Reacting to the Past

Reacting to the Past is a pedagogical approach originated at Barnard and now used at 400 colleges and universities in the US and internationally. The basic idea is to immerse students in an elaborate simulation game. Each student has a role and objectives which allow them to win the game. Several classes are used to cover the background material for the game. Each student must research their role and develop their strategy, along with other students who are part of their faction. Once the game begins, the students take over the classroom and play out the simulation. They write papers to make their arguments and present these arguments in class.

More information on Reacting to the Past at Trinity can be found at our Reacting Web Site. This includes a short video of students actually playing a Reacting Game and a list of faculty at Trinity who are involved in Reacting. There are also links to the Barnard site which contains more information.

I have written three full length Reacting games and a number of shorter games for use in regular classes. These are now being used around the country. I have also been a leader in the effort to use the Reacting pedagogy to teach non-majors science courses by developing games which cover basic scientific topics and the labs to go with them.


Evolution in Kansas 1999- This game examines the conflict between modern science on biological evolution and the Big Bang cosmology against religious fundamentalism. In a time when fundamentalism is very much in the forefront of politics both in the USA and around the world, this game provides the opportunity to examine these positions. The game is set in the Kansas state Board of Education. In 1999, the Board removed the teaching of macroevolution and the Big Bang from the required science curriculum. The game begins immediately after this with an effort to replace the fundamentalist Christian board members. The first phase of the game is an election for the Board. Most students are candidates and a few are lobbyists. After the election, students on the new Board meet to write a new science curriculum and debate the issues of the nature of science and the appropriate material to teach students in Kansas.


Acid Rain in Europe 1979-1989 - This game centers on the negotiations in Europe which led to the Long Range Transport Air Pollutants treaty still in force in Europe. Against the backdrop of the efforts to form the European Union and the movement toward detente with the Soviet Block, students debate the science of acid rain, environmental philosophy, environmental economics, and risk/benefit decisions. Each student represents a country with Great Britain, Germany, France, Norway, and Sweden being the largest factions. The game occurs in three phases, beginning with the Geneva Conference in 1979 followed by the Helsinki Conference of 1984. These two portions deal with emissions of sulfur dioxide. The third phase is set in the Sophia Conference of 1989 and moves on to nitrogen oxide pollutants and the way to reduce pollution for cars. Written with Susan Henderson of Quinnipiac University.


Constantine and the Council of Nicaea 325 CE - This game is set in a conference called by the Emperor Constantine to deal with several problems which have arisen since he declared the Christian Church the state religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine is now the undisputed ruler of the entire Empire. But he is discouraged to find that the Christians cannot agree on such basic matters of the nature of Jesus and his relationship to God. There are also arguments over property and organization. The students play the roles of Bishops and other clergy in attendance at the Council. Constantine is present as well and works to form what he calls a Katholican (Universal) Church. The outcome of the Council will probably include a Creed, a statement of the Christian faith and will deal with a number of other conflicts. Written with Frank Kirkpatrick, Professor of Religion, Trinity College.


CHAPTER LENGTH GAMES - 1 week of game play.

Acid Rain In Europe- 1984 The European Response to SO2 pollution

This game is a subset of the full length Acid Rain in Europe 1979-89 game and involves the middle section of the long game. The scientific focus is primarily on the effects of sulfur dioxide pollution and efforts to reduce this pollution. With Susan Henderson, Quinnipiac University.


Catalytic Converters and the European Response to NOx pollution 1987

This game is a subset of the full length Acid Rain in Europe 1979-89 game and covers teh final phase of that game that considers whether to require catalytic converters on cars and to remove lead from gasoline. With Susan Henderson, Quinnipiac University.


Challenging the Food Pyramid

This game is designed for courses dealing with nutrition. The game is set in a 1991 congressional hearing to examine the decision of the Department of Agriculture to create, remove, and finally distribute the Eating Right Food Pyramid. Issues in the game include the relationship between nutrition and health and the role of politics and special interests in government pronouncements on nutrition. With Susan Henderson, Quinnipiac University.


Feeding Africa - Starvation or GM Foods

This game is designed for use in any course covering GM crops and the issues that surround them. The game is set at an international meeting where the US delegation tries to convince the leaders of several African nations to accept GM corn to avert famine. The EU representatives present the case against accepting these donations and the potential risks associated with them.


The Climate Change Debate

This game is set in a generic international meeting (Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, etc.) at which national representatives try to reach agreement on steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to prevent rapid increases in global temperatures. Students represent countries and are divided in factions to address all of the issues surrounding these discussions. The central focus is the choices that need to be made, the costs of those choices, and who will pay for them.