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Trading on the Silk Road

 

As a passionate teacher of World History I find simulations to be one of the most powerful teaching tools. IMG_8115We all have heard the old saying about teaching a man to fish. Shaping an experience in class is no easy task. It takes careful planning and intentional connections to your learning objectives. I can say with confidence that the China Silk Road simulation did just that. This simulation was able to bring to life several large concepts such as: the role of the entrepreneur, power of negotiation, supply and demand, and both the cost and the benefits of technology for a society. All this was achieved with this little one day activity. Let’s take a look at how making the magic happen…

 

Ingredients:

1. You will need 6-8 different products to trade.

  • These can be simple photocopies of products
  • You could amp it up and buy treats to up it a little. I like doing this as I feel it puts more on the line for the students. Just trading photocopies are a bit like playing poker without the use of chips. Treats that worked well in my class were:
    • A bag of mixed Hershey candy bars (I liked this one as one group had subcategories of trade products i.e. I want the milk chocolate bar.)
    • 1 large bag of pretzels
    • 1 large bag of Swedish fish
    • 8 pack of Kit Kat bars
    • Individual mini-chip bags
    • 1 box of Vanilla Wafers
  • Each group got one of these products to trade.

 

2. Have a gong or bell to ring to symbolize the end of rounds. (I prefer a gong, I mean, come on, you’re a World History teacher, right?)

3. You should set your classroom up into six group areas. I put masking tape (a teachers best friend) on the floor to define the route and the cities. See diagram:

Silk Road

 

Directions:

1. Give each city or country a product. Describe to them how the silk road wasn’t one giant 8 lane road. Make sure students know that traders didn’t just pack up in China some products and drive them all the way to Rome. The road was made up of hundreds of entrepreneurs that made trades only as far as the next country. I talk about city 1 and 6 as being Peking and Rome.

2. I had my students watch about 6 mins of the first episode of MANKIND: The Story of All of US. At minute 29 there starts a great segment about the silk road. It is short and really does a great job of framing this activity.

3. Then I gave the students the directions.

  • They may only trade with their neighbors next to them. (no cross talking allowed, only can deal with those next to them)
  • Their goal was to have a rich product diversity to make their people happy.
  • I will strike gong or ring a bell to symbolize the end of a round. At which time we will reflect on the experience. How happy would your citizens feel with your leadership and trades? What are some of the business challenges you faced this round? Are all the products equal? How much have the products on the ends diffused over the route after one round?

4. Allow only a few minutes of trading and then ring the bell or gong and ask questions.

5. After a two or three rounds I give each country a hard choice. Do you invest in the development of technology. The technology will symbolize sea routes and such that will allow their group to trade with everyone.  I give each country about 2 minutes to decide if they will take this offer.  The cost is 1/2 of all their wealth at this point (It’s not cheap to make a global empire).

6. I only allow about 1 or 2 rounds more each ending with a gong and more discussion.

Observations:

IMG_8106Well, I think you can see from my write up that I really feel that the students get a rich simulated experience filled with a ton of food for thought. I was really impressed with the learning and connections my 6th grade students were making. I loved that several groups that had diverse products of their own divided those up and had built in scarcity. Example, the candy bar group divided their bars up by type. They then made people pay more for different types. Good idea, and one I wasn’t thinking about at the time of making this simulation.

All and all it was a great simulation and one that I hope you give a shot in the near future. I have many other simulations I do throughout the year, maybe I should make a series on the topic. Let me know below about the ones you do or thoughts you have on mine.

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