Teacher’s Center

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Several years ago, James Francis, the author of Living the Past: World History Computer Simulations, faced the problem many of you face when teaching ancient history: “How do I make a bunch of dead people come alive to my students?” Over the course of several years, he developed a series of PowerPoint® simulations that provide a fun way to show students what life was like in the past, why civilizations developed as they did, and how historical outcomes are not inevitable but contingent on the choices people make. The activities contained in Living the Past present ancient history in an innovative and engaging way that helps students make the emotional connection to people who lived hundreds to thousands of years ago.


Living the Past contains seven titles covering the historical eras of Ancient Greece, Phoenicia, Persia, Rome, and Feudalism. Trade, global economics, and warfare and alliances are also explored. Students assume the roles of everyday people from past civilizations and work in teams to vie for primacy in historical settings and situations. In the process, they learn core content, important historical and sociological concepts, and cooperative learning and decision-making skills.


Each title in Living the Past includes a teacher guide with student handouts and an interactive PowerPoint® electronic game board that provides maps, playing pieces and a process to conduct the simulation. Ideal for interactive whiteboards, the simulations can also be played on a computer attached to a projector. Each simulation is appropriate for grades 6-12 and covers key National Council for History Education content standards.


In the titles “Feudalism,” the “Persian War,” “River Civilizations,” and “Tribes,” students are grouped together and given the task of developing their societies and defending them against potential enemies. They have to make decisions on forming alliances, preparing defenses, allocating resources, going to war, and all the while building their societies. The individual groups have different, sometimes conflicting, objectives presenting dilemmas and challenges that students have to problem-solve to succeed in the simulation. Essential questions such as “What is the role of warfare and conquest?”, “How have societies transformed in the wake of economic and political pressures?”, and “What does the comparative history of nations tell us of common human needs, aspirations, and reaction to adversity?” are explored.


In the titles “Phoenician Trade,” “The Silk Road,” and Roman Trade,” students become traders on one of the first major cross-continental exchange networks, learning how trade routes become established, how buying and selling fundamentals within a market situation work,  and how prices generally rise as goods are sold across a network. Some of the essential questions explored in these simulations are “How did geography shape the evolution of early societies?”, “What role does human migration and advancing technologies play in developing societies?”, “What are the comparisons of economic history between societies?”, and “How have societies transformed their indigenous institutions under pressure from other aspects of life?”  In the process, students learn about economic concepts such as supply and demand, the impact of market forces, and risk-taking.


Living the Past provides teachers with much flexibility for instructing a wide range of ages and abilities and presents opportunities to integrate academic content surrounding the different eras featured. Students are engaged with the visual displays and sequential activities of armies moving across battlefields, merchants traveling to distant lands, and civilizations struggling with the challenges of building military and monetary strength while maintaining the morale of the population.


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