27 February 2014

Speed Innovating @NAIS: Facilitating Differentiated Learning in Through Simulations and Games

Thanks to everyone who came out to our three Speed Innovating sessions at this year's NAIS Conference in Orlando. We had so much fun playing Classical Realism as an example of how simulations and games can be used to facilitate differentiated learning in our classrooms. Next time we'll try not to make so much noise so as not to disturb the other presentations...maybe. As you can see below, teachers, administrators, and consultants across all grade levels from around the world had a great time playing and learning with each other.



If you weren't able to make the sold-out session, you can see the deck of slides from my presentation below. Feel free to tweet me @games_frontiers; I'm always happy to chat.  




26 February 2014

IB Global Politics: Examples of signaling and coercive diplomacy

'morning folks. We have some real gems to work with in the news today. First up, Russian President Putin has ordered military exercises in the western Russia. Along with the drills, which are scheduled to last through the weekend, the Reuters article pains a comparison between statements offered by Russian PM Medvedev regarding Russian interests under threat in Ukraine and those then-President Medvedev made before invading Georgia in 2008. 

The second case involves a suspected Israeli air strike on Hezbollah military targets in the Bekaa Valley, southern Lebanon. A Hezbollah spokesperson claimed that the attack violated the sovereignty of Lebanon. In contrast, Israeli PM Netanyahu reiterated his claim to protect Israel's security.

Both examples are consistent with Thomas Schelling's concept of coercive diplomacy. Neither Russia nor Israel are relying on their military actions or signals to deter the activities of others; western-oriented Ukrainians, NATO, the EU, and the US in the former case, Hezbollah and Iran in the latter. Rather, the threat and (possible) use of force is used by actors to compel adversaries into changing their behavior. The Russian position may be that they are willing to use force to protect their perceived interests in Ukraine. This is not to deter action on the part of NATO/EU/US as none of those entities would use force in the first place. The audience for Russia's military signals may very well be oriented towards Ukrainian politicians and citizens as a reminder that current and future political decisions about the future of the Ukraine have consequences. 

Interestingly, this notion of coercive diplomacy is even extended to the actions of non-state actors. The BBC article quotes Eyal Ben-Reuven, a former deputy head of the Northern Command in Israel as saying that. "Israel has always stayed as the main objective for Hezbollah and Iran...a terror organization gets these kinds of capabilities not for deterrence, but for acts." Hezbollah's pursuit of advanced weaponry, long range rockets, and other offensive capabilities are not designed to deter Israeli actions but to compel it into submission, defeat, and/or destruction. From the Israeli perspective, Hezbollah may not be able to be deterred into a defensive posture, especially with the backing of Iran. Consequently, the (probable) Israeli use of force on Hezbollah targets is designed to signal to Hezbollah, its allies in the Assad regime and in Tehran that the strategy of pursuing advanced offensive weapons will be met with force. 

Those of you with interest in the latter topic would be well served to read Rapp-Hooper, M. (2014, February 25). How does the nuclear deal with Iran affect Hezbollah and its regional influence? Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from 

24 February 2014

Reflecting on Paper 1 in IB Global Politics

IB assessments are challenging. In contrast to other externally assessed courses which are offered in the US where students are rewarded by guessing right on multiple choice questions and manufacturing structured responses without any regard for analysis, synthesis, or style, assessments in IB courses dare students to write, to speak, to demonstrate, and to argue their ideas in variety of ways. IB courses the social sciences (Individuals and Societies) generally offer two types of written, paper-based assessments. In IB Global Politics, Paper 1 is a source (stimulus) based paper that tests student's knowledge and understanding of relevant source material; their ability to analyse relevant material and provide supporting examples; compare and contrast relevant source material and organize this material into a clear, logical, coherent and relevant response; and  compare and evaluate source material in order to synthesize and evaluate evidence from both sources and background knowledge of key issues and concepts in global politics in a clear, logical, coherent and relevant response.

The Year 1 student's process with Paper 1 began with a slow and steady introduction to both the formatting of the question as well as strategies on how to develop responses to the four questions that make up Paper 1. Rather than simply giving a "mock" Paper 1, marking-or worse yet, grading it-the students had the opportunity to read the feedback I wrote for each of their papers before providing their own reflections on the process by completing a debriefing survey. This process of reflection allowed students the time and space to articulate what they felt went well during their first Paper 1, to identify the areas where they felt they could improve, as well as to provide me with feedback about how our learning during this process could be improved the next time. Many students wrote that since they now felt comfortable with with answering the Paper 1, they would be interested in practicing it in a much more formal sense; timed writing, not having the mark scheme available for them to refer to during the process, as well as using the process of marking as a debriefing session.

If its not apparent by now, let me be blunt: I value student engagement and agency in constructing and participating in our learning over scoring high marks on a single test. In fact, I contend that combining the practice of empowering students along with long-term thinking about learning and practicing with challenging content and assessments does more to build a student's intellect and durable skill sets than ersatz high-stakes tests artificially administered at the end of the week, a chapter, or a marking period.

And now, the data....

Students were asked to report, "How would you rate the quality of your work towards each of the Assessment Objectives in your Paper 1?" according to the four Assessment Objectives covered in Paper 1: Demonstrate knowledge and understanding; Demonstrate application and analysis of knowledge and understanding; Demonstrate synthesis and evaluation; and Select, use and apply a variety of appropriate skills and techniques. A student could rank herself according to the following scale for each of the assessment objectives: very poor, poor, acceptable, good, very good. The following charts offer a summary of the students' responses to the survey (N=18)



Year 1 students in IB Global Politics reported that their responses to the Paper 1 were generally above the midpoint on the scale. The modal response to all of the questions was "good" (43%), followed by "very good" (33%), "acceptable" (21%) and "poor" (3%). Most students felt that they had a good sense of the knowledge and understanding necessary to answer the demands of the questions for Paper 1. In contrast, students expressed the broadest range of opinions when it came to the self-assessment of their approach to using skills and techniques in Paper 1. Put another way, students report that they are less confident in their ability to successfully operate the mechanics of Paper 1 than they are in the information that is relevant to the assessment itself. This finding is consistent with anecdotal responses from the students themselves; many of whom are enthusiastically anticipating working on another Paper 1. 

I don't think that its too much of stretch to say that the students' eagerness stems more from a genuine interest in having the opportunity to successfully demonstrate their knowledge than a concern about "not doing well" on a test. More importantly, this data directs both the students and I to focus on different tasks the next time we tackle a Paper 1. At that time, we'll (a) review the data from this survey, (b) ask students to review their individual responses to this survey, and (c) incorporate student recommendations to write a Paper 1 in a timed session where we mark and debrief their work in a subsequent class period. Now, if only all learning took place in such a deep, constructive, and empowering environment...

21 February 2014

IB Global Politics: The week ahead, 24-28 February.

Crisis Guide: Iran

HL2: Higher Level Extension Tasks

Monday through Friday: We'll begin the process of developing your second HL extension task. Please begin by completing another column on the HL Extension Tracking Form by the end of the day on Tuesday. The rest of the week is yours to begin your research. Please remember that you must choose a question & then research area that is different from first HL extension. Please note that the last day to submit HL Extension Tasks is Friday 7 March. Third term is reserved entirely for revising towards the inaugural IB Global Politics exam as well as tying up any loose ends in the course, the IB Program, and your high school career. 

HL1: The politics of nuclear proliferation

Essential Question
To what extent is the proliferation of nuclear energy, weapons, and related technologies a geopolitical challenge?

Key Concepts
Power, Sovereignty, Legitimacy, Interdependence, Peace, Conflict, Violence, Nonviolence

Theoretical Foundations
Realism, Liberalism, Constructivism

Learning Outcomes and Prescribed Content
  • The distribution, recognition and contesting of power at various levels of global politics
    • Definitions of power; Theories of power; Types of power
  • The operation and legitimization of state power in global politics
    • States and statehood; The role of institutional contexts for operation and legitimization of state power
  • The function and impact of international organizations and non-state actors in global politics
    • Definition of civil society; International organizations, including the United Nations (UN); Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), multinational corporations (MNCs) and trade unions; Social movements, resistance movements and violent protest movements
  • The nature and extent of interactions in global politics
    • Global governance; Cooperation: treaties, collective security, strategic alliances, informal cooperation; Conflict: interstate war, intrastate war, terrorism, strikes, demonstrations
For the week

20 February 2014

IB Global Politics: A primer on protests in Thailand, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

  1. Calamur, K. (2014, February 19). 4 Things To Know About What's Happening In Ukraine. NPR. Retrieved from
  2. Growing instability in Thailand. (2014). Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from!/?marker=31
  3. Kurlantzick, J. (2014, February 20). Behind a pattern of global unrest, a middle class in revolt. Business Week. Retrieved from 
  4. Political unrest in Ukraine. (2014). Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from!/?marker=32
  5. Political crisis in Venezuela. (2014). Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from!/?marker=29
  6. Shoichet, C. E., Olarn, K., Mortensen, A., & Zdanowicz, C. (2014, February 20). From flames to fiery opposition, protests rock Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand. CNN. Retrieved from
  7. Stagnant revolution. (2014, February 22). The Economist. Retrieved from 
  8. Why is Ukraine in turmoil? (2014, February 19). BBC News. Retrieved from

17 February 2014

IB Global Politics: The Week Ahead

'morning folks. I hope everyone is enjoying their extended weekend. For those of you working today to get caught up on HL Extension presentations or Paper 1s, you're missing a fantabuous day outside by the pool, beach, etc. Just a little reminder to stay ahead of the game, especially on the rare non-beach days we have this time of year.

HL2: Tuesday through Friday: We'll begin the process of developing your second HL extension task. Please begin by completing another column on the HL Extension Tracking Form by the end of the day on Tuesday. The rest of the week is yours to begin your research. Please remember that you must choose a question & then research area that is different from first HL extension.

HL1: We'll continue with our inquiry into the politics of nuclear proliferation.

13 February 2014

Thinking visibly about nuclear energy in IB Global Politics

Nuclear Energy Guide

Today's class served as an introduction to the politics surrounding nuclear energy, part of our larger inquiry into the geopolitical challenges of nuclear proliferation. Using the Council on Foreign Relations Nuclear Energy Guide as a starting point, we explored the proposition that every country has the right to develop nuclear energy technology using the 3-2-1 Bridge Visible Thinking routine. Students were asked to develop three ideas, two questions, and one analogy related to the prompt. Students then shared and discussed their ideas, which led to even further questions and commentary, all before viewing the introductory video content. After viewing they video and briefly exploring the countries that use nuclear power today, students were then asked to construct three new ideas, two new questions, and one new analogy in light of their new understanding. The goal of the 3-2-1 Bridge routine is to connect a student's ideas on a topic before and after an event; a debate, reading, video, or other experience. In exploring some of the randomly sampled pairs of student responses (I chose these based on how easily I could match the handwriting, not necessarily on the strength of the intellectual connections present in the student's work) you can see the ways in which each student's thinking and understanding evolved over this briefest of time periods.





11 February 2014

Learning key concepts in a game-based, de-graded classroom

One of the questions I am most often asked by colleagues, folks I meet at workshops, or on Twitter goes something like this: "How do you teach core content if you're always playing games and simulations?" Without delving into the debate surrounding what constitutes core content, my general response is that I create situations where students can actively experiment with abstract concepts. For those of you familiar (or unfamiliar for that matter) with Kolb's Experimental Learning Cycle, this is the phase of model where students seek to make sense of events, ideas, and the relationship between them.

This week's  class with the Year 1 students is a great example of this in practice. We played Classical Realism in class yesterday. This game and debriefing session reinforced the students' prior knowledge of key concepts such as alliances, anarchy, balance of power, bandwagoning, bargaining, game theory, interdependence, interests, opportunity, perception, power, realism, sovereignty, strategy, and willingness. Today's class built upon this knowledge while adding key terms such as autocratic rule, bureaucratic politics, constitutional democracy, democratic peace, diversionary theory of war, geopolitics, group think, newsgroup syndrome, polarity, polarization, political efficacy, procedural rationality, prospect theory, rational choice, satisficing, standard operating procedures, sunk costs, two-level games, and unitary actor. While some of these latter terms have been covered peripherally at earlier points in the year we use this unit, The Politics of Nuclear Proliferation, to explicitly dive into learning about and applying our understanding of these concepts. 

Students were asked to read (and some started on their own prior to class) an scanned copy of Kegley and Raymond's "Foreign Policy Decision Making" from an older edition of their text The Global Future for 45 minutes. Students were advised to pay special attention to the key concepts in the margins of the text during their reading period. Once this was complete, the students were divided into four teams. Teams were randomly assigned 6 index cards with concepts, 24 concepts in total, from the chapter. As a group, students were tasked with constructing a definition for each term, without using the text, their phones, or laptops; one that would mirror the textbook definition. Teams were then given index cards with the textbook definition for each of the terms. In many cases, students reported that their own or collaborative definitions were very close to that from the text that they had read in the previous 45 minutes. In cases where students felt their definitions were off from the textbook, they chose to revise their description in order to be more consistent with the mechanics of the game. From the student's perspective, this first round of formative assessment may seem to occur organically. However, this is formative check is included by design; one of several of formative checks throughout the class period and the unit itself. 

Once the teams had two definitions for each of their assigned terms, the game began in earnest. We played Glossary, a powerfully simple review game from @thiagi (thanks as always). Our modified mechanics and flow are relatively straightforward. Teams would take turns reading their definitions to another group in an effort to earn points in the game. For example: in Round 1 Team 1 would read out a key term and both definitions to Team 2. If Team 2 correctly guessed which was from the textbook or which was from the students, they earned a point. If Team 2's guess was incorrect, then Team 1 earned the point. To mix it up, the the teams worked through this matrix during the game: 
  • Round 1: Team 1 reads to Team 2; Team 2 reads to Team 3; Team 3 reads to Team 4; Team 4 reads to Team 1
  • Round 2: Team 1 reads to Team 3; Team 2 reads to Team 4; Team 4 reads to Team 3; Team 4 reads to Team 3
  • Round 3: Team 1 reads to Team 4; Team 2 reads to Team 1; Team 3 reads to Team 2; Team 4 reads to Team 3. 
For added intrigue, a few terms that were not in the chapter-foreign policy, power, sovereignty, and interdependence-were randomly distributed amongst the concepts, with definitions from other sources. These concepts, save for foreign policy, are essential components of this section of the IB syllabus and ones we have been working with all year. Correct answers for these terms were worth 2 points. Today's results ended up with a tie between Team 1 and Team 4-each earning 5 points during the three rounds. 





As I'm sure its clear from the pictures above, the Glopo folks had a fabulous time applying their comprehension of the reading from the first part of class Of course, we've done these sorts of activities before in IB Global Politics; specifically, for Introduction to World Politics and Human Rights. In every case, the debate, dialogue, and debriefing become really powerful ways of (a) observing the degree to which students have an understanding of the material and (b) allowing students the opportunity to check their own and each other's comprehension of the terms. For example, debate within the teams prior to deciding which definition came from which source allowed students to discuss and frame their own understanding. Note, the choices students faced in the game weren't about identifying a "correct" definition of the term-both were correct to varying degrees. Rather, students had the opportunity to both (a) construct their own definitions of terms and (b) analyze and evaluate different meanings of key concepts. This latter aspect of the self-assessment is key for students in IB Global Politics, as the IB syllabus in the form of assessment objectives (read: course standards) specifically task students with interpreting concepts from different meanings or standpoints. From my standpoint as the designer and facilitator of learning, my job became one of listening to students, asking questions about their understanding, offering feedback (rather thank advice) to their ideas, and to document the totality of their learning experience. 

As always, no students' GPAs were harmed by grading their thinking or participation in these activities. Instead, conceptual understanding is formatively assessed as a part of a long cycle of individual learning; these games are simply one point in this process. Finally, while there are many ways to introduce students to key concepts or other essential material for a course, my argument is that games and simulations are far more engaging and interesting to facilitate and assess than vocabulary quizzes or homework problems. 

Thus, answering the question, "How do you teach core content if you're always playing games and simulations?" is an easy exercise; we play with it. 

10 February 2014

IB Global Politics: Paper 1 Reflection

HL1 students are wrapping up their process of constructing our first Paper 1. This included beginning with having ample time to read all of the articles from which the stimuli were derived, spending a 90 minute class period walking through the mechanics and markshemes for the assessment, using two 50 minute class periods to draft, ask questions, and otherwise developing their responses to the four questions, a weekend to complete the Paper 1, and then a few days to read the feedback and refine their papers accordingly.

As a capstone for this assessment, students are asked to reflect on the totality of their learning in process. The feedback, self-assessment, and information provided not only give learners the chance to debrief and reflect on their learning, but also provide me with a wealth of information that helps to frame the assessment as a whole as well as to provide specific guidance to students for the next time we tackle this assessment. I'll publish the quantitative results as well as some anecdotal comments from this survey sometime next week.

IB Global Politics play Classical Realism

Year 1 students began their study of nuclear proliferation by playing Victor Asal's game, Classical Realism. Students are challenged to secure their own survival in an anarchic environment by keeping or winning playing cards at the expense of their colleagues. Round 1 culminated with four students-two adopting a defensive Realist and two adopting offensive Realist strategies-essentially reaching relative balance of power and were unwilling to pursue further actions in the game. Changing the rules for Round 2, students became less risk-averse as each dyadic interaction was no longer zero-sum. After two rounds of play, our debriefing addressed concepts as diverse as balance of power, bandwagoning (interesting on these last two terms, as I have not assigned a Walt article to them yet.) different meanings of power, perception, and interdependence....just to name a few.


06 February 2014

IB Global Politics: The Week Ahead, 10-14 February

Things start to diverge a bit next week. HL2 folks; you'll be working to wrap up your first HL Extension Task while HL1 folks will begin our inquiry into the Politics of Nuclear Proliferation.

Monday-Friday: Work on HL Extension Task Presentations
Please note that presentations needs to be uploaded to your @mynbps YouTube account (set to private) and shared with me ( no later than Friday 14 February. 
I will start marking these over the weekend.


  • Monday
    • Play Classical Realism
  • Tuesday
    • Read Kegley, C. W., & Raymond, G. A. (2012). Foreign policy decision making. In The global future: A brief introduction to world politics (5th ed., pp. 55-79). Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning. (link)
      • You may want to start this this weekend, especially if you're finished with your Paper 1
    • Play Glossary as a review/debrief on the readings
  • Thursday
  • Friday
    • Nonproliferation Guide
      • Watch introductory video
        • Develop informal presentations on Conventions and Treaties, Organizations and Institutions, Initiatives, and Security Council Resolutions. 
        • Presentations should not just highlight key actors, organizations, and rules but also address the so what? question
      • Review the map of nuclear states
For everyone
  1. Please sign up for next week's Academic Conference Call by replying to this post
  2. Also, please indicate if you're going to participate in our first IB Glopo/OMUN Debate/Pizza Party on Wednesday the 26th by replying here
  3. Finally, be sure that you're completing your Student Teacher Survey as soon as possible, thanks. 

IB Global Politics: Academic conference call on 2014 Preventive Priorities

Our first Academic Conference Call of the new year looks to be great one. Join General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of the Center for Preventive Action as we discuss the nature and trajectory of current and future conflicts around the world through the lens of US foreign policy.

The call will occur from 12.00 to 1.00pm on Wednesday 12 February. We'll tentatively schedule the meeting for Room 101 (this means we can brown bag our lunch while we participate).

If you're interested in participating in this call, please reply to this post. I'll make the necessary arrangements with your teachers.

In advance of the call, please be sure to read the Preventative Priorities Summary: 2014, as well as the full report. You can also manipulate the Global Conflict Tracker to see where these current and emerging hot spots play out in light of US interests for the coming year.

As always, thanks to the folks at the Council on Foreign Relations and @CFRAcademic for helping to support our participation in this project.

05 February 2014

IB Global Politics: Can the international community violate Syrian sovereignty?

IB Global Politics / OMUN Debate: Sovereignty

When? Wednesday 26 February from 6.00 to 9.00pm
Where? Room 101
Who? IB Global Politics students from Bermuda High School (Bermuda), International School of Panama (Panama), North Broward Preparatory School (United States), and Overseas Family School (Singapore)

The debate will occur online from 7.00 to 8.00pm. You'll need your laptops in order to participate. We'll use the hour before for final prep (and pizza) and the hour after for a structured debriefing. Please RSVP for this event by commenting on this post. I've included some initial resources below, but please consider these as the starting point for your inquiry, not the inclusive list of preparatory information. 


  1. Boyer, J. (2012). Sovereignty-What is it? How do you get it? Lecture presented at GEOG 1014: World Regions in Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA. Retrieved June 7, 2012, from
  2. Carberry, S., Suarez, R., & Amos, D. (Writers). (2009, July 6). The Responsibility to protect: Preventing mass atrocities [Radio series]. Minneapolis, MN: Public Radio International (PRI) Retrieved from 
  3. Crisis in Syria. (n.d.). International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. Retrieved from 
  4. Cook, S. A. (2013, August 30). In trying to help Syria, an intervention would destroy it. Washington Post. Retrieved from
  5. Doyle, M. W. (2011). The folly of protection. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from 
  6. The Economist. (2009, July 23). Responsibility to protect: An idea whose time has come—and gone? The Economist. Retrieved from 
  7. Evans, G., & Sanhoun, M. (2002). The responsibility to protect. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from 
  8. Evans, G. (2011, December). End of the argument. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from 
  9. Global Politics Online Debates. (2014, January 21). Sovereignty: Can the International Community Violate Syrian Sovereignty? Retrieved from 
  10. Haass, R. N. (2006, February 17). Sovereignty and globalization. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from
  11. Homans, C. (2011). Responsibility to protect: A short history. Foreign Policy. Retrieved from 
  12. Husain, E. (2013, August 30). Why Western intervention in Syria will leave chaos. CNN. Retrieved from
  13. Mingst, K. A., & Karns, M. P. (2011). The United Nations in the 21st century. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. (link)
  14. Syria conflict. (2014, January 22). BBC News. Retrieved from 
  15. United Nations Association of the United States of America (Producer). (2009, August 11). UN General Assembly debate on implementing the responsibility to protect [Video]. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from
  16. Western, J., & Goldstein, J. (2013). R2P after Syria. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved March 27, 2013, from 

NBPS Student Teacher Feedback

'morning all,

Please take a few minutes over the next few days to complete our regular Student/Teacher Feedback survey. As always, the information and feedback you provide is valuable to me as well as to the high school community as a whole. Note that you should complete this survey for each of your classes, so be sure to either go in order or otherwise keep track of your progress as you fill out 7 to 8 of these over the coming days. Please use information below as you complete the surveys-just in case your current workload has you asking which end is up lately. Again, thanks in advance for your participation.

Course Name: IB Global Politics HL1
Course Number: SOC 6310
Period: 3


Course Name: IB Global Politics HL2
Course Number: SOC 7310
Period: 1

03 February 2014

IB Global Politics: Monday Current Events

"Do citizens have a moral obligation to overthrow an unjust government?"

Mondays have become particularly interesting in the Year 1 class of IB Global Politics. A few months back, the students asked if we could dedicate one day per week towards the discussion of current events. We came up with a plan where the students themselves would lead the discussion or activity, as well as choose a set of articles from different sources based on the previous week's news. This plan has led to Mondays becoming everything from a conventional, Harkness-style seminar to game based play on the week's news. Today's class sustained the trend to "be different" as we ran an abbreviated debate on whether citizens have a moral to overthrow an unjust government. The class was led by three students who are also active in our school's debate team; they also planned the format, facilitated the rounds, and managed the fist phase of debriefing. From an instructional perspective, I was able to work the room to listen to students ideas, answer questions, and run the "meta" debrief on the process itself. What I find most appealing about classes like this is the quality of thinking that occurs when students take on the opportunity to design, facilitate, and then reflect on their learning. My guidance came in the form of providing feedback to the students on how they can improve their ideas or the need to incorporate real world examples into their argumentation. However, the real learning comes from the students themselves in the way they themselves construct their learning environments, basis for and modes of inquiry, and how they report and evaluate their own and their colleagues learning through discussion and action. Well done!