OREGON TRAIL CLASSROOM SIMULATION

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OREGON TRAIL CLASSROOM SIMULATION

One of my favorite memories from elementary school was playing a classic video game on a green monitor of the APPLE IIe. Do you remember that game? Yep, the video game was called The Oregon Trail! It was always a favorite as I had to name my family members, buy the supplies needed for the trail, go hunting, cross rivers, and then cross my fingers hoping I wouldn’t die! (If you want to relive that classic game, click here!)

Fast forward a few decades from the late 80’s and I find myself teaching a unit on westward expansion that focuses on the Oregon trail. I’m trying to figure out how to make this unit relevant and enjoyable for my students. I start drifting into daydream mode, and that classic computer game begins to capture my attention. As I’m lost in all the fun memories of the video game, I snap out of it and begin to ponder, what if I can recreate a similar excitement for my classroom? What if I could somehow get my students to experience the Oregon Trail right here in my room. That’s when the Oregon Trail Simulation began to take shape.

After some brainstorming, and talking through some ideas with my student teacher at the time, I came up with the Mister Harms classroom version of “The Oregon Trail.” It’s a simulation that students have always enjoyed. It has been tweaked and improved over the years, and has become one of my favorite units to teach!

This interactive simulation gives students a glimpse of what life was like on the Oregon Trail and is definitely a class favorite when we study our unit on Westward expansion! I start the simulation by teaming the students into family wagons. Each wagon team creates their own family relationships and why they are heading west. After creating their family history, teams determine their income and occupation by rolling dice. When they receive their money, teams prepare for the long journey by purchasing supplies at the “Jumping Off” point in Independence, Missouri. During this time, and for the entire journey, each member of the group has a specific task to keep the group organized. One student keeps track of the money, another records all supplies purchased or used, the third emigrant is responsible for adding and subtracting all pounds of food purchased or eaten, and finally one team member keeps track of the calendar by documenting how many days each stretch of the journey has taken. Not only are the students learning history, but with all the documenting, they will challenge their math skills as well!

Grouped into wagon trains, students must depend on teamwork to successfully finish the trail. By rolling dice, keeping track of supplies, and following a map, students get to learn about this historical event in an enjoyable way. All wagons travel the same trail, but their speed and outcome is all determined by the rolling of dice. In the Oregon Trail Simulation, a traveling guide explains the various outcomes based upon the dice being rolled. For example, If a team rolls a 1 they will have an equipment problem. If their second dice is a 2, a broken wagon axel is the outcome. This event requires the team to add an extra day in order to fix and replace the axel if they purchased an extra. During their travels, students can also stop and go hunting or fishing, and their success is also determined by the rolling of dice.

Throughout this entire process, I explain the various historical content by lecturing on the forts, landmarks, trials, and daily life on the trail. As we complete each leg of the journey, students are directed to document their experiences in their personal journal of the trail. This aspect of journaling combines the learning of historical content with creative writing. It is fun to read through the student journal entries as each one is so different. Each journal is from the perspective of their character with the variety of experiences from their specific wagon train.

Ultimately, the simulation ends when we get to Oregon. The entire class learns about the trail at the same pace, but it is a race in that the first wagon to get to Oregon in the least amount of “trail days” becomes the winner! This activity truly keeps students engaged while learning about the Oregon Trail. If you already have your own curriculum regarding the Oregon Trail, you can easily use this simulation right along side whatever you may be teaching. If you do not have much information regarding the Oregon Trail, I recommend checking out my Oregon Trail Presentation. This presentation is a PowerPoint style guide through the Oregon Trail as it highlights the major stops, landmarks, trials faced, and includes many primary source quotes and images. I highly recommend the Oregon Trail Presentation as it helps bring the traveling of the Oregon Trail to life.

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After 10 years of tweaking my idea to create a classroom version of that classic video game, I have come to enjoy this simulation each and every year. Since it has become such a success, I am making this simulation available to all teachers and classrooms. If you would like to bring the experiences and excitement of the Oregon Trail Simulation & Journaling Activity to your own classroom, click the image below. Giddy up and Westward Ho!….How about you? Have you tried this simulation or something similar in your classroom? How did it go for you? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below!

My 4th/6th graders and I are thoroughly enjoying this simulation and I am looking forward to using it again in the future! Each morning we go over the simulation presentation (well worth the purchase!) then roll dice to see what happened to the students while they were on the trail. It has been fun to stand back and watch/listen to the kids as they work together, make decisions, and learn on their journey. I have also received positive feedback from parents about this simulation. Thank you for sharing your work!!
— Teachers Pay Teachers Buyer Comments

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WHY STUDY HISTORY? Back To School Activity

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WHY STUDY HISTORY? Back To School Activity

Do you remember your junior high or high school history class?  What memories come to mind? Maybe excitement, stories of adventure, or maybe just day-dreaming as you were zoning off into your own little world! When I was in class, I remember asking myself and thinking "Why am I learning about history?"  "Why do we have to study this stuff anyway?"  "When am I ever going to use this in life?" "Isn’t history about a bunch of old, dead people and things that have already happened?"  Asking why is a vital part of learning and a great question to ask!  The question of why should not be dismissed but instead explored.  It is the inquisitive mind that asks why, and students who ask why are the students that want to learn. Start the first day of school, or the first lesson of any history unit, with “WHY” because students always want to know why? 

Get WHY STUDY HISTORY?  -  A Classroom Discussion and Reflection Activity

Right from the get-go, I like to start with why. I have found that the “WHY” must be answered before the “WHAT.”  When students know why, then learning can begin.  If there is no why, then it seems like a waste of time to students. So with that question of why in mind, I have developed and tweaked this back-to-school resource for my classroom.  I begin my first day of any history class going through this PowerPoint styled classroom discussion to convince my students that history is truly important to them. This format has proven to be beneficial, and if you don't already have a resource like this, I encourage you to give this a try.

I know this activity will help your students as it has certainly helped my students get excited about learning history! If you are hesitant in knowing how to convince your students why they should study history, I have included all of my notes with examples throughout history to prove to students the importance of history.  I am including these teacher notes and the 6 reasons why, so you don't have to do any research!  Woohoo!  In addition to the discussion slides and teacher notes, you will receive a few lesson ideas, reinforcement activity, and a quiz template for additional assessment. All files are also available in Google Drive format for those who prefer Google Classroom!

Start the year off right and enjoy this “NO-PREP” WHY STUDY HISTORY? lesson with your students! Let me know how it goes and leave your feedback below.  What other helpful things have you done at the beginning of the school year to hook your students and get them engaged in History?

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HOW CANCER MADE ME BETTER

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HOW CANCER MADE ME BETTER

Ten years ago, in 2007, my life took a turn for the worse -- or maybe the better depending on how you look at it.  I was 29 years old. Happily married for 7 years and my daughters were 2 & 4. I was teaching Social Studies at my school and had a follow up doctor’s appointment during my lunch break.  It was here at this appointment that I got the news from my doctor.  I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and cancer was now a part of my life. Wow, what a shock!  I went back to my classroom, finished the day teaching, and tried to understand what just happened. Soon later I was scheduled for my first chemo treatment on the day after Christmas.  It was a “gift” I never asked for and a gift I will never forget.

 Receiving my first chemotherapy treatment the day after Christmas.

Receiving my first chemotherapy treatment the day after Christmas.

Though this tragic news was devastating at the time, as I look back on it now, this was also a turning point in my life.  A point in which I began the long road of asking better questions and seeking solutions to better my health and my life.  In the end, cancer was ultimately a wakeup call to begin an improved future. Now, 10 years later, I am so grateful to be cancer free and have a new perspective on life.

Those years of cancer and post-cancer were certainly tough.  They were some of worst years of my life. My days were worrisome and my health was horrible.  Post-cancer was almost worse for me as the radiation and chemotherapy had not only destroyed the cancer cells, but also the rest of my body.  Physically I was a wreck, and when you can’t go to work, or feel miserable when you do, life gets extremely hard. Although these years were awful, I wouldn’t trade them if I could.  It’s in these darkest of times that foundations are made on solid ground and seeds of truth are planted that bear much fruit.  

 My month at Mayo Clinic receiving radiation treatment.

My month at Mayo Clinic receiving radiation treatment.

Looking back, cancer was the start of a new beginning and a new me. The seeds that were planted during this trial produced fruits of love, joy, peace, gratefulness, perseverance, less negativity, more generosity and so much more. I truly believe that I am a better person with a better perspective on life because of my days with cancer.

Though much of the Mister Harms blog is about teaching and the classroom, in the months and years to come, I also hope to share about what I have learned regarding health and more importantly life.  From experience, having strength, health, and life are also necessary in order be successful in the classroom.  It’s much harder to help others and be a positive influence when physically sick or even mentally drained.  

 Recovering from my cancer treatments.

Recovering from my cancer treatments.

During these past 10 years, many people and life experiences have spoken truth into my own life. Whether you are a school teacher like myself, or working in a totally different profession, hopefully aspects of my story can be beneficial for you or someone you know.   I truly want others to enjoy life as much as possible and to be the best version of themselves they can be. If I can help someone else recover from their current situation, give another hope for tomorrow, or even prevent others from experiencing what I went through - all the better.

So if you want to follow along, I’ll be sharing some of these helpful resources and experiences that have had a huge impact on my life.  Click here to receive updates on future posts that will focus on being rooted in truth, growing in freedom, and prospering in all of life.

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LEGISLATIVE BRANCH SIMULATION

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LEGISLATIVE BRANCH SIMULATION

Do you ever spend time trying to make Civics more enjoyable and engaging for middle schoolers or high schoolers?  I know I do. Civics can easily be seen as a dry subject, but it doesn't have to be. One of my favorite activities in my 8th grade Civics class is the Legislative Branch Simulation: How A Bill Becomes A Law.  I was introduced to this concept and activity years ago by a respected co-teacher.  Throughout the years I have tweaked and added to this idea to make it suitable for my 8th grade classes.

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What I love about this simulation is that it makes learning about the Legislative Branch very real, engaging, and even exciting.  Students get to participate in writing bills for their school, community, or state while learning the various stages within the lawmaking process. In addition, all voices are heard and each student has a chance to contribute.

Every student gets to become a member of Congress, write their own bills, participate in committee discussions, debate on the house/senate floor, and eventually watch the President sign the bills that survive through the entire process. Not only will the students love this simulation, but they get a chance to change their school, and in the process, learn all the aspects of how a bill becomes a law.  

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This Legislative Branch Simulation has become one of the highlights of my civics class. Students love the opportunity to influence their school, community, or state through the bills they write. Each year, a small number of my students’ bills have actually changed school policy because our wonderful school administrators have actively joined in on the participation, making sure the doable bills actually happen! Over the years our 8th grade bills have improved our school in a variety of ways: installation of water fountains with bottle fillers, new locker room changes, school course offerings, and more.

 

Learning about the Legislative Branch and lawmaking process is good, but actively being engaged in the process is great! I know you will enjoy this hands-on simulation as you incorporate it within your Civics and Government classes. It has proven to be a fantastic way to experience the Legislative Branch coming to life! You’re going to love it, and your students will too!  You can get the Legislative Branch Simulation here or by clicking the image below. Let me know how it goes! What other engaging activities and lessons have you incorporated into your civics classes? Comment below and while you're at it, subscribe to the Mister Harms email list for future posts and updates.

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WELCOME!

Hey thanks for stopping by! I'm Mister Harms and I teach Junior High and High School Social Studies in a small-town school.  During the summer months when I'm not teaching, I enjoy helping lead a youth camp that focuses on life transformation.  I truly enjoy teaching and learning because of the influence that knowledge and experiences can have on lives.   

I started teaching at the turn of the millennium - or 2000! I am a fourth generation teacher. My Great-Grandfather taught in a one-room school house making $35/month. My Grandmother started in a one-room school house then outgrew that to become a lifelong teacher (I even had Grandma as my 3rd grade teacher). Both of my parents were career teachers, some of my siblings are educators and I even married a Kindergarten teacher.  So, I guess you could say it runs in the family!  Now I get to teach another generation of students and I have enjoyed each step of the way!

So what's my teaching style? Student engagement. High-quality content. Hands-on activities. Diversified learning. Group collaboration. These are the goals and buzz-words of hope, but ultimately I desire to make learning fun for my students and helping them grow while adding value to their lives.  I hope to use this blog as a way to keep myself engaged and gaining from others in my desire to be rooted in truth, growing in freedom, and prospering in all of life! I look forward to learning from other great teachers, as well as non-teachers, who have a desire to do the same.  Let's see where this takes us!  Here's to the classroom and beyond! 

- Mister Harms

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