Back in the 1970's I taught a high school social studies course called "War and Peace Studies."
A recent email exchange reminded me of a simplified version of the Prisoner's Dilemma that I created for use in the classroom.
The Prisoner's Dilemma is a fundamental exercise in game theory and serves as a great catalyst for discussions about decision making, communications, ethics and responsibility.
First, the classic example of the Prisoner's Dilemma from Wikipedia:
Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?
How I adapted for classroom use
Students were divided into two separate locations. (Group A and Group B). Once divided, I managed the game - shuttling between the two rooms. Both groups were given the same goal - "To accumulate as many points as possible without helping or hindering the other group." In practice, I found that the point incentive generally faded away as groups just focused on their perception of "winning."
I ran a series of 10 decision rounds. During each 5 minute round both groups were told make a group decision about the choice one of two colors - red or blue. See results chart below.
I did not specify how they were to arrive at the decision within their groups. When each group has completed their decision, I shared results back to each group. As the decision rounds accumulated, players faced the results of cooperation and betrayal.
To add another dimension to the dilemma, periodically (after decision rounds 3 and 6) I invited each group to send a negotiator to a neutral location (usually just the hallway). This was the only communication allowed between the groups. Generally each group was divided over both the instruction to give their negotiator ("bluff 'em" vs "make a deal") and how to interpret the negotiator's "report." Sometimes groups even became mistrustful of their own negotiator.
It usually took about 45-50 minutes to set the game up and go through a series of 7-10 rounds with some negotiation breaks. The homework assignment was to write a reflection "What did I learn about myself during the game?" Loads of great discussion the next day with many great applications to history, current events, group process and ethics.
For great prompts to foster student reflection, see my post "The Reflective Student: The Taxonomy of Reflection.
I frequently guide teachers and administrators on classroom walkthroughs with a focus on observing the students by a focusing on two essential questions: “What kinds of thinking did student need to use in the lesson segment we just saw?” “What choice did students (appear to) have in making decisions about the product, process or evaluation of the learning?”
Unless we institute more genuine assessments, our measures of student achievement will be as inspiring as a steroid-tarnished home run record.
Students are adrift in a sea of text without context. The web may have given us access and convenience, but it’s an artificial world where rants draws more attention than thoughtful discouse. Responsible general interest media are being replaced by a balkanized web where civil discourse is rapidly becoming less civil. It’s time to redefine to the information flow in schools.
Over the last 3 years I have developed a classroom walk through (CWT) approach that works. When I return to a school my goal is to serve as a catalyst for dialogue that can be self-sustaining (read – no consultant required).
During my return visit I typically lead groups of teachers on brief CWTs in an effort to try to identify the instructional elements that we addressed in our large-group session. For example, if my large group session was on fostering higher-level thinking skills, then our CWT focuses on trying to see if the CWT visitors can answer the question, “What kinds of thinking did student need to use in the lesson segment we just saw?” If the large group session addressed fostering student engagement, then my walk-through reflection might be “What choice did students (appear to) have in making decisions about the product, process or evaluation of the learning?”
Here’s my model for effective PD. If the large group is “the lecture,” the CWT is the “lab.” A how to protocol for staff developers.