What if you could teach advanced concepts in such a way that they seep into students’ awareness through application, rather than lecture-and-memorization?

What if you could simulate real-world applications of your course content, bringing ideas to life (and answering: When will we ever need this?) without having to arrange field trips or guest speakers?

To me, this is the dream. I want my Psych students to experience a live experiment in a lab. I want my Econ students to observe consumer and firm decision-making — and sit in on a meeting at the Fed. This kind of learning is high-impact and high-engagement, and it’s all too rare in our schools.

For the past few months, I’ve been working on three major curriculum projects to bring high-engagement, active-teaching strategies to a wider audience:

  • A teacher guide and lessons to help students learn advanced business concepts by running their own virtual companies
  • A handbook for coaching student entrepreneurs through the lean startup process
  • A teachers’ manual with strategies for teaching every topic in AP Micro- and Macroeconomics

I’m excited to see these projects coming to market this spring, starting with the Glacier Peak simulation and Teacher Guide, which is available now.

Glacier Peak is one of the most innovative curriculum ideas I’ve ever been involved in. The founder, Daran Han, has an MBA and a vision that so much of what students learn in MBA programs (and in business careers) could be taught just as well through a virtual simulation. And to high school students (I totally agree. Now let’s develop simulator programs to teach law, government, psychology, journalism, science and engineering courses.)

 

When I first met Daran last summer, he walked me through the simulator, and I was intrigued by all of the concepts students could learn just by playing this game, from terms like “supply chain” and “recruitment costs” to processes like viability testing and product positioning to skills like interpreting a financial statement.

I tested the program with my Econ Concepts class — a tough audience — and it was a huge win. Their pretest score average was 3/25, and the post-test score average was 14/25. No lecture, just the game.

 

 

In class, when we used the simulator, I overheard comments like “I can’t believe I sound like a nerd talking about costs and profits!” and “Watch me go home and play this and win.”
Trust me, they didn’t say that about my other lessons.

Just the other day, one of those students — who complains that most of his classes are boring, and he can’t focus — said, “I really miss playing Glacier Peak.” This student made over 1000 decisions in the simulator and earned a virtual million bucks for his bike shop. It was, as several of the students told me, their best learning experience of the year.

 

 

I did notice a few drawbacks in the simulation when I piloted it. It was a little confusing for a novice, and I squandered some of the potential learning opportunities by just letting kids play, rather than guiding them. Fortunately, I was able to work with Daran to address those issues from an educator perspective.

Now Glacier Peak comes with a teachers’ guide that includes 15 lessons and embedded activities that let students learn how product testing works, understand demand, supply and global trade from the perspective of a business owner, and create advertising and board reports for their virtual businesses. (You can find a preview of the curriculum here.)

I’m pretty sure my post-test scores will be even higher next time.
If you’re passionate about student engagement, I hope you’ll check it out. And if you have ideas for improving it, email me (or Daran).We share a vision that the best learning happens when students are deeply engaged, when they’re enjoying the challenge and the process so much that they don’t realize they are “learning.”

I’ll let you know when the other projects are ready to roll.