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Minnesota teacher uses fantasy football to teach about the world

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You probably all know someone who’s gearing up for a fantasy football draft. You also probably know someone who’s way more into it than they should be. What you might not know is that a local high school social studies teacher developed a game called “Fantasy Geopolitics” that uses the same dynamics as fantasy sports, but has players draft teams of countries (rather than football players) and follow them in the news (rather than on the field).

Eric Nelson, a teacher at North Lakes Academy Charter School in Forest Lake, had a problem – he struggled to keep 14 and 15 years olds engaged in learning about world history, geography, and politics. Since Eric played fantasy football with his college buddies, he says he often got distracted from lesson planning on weekends because he was following his fantasy football team. When he realized he was becoming much more aware of what was happening in the NFL just by playing, he took the model and applied it to world news in his classroom.

Fantasy Geopolitics turned his students into fans and managers of their own learning by gamifying the news, engaging them with global information sources, and providing relevant standards-based lessons, activities, and resources from around the world wide web.

Nelson says “It was not only fun, but also capitalized on students’ curiosity and competitive nature." Before, students almost seemed timid to read news about places like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria. Now, Nelson says, “students come into my classroom asking if I’ve heard the latest about Russia and Ukraine”.

How it works:

Commissioners sign up, chip in whatever they want for year-long access, and organize a draft using a single computer with internet access.

Players draft teams of countries, become more aware, and automatically score points every time their countries are mentioned in the New York Times and make moves on what’s called the “Goldstein” scale. In other words, players receive more points if a country is collaborating with another country and less points if they’re in conflict them.

The website even uses interactive maps like this, enabling players to see news scoring trends and click on countries for the latest updates.

Eric pitched his Fantasy Geopolitics idea at a Startup Weekend EDU event last school year and then tested it out with other teachers through the 4.0 Schools Launch program. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, he developed and more than 500 teachers (and 10,000+ students) signed up to play. They now even have a T-shirt shop where you can wear your global competence in “punny” ways.

As they gear up to start a new school year of play, everyone’s talking about who to pick first.

“China’s like the Adrian Peterson of the world,” Nelson said, but also added that countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Iraq score a lot of news points as well. “There’s always a lot happening in the world,” he said “and if we’re going to solve its biggest problems, it’d be good to know more about it”.

Nelson said he’s also really inspired by the education technology community in the Twin Cities and reiterated the potential of edtech to enhance learning for all ages: “Oregon Trail and Number Munchers were created here in the ‘80s and companies like Kidblog and Sophia are making learning much more authentic and accessible in the 21st Century.”

Nelson says this is just the start of the social learning platform and that he’s working with some really innovative people and organizations to develop it even more.

“Learning is hard,” he said, “but it should be more fun and developing this has been an incredible experience”.

Even if you’re not a teacher or student, check out how to use the game here and become a fan of learning about the world in which you live.

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