet in class

This post is being jointly written by Danielle and Steve and cross-posted on both of our blogs. We are co-teaching a Science and Social Studies module called Post-Mortem for the first half of this year. This post is to share a learning experience that we designed to kick off the second term of our course. If you haven't yet, make sure follow Steve's blog. He shares great stuff!

To Make Sense of the Treaty of Waitangi by developing empathy for the perspectives involved

This term our Social Studies focus is on Responses to the Treaty of Waitangi and understanding Biculturalism. The premise for our module is that these historical responses have contributed to making NZ society the way it is today. To truly do this, I wanted students to understand why people felt the Treaty was needed and why people had responded to it differently over time.

Both of us had been unduly influenced by our time at KiwiFoo. We had many conversations about how Werewolf could be used educationally and had also both just read The Martian which was highly recommended at the Reading List workshop (about a man stranded on Mars and his attempt to survive).

Whilst discussing plans for Term 2, one of the ideas was “What if we ran a simulation of the British colonising NZ but had it as humans colonising another planet”. In this way we could attempt to develop empathy for the situation without students’ preconceived ideas about the Treaty blocking their view.

To have this close to reality we decided that there had to be communication issues (mistranslations etc.), the colonists needed a superior attitude (to match the civilised barbarians view of Maori held in the early 19th Century) and some differing attitudes towards resources.

The class (45 students) were split fairly evenly, with a mix of natural leaders in both groups and slightly more colonists than aliens.

Pre-Sim with students
Aliens:To begin preparing for the simulation, the aliens were divided into six groups. Each group contributed a different part of the planning by addressing one of the following questions:What are the distinguishing characteristics of your species? How might you ensure this is communicated (without speaking) in the simulation?How might you communicate to ensure we understand each other but the colonists do not?How do we live? e.g. niche, habitat. And how how will we set up the space (cafeteria) to reflect this?What are our resources and why are we so protective of them? Eg. food? What do our communities look like? Eg. social hierarchy, cultural norms.What are our most important values? Why?
The aliens decided on the following:They would operate in factions, each faction would dress similarly. Hence, we ended up with one faction in onesies. Their most valued resource was metal because this is what they ate. This worked well as it meant that I could represent this resource in the simulation with tinfoil!Each faction would live in their own ‘home’, a space constructed with two large tables turned on their side with legs facing each other to create a square area to sit in. In some cases it was a single table with legs turned towards the wall. There were also some free ‘homes’ set up. The students decided to communicate through a Facebook messaging group.

On the dayAliens set up the space. 
Satellite image of planet pre-colonisation 
Resource to utilise? Or sacred mountain?
I set up the sacred mountain where the food was located and told students that once every ten minutes, one person from each faction needed to go and collect a single piece of food and bring it back to their faction. Because it was a sacred mountain, students were not allowed to step on it.Students were told the pre-negotiated (negotiated between Steve and I, the teachers) hand signals. This included hand signals for friend, jail, food, trade, grow, land and person. We also included hand signals that had slightly different meanings for each group. For example, share meaning borrow and give back to one group vs. use long term together for the other group. There was also a gesture for referring to different groups. The aliens had a separate gesture for a faction and all the aliens. No distinction was made between signals for all the factions and one faction for the colonists.
ColonistsThe Colonists were told that Earth could no longer support life for all humans. This group had been selected to colonise the planet “Epic”.
It has lots of land for growing food and plenty of resources to be claimed to use for their needs. There are space creatures that live there who seem to have some form of intelligence but are not as advanced as we are. They seem capable of trade so are more civilised than creatures found on other planets but still act like barbarians at times.
In small groups, the students decided what their plan of action would be upon arriving at their destination: settle land first, source resources, seek out trade opportunities.
We had an opportunity to send 2 scouts to the aliens and ask questions that would help the group of colonists. They found out that there was plenty of metal available. The group decided this was a valuable resource and some groups started planning mining operations at this point.
On the Day:
Each group nominated 1 group member who became part of the police//military and was given a gun. We had a visiting student for the day so she became Governor as she had no pre-existing alliances with any of the students. She quickly selected 1 group to be her advisers.  
I taught the Colonists the pre-arranged hand signals that would allow some communication between the groups. I did however, purposefully mix up the signals for trade and share as miscommunication was vital for ensuring some authenticity in this simulation!
A photo was taken from the mezzanine showing how the area was set up. This “satellite image” was shared with the colonist groups so they could plan where they would head to on arrival at “Epic”.
One group of only 2 students were given a lot more resources so that we had some wealthy colonists as well as the rest.
The groups were sent down the elevator as our spaceship to Epic. They arrived in their groups of 4-5 students with the Governor and her advisors the 2nd group to arrive.

During the simulation

This is best described by the students in their own words:

Once the Skypeople arrived in our village/colony we were automatically put underneath them on their hierarchy, they stole resources from the sacred mountain and begun tearing down our bunkers. Attempted trades didn’t last for long and they begun putting us into prisons (which they had previously set up upon arrival) due to not signing their suggested treaty. Keagan, Micah and I hid in our secondary bunker which proved to last throughout most of the fighting outside (although they didn’t have much respect for personal privacy). The overall habitat was mostly destroyed towards the end of the fighting (and little attempted communication was used to benefit the previous environment).”
Signals were used for a variety of things such as communicating about trading, jail and whether you were friends or not.Some of the things that were communicated on facebook were about people asking for help if they were being invaded and people letting each other know who is taking whatSome things weren’t communicated well as some people didn't know what had been going on e.g the marriageEach person at the start tried to be friendly by signaling friendship but the invaders took all of our food and then tried to trade still.The communicating started to fail for us (the aliens) as we started talking verbally which we couldn’t do.Some of our stronger members started to talk with Raley who was their chief and we figured out a treaty by writing on paper and signing it. We used some hand signals that hadn’t been created yet (improvisation)Someone added a person from the colonie to our messaging system so they overtook it and started to delete people.”  
Their first steps on our planet were a mistake (literally) as their first action was to trod our holy temple into the ground. (An action of the highest blasphemy)  And to collect our offering to the gods as an attempt to blackmail us. My first actions against these vile invaders was to (I am ashamed to say) cower in my home, but the fear soon turned to anger as the tyrants began imposing rules and laws to steal our land. Without food my only option was to steal, and to say the least it didn’t work. I amassed a grand total of three  steel pieces for consumption before I was hauled (kicking and clawing, literally) off to jail. There was where I met the first civilised human, ironic really, isn't it? Who confessed to trying to take land with force (not so civilised then.) Three unsuccessful attempts later I was out! Using only persistence and a good hiding spot I had evaded the guards! I moved back to my land and kept away from anyone who might be able to identify me. This didn’t settle well with me, being a fugitive and watching them take our land. Using the telepathy our specie possessed I attempted to catch up on what I missed. OUTRAGE! They were attempting to sign a treaty with our people, (after their hideous treatment of us) and what was worse people were buying it! I was soon approached by some  colonists bartering peace, intrigued I set aside my distrust  and asked them what they wanted.  It seemed they wanted my land and they were willing to pay for it too! Grudgingly I accepted the deal (what choice did I have?) and took leave of my land.”
"Throughout the process of the “invasion” of the planet, I was put in charge of protecting and accompanying the governess while she attempted to trade and communicate with the savages. I also helped the governess reason with the savages to sign a treaty to end the violence going on between our kind. I believe that I managed to succeed in helping her do that, as I helped her also get married off to one of the savages. Although I didn’t succeed in keeping hold of our groups food supply, as our chicken was stanched from me by one of the savages, who ended up being sent off to prison for committing the crime of stealing the governesses food. If I was to improve what I did next time, I would probably spend more time trying to communicating with the savages to find out more about them rather than just trying to avoid them."  
"Today we colonised the planet epic (aka The cafeteria). My recollection of things is that when we first arrived from the elevator it seemed quite normal. My first alien “encounter” was an alien coming up to us and just grunting. But then if kind of went downhill. Lots of the aliens were acting psychotic, yelling, throwing chickens and attacking. And someone (i think) stole my backpack as it was gone from our “house”. I was sent to jail in-lawfully but luckily was understood. People kept stealing our weapons and someone stole my chicken as I was trying to defend myself whilst protecting my “house”. A lot of the time I was completely confused about what was going on so just kind of went with the flow. I think that the rich people definitely had an advantage because they were able to trade easier. There was no order and everyone just kinda did what they wanted, took what they wanted and did not obey any guidelines." 
"The colonisation was a success in our eyes, during the colonisation we succeeded in gaining their resources such as food. After this happened things got out of hand. Josh got mugged about 5 times they never succeeded and Brennan was imprisoned and escaped four times. Our Governess got married, had three kids and then got divorced. Campbell was sentenced to death and I had to kill him, I shot him many times but he did not die. "

After Sim reflections and discussion
Alien perspective
Colonist perspective

We were incredibly excited about the success of this lesson. As Steve put it... on second thought, it’s best left censored. It rocked (or choose another appropriate excitable word). What made this such an exciting day for us, is that the events and perceptions that emerged paralleled those around the Treaty of Waitangi amazingly well. There were no teacher prompts to make a treaty, to interfere with communication, etc. In other words, the students had full autonomy, yet acted in such a way that led to many of the events around the treaty being naturally recreated. For example:

  • Misunderstandings on what resources represented lead to conflict
  • A Treaty that was signed by some was attempted to be enforced on all
  • The majority (from both parties) felt that the Treaty was unsuccessful
  • Some had no idea a Treaty had been signed at all
  • Guns traded by colonists were used by Aliens against other factions of Aliens
  • Once Colonists got access to the alien communication, they hacked it and kicked out the aliens from the system - remind you of Te Reo being banned from schools etc.?

Alien perceptions of the colonists straight after the simulation:
  • Colonists automatically assumed they were better than the aliens.
  • The aliens felt that the colonists would do anything to get you off their land
  • The aliens found the colonists were brutish, abusive and violent
  • The aliens thought the colonists acted in a way that suggested that everything was theirs
  • The colonists automatically thought they had authority over our land as soon as they arrived
  • The aliens felt the colonists had little respect for privacy
  • The aliens found the colonists disrespectful
  • Aliens felt the colonists were not making anything, they just destructed what we had built

Colonists perceptions of Aliens straight after the simulation:
  • The natives were psychos/savages
  • If trade wasn’t exactly what they wanted they attacked you - no understanding of negotiating
  • They made really weird growling noises
  • Frustrated that the aliens didn’t pay attention to the Treaty that was supposed to stop conflict
  • A couple were interested in learning our language but the rest didn’t want to learn anything

How we debriefed the students
  • After the simulation, students were asked to write a reflection about the events from their perspectives.
  • From there, students were then asked to share their reflection with a member of the opposite group. They then had to come up with one thing that they found funny about the experience, one thing they found interesting and one thing they wondered about. These were shared as a class.
  • From here, students were asked to complete a Y chart (looks like, sounds like, feels like + wonder about) from the perspectives of both the alien and colonist groups. The students started with the group they were part of, and then had to use the combined narratives to create the Y chart from the other group’s perspective. The students very clearly identified how challenging it was to empathise and understand the other group’s perspective.   
  • Finally, we will finish this week with a SOLO hexagon task where students will be given hexagons with events that led up to and followed the treaty. They will then have to add their own hexagons of events that happened during the simulation. Students will have to find and justify the links between the hexagons. As we move through this module, the plan is for students to go back to their hexagons, adding more as their understanding develops in complexity. 
F = funny I = Interesting W = Wondering

What would we change for next time?
  • Missionaries amongst the colonists who actively try to convert and civilise the aliens
  • Wider gaps between groups of colonists arriving to allow events to unfold a bit slower
  • Guard the jail!
  • Set a maximum number of times people can die. Each death represents 100 people etc.
  • Moonshot(ish): Put chalk on colonisers to act as a disease that colonisers are immune to. When the aliens get it on them, they get sick and have to slow down, return to their home base for a while.

Other thoughts
Danielle’s nerd moment: Piecing together the story from student reflections is like doing historical research, piecing together different artifacts to get at what the story might have been. This sits really really well within my current thinking around exposing students to the ‘nature’ of each academic disciplines way of thinking and creating new knowledge. Hence, a new nerd high reached.

Steve’s term for Social Studies focusing on Biculturalism, Responses to the Treaty of Waitangi and Perspectives is set up perfectly!

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