Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to all!

Merry Christmas! It's been a good year for Memoir '44 and a great year for the Memoir '44 History Club.

It's hard to imagine that a year ago I hadn't had any History Club classes yet and the club was just theory. Since then we've learned about D-Day and the Island hopping of the Pacific Theater. We've practiced strategies, worked on the rules, learned how to play Overlord, and enjoyed this great game. It's been good for all of us.

Looking at the rest of the school year, I anticipate running two or three other sessions of the club for different groups of students. Members of my current 5th grade class have expressed interest in joining the Memoir '44 Club so I may look into providing a short session for them. Students from last year are eager to sign up, so I'll determine if there's enough interest to run a full session for the 4th grade students I taught last year (as 3rd graders).
Last but not least, I want to provide another session for my original crew of students who are now in 5th grade. This will be their last time to be part of the Memoir '44 History Club and I want to make sure we get some great battles in before they graduate from Jewell Elementary.

It looks to be a busy spring with a lot of Memoir '44. I wouldn't have it any other way. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let the Wild Rumpus Start - Again!

I'm sorry for the long silence over the summer and the first few months of school! I had high hopes of writing some blog entries about books I was reading or battles I was playing during my summer but it just never happened.

We're back and the Memoir '44 History Club has started up again. I only have 10 members for this session. In part this is because some of the students who were in the club last year have moved, a few students play Fall sports and have practice during the club, and one student said that she "wants to take a little break". Most of them want to join up again in the Spring so I may end up with a large group later on.

Even with fewer students, I'm having a great time and I'm happy to offer the club again. We welcomed three new students to the group this year; students I had last year who were eager to join the club even though they playing with 5th graders. They have some catching up to do, but they're smart kids and seem to be doing just fine

Our focus this session is on the Pacific Theater. We started the club last week by watching a few short videos on Pacific battles. I'm trying to make sure the students realize how different the war in the Pacific was from what we've studied in Europe. All of our battles will focus on the Japanese against the US Marines.

Because there are less kids, I have enough Memoir '44 sets for the students to play 1 v. 1 instead of in teams. They love being on their own! It will take a few more battles before they feel comfortable with the new rules in the Pacific expansion, but they have a good base of knowledge and are catching on.

Thanks for your interest in our little game club in Oregon! Welcome back to another great year of the Memoir '44 History Club!

Saturday, May 16, 2009


When Tom Myers came in to visit, he explained his experience in World War II to my students in relatively general terms. The students still got a good idea of what he had been through but weren't subjected to a gory account of the war. While he was in my class, Tom lent me an original comic that was all about his experience. The comic is called "G.I. Thomas R. Myers, Prisoner of War in Germany" and it was writen and drawn by Marcel Scheidweiler, a man who lives in the town of Weiler and talked with Tom extensively about December 1944.

The comic described in very exact detail how I Company, 3rd Battalion, 110th Regiment, 28th US Infantry Division was stationed at Weiler when the Battle of the Bulge started. Tom was part of the 28th Infantry Division and was sleeping when the first artillery shells started hitting the town. He quickly headed out to face the advancing Germans who turned out to be from the 5th Parachute Division. Tom was positioned in a foxhole in front of Weiler but retreated to the town when his foxhole buddy was killed. Tom and the rest of his comrades held Weiler throughout the day on December 16th, 1944 against a far superior German force.

Completely surounded and out of ammo, Tom and his surviving friends tried to escape during that night but most were either killed or captured as they tried to slip through German patrols. Tom spent the rest of the war in a German work camp. Years after the war, the citizens of Weiler remembered the heroic stand of the 28th Infantry Division and named a round-about after Tom Myers. I believe Tom said it was named Myers Square.

In honor of Tom Myers and his incredible experience, I designed a Memoir '44 scenario titled Weiler-Putscheid. This map, as far as I know, is the most historically correct scenario I have ever designed because I used the detailed maps that were included in Mr. Scheidweiler's comic who happens to be a resident of the area. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

High Desert Rendezvous

Wednesday, May 6th, was the High Desert Rendezvous. Many of the teachers who had attended the different history lectures and most of the teachers who received a mini-grant were there. I did a short presentation about my Memoir '44 History Club by showing a movie that I made about the club. The other teachers were very interested in how I used the game to teach history. Most of the people I was talking to were high school or middle school history teachers and Memoir '44 fits perfectly with that age. I had several middle school teachers talk about starting their own clubs!

My presentation elicited a lot of questions. The teachers wanted to know how long we meet for, how the game works, how long it takes the students to set up the battles, and how well the game follows history. I was happy to explain the game system and was able to tell them what a powerful tool Memoir '44 has been for teaching history to my students.

Outside the conference room I set up two Memoir '44 battles: Omaha Beach and Ste. Mère-Église. Days of Wonder very generously donated a Memoir '44 poster for me to use in my presentation and it created quite a stir. Along with the poster and battles, I also displayed pictures from the club, one of our Campaign Bags, some resources I've created, and the three expansions we used in the Memoir '44 History Club (the Air Pack, Terrain Pack, and Pacific Theater). Before they left, every teacher received an educators discount coupon from Days of Wonder to start their own Memoir '44 Club!

The High Desert Rendezvous was a great platform for me to outline how I taught history this year through Memoir '44. I hope the other teachers had as much fun as I did.

Friday, May 1, 2009

History Club Final Session

Thursday, April 30th was our last Memoir '44 History Club session for the 2008-2009 school year. Students and parents brought in snacks and juice. The kids sat around and chatted for the first little while and then we started our last battles.

Two students played Operation Cobra while everyone else settled in for The Cadets of Saumur Overlord battle. As I looked around my classroom, I realized that this was our last time together for a long time. I have plans to resume the Memoir '44 History Club next year with any of these students who are interested and adding in students from my current 3rd grade class, but it'll never be the same as this glorious first year. Who knows, maybe it'll be better.

The students are starting to get really good at Overlord Battles (for 9-10 year old kids) and this battle was exceptionally close. The Germans won with 12 medals to the Allied 11 but it could have gone the other way. Everyone was excited to have such a satisfying battle to close out the year.

Now that we're done meeting for the club I have a lot of work to do in the "off season". I need to consolidate all of the Memoir '44 equipment I have into the most efficient storage equipment, prepare a basic schedule for next year and determine what we're going to study. I plan to design additional tools to help me teach some of the more complex rules to the kids and I hope to make about six or seven Dice Towers following the plans I was given by Jim M.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this club and encouraged us to keep playing. I especially want to thank the Teach American History organization for the grant money that made this project a reality and for their excitement about our activities. Days of Wonder has also been extremely supportive of the Memoir '44 History Club, so I want to thank Eric and his team for their help! I look forward to next year and I'll keep everyone updated on my "off season" projects.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Student Experts vs. Parents

Parents came in and challenged my students to a battle on Tuesday, April 28th. By the end, six parents were able to make it although they couldn't all make it for the very start of the session. Most students chose to pair up with their parents instead of trying to play against them because the adults didn't know the rules very well, if they knew them at all.

Everyone had fun and several times I heard parents comment on how well the kids understand the complex strategies that go into playing Memoir '44. It was fun to watch students explain the rules and explain strategies to their parents.

I chose a relatively simple battle to set up and one that has a good balance of interesting terrain and units but wouldn't overwhelm the parents too much. We played Operation Goodwood. We had enough time for almost every table to switch sides and play both the Axis and Allied side.

The results were mixed and so was the level of parent involvement in the decision-making process. Some parents sat and watched their child play, asking questions about the game or the kid's thinking. Other parents acted more like a teammate and they discussed strategy before each turn. Both methods worked and I was excited for the students to have a chance to show off Memoir '44 and demonstrate how good they are at the game. All of the parents were very impressed and several asked me where they can buy the game to continue playing at home!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Allies Make it Through Hedgerow Hell

The Memoir '44 Club played its last Overlord Battle of the year today. It's actually only our second Overlord Battle (Omaha Beach was our first) but the students were much better about following the rules and knowing what to do.

The boys on both teams chose to be the Field Generals, while the girls were happy to act as Commander-in-Chiefs. Once the battle was set up, an easy task since it's a pre-printed map, we started in. The Allies tried to break out of the Normandy beachhead in this battle and make their way through Hedgerow Hell, hence the name of the scenario.

In a close battle, the Allied pulled out the win with a score of 13 - 10. Both sides were a little surprised the Allies won, but everyone had a lot of fun. Once again students told each other they were going to get this expansion, but I was just happy to see an improved understanding of Overlord tactics and rules.

Next week some parents are coming in to challenge their kids to a Memoir '44 showdown. It'll be experience against age!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Introducing the Air Pack - Mightier Yet!

Today we played with the Air Pack for the first time and the kids loved it! I heard at least half the group vow that they were buying it as soon as they could, which might be a while given that they also want to buy the Terrain Pack, the Pacific Theater, and the Campaign Bag.

We played a battle of my own creation called Orel. It actually takes place on the Eastern Front around the same time as Kursk (the largest tank battle ever). I chose it because it is a well balanced scenario that allows for the use of lots of planes. I took the opportunity to quickly explain how the Russians were connected with the Western Allies we've been learning about before we launched into the battle.

It took a while for the students to learn the Air Rules and I actually simplified them for this first scenario. We limited the planes to only Strafing enemy units in stead of allowing Ground Interdiction because that might have been too much. As it was, I was still busy the whole time fielding questions and clarifying the rules. By the end of the day though, most of the students understood how the planes worked and at least one team used their Messerschmitt with devastating efficiency. They managed to take out three full armor units before succumbing to an Air Check roll (being shot down).

As our club winds down this year (we have three more sessions), my students are already talking about plans and hopes for next year. Kids were asking if we'll be able to play with the Air Pack again next year or if we can use some of the other planes in battles next year. It's encouraging to hear them talk about the club like that because it confirms that the Memoir '44 Club is something they want to do. Spending an extra hour and a half at school every Tuesday and Thursday is a big time commitment and it would seem my students are prepared to make the same commitment next year.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Harold Kurtz - Glider Pilot, Grandpa

Thursday, April 16th, was a day that everyone in the club has been looking forward to since January. For a long time none of us knew which day he would come, but we all wanted my grandpa, Harold Kurtz, to come talk to the club. Yesterday was the day we had been waiting for.

Harold and Polly, my grandma, live in Portland, Oregon and he made the 3 hour drive over the mountains to Bend and arrived just a little before the club started. After asking what I wanted to kids to learn about, he settled into his chair and started explaining his personal history of World War II.

He joined the US Army when he was 18, following two of his brothers into the Air Force. Another brother was in the 5th Armored division and the last was in the Navy. Amazingly, all five brothers survived the war. My grandpa went through flight school and graduated at the top of his class. Because of his skill, he was asked to become an instructor; not liking the idea, Harold failed the instructors test on purpose and as punishment was put in charge of the physical training of recruits.

When he finally got to Europe, Harold was trained to fly gliders and assigned to help fly troops over the Rhine River as part of Operation Varsity. On the morning of March 23rd, his glider made a successful landing under heavy enemy fire and that night he helped hold their perimeter against the only German counter-attack in his sector. After British armor broke through to their position, Harold and the other glider pilots were ordered back across the Rhine to prepare for another landing. The second invasion ended up not being necessary because Paton and his tanks captured a bridge intact.

My students were riveted by his stories and experiences. It might have helped that Harold is an excellent story teller! After questions had been answered, the students gathered around to look at pictures of the gliders, Harold's dog-tags, and his Glider Wings. In all, I believe grandpa's visit will be something the students will remember for a very long time.

Learning about Gliders

In preparation for learning about Operation Varsity, we spent Tuesday, April 14th, learning about gliders and what they did in World War II. The students came in without hardly knowing what a glider was, let alone how they were designed to go into combat and deliver troops, supplies and heavy equipment behind enemy lines.

We spent some time on a slide show that I had created to teach them the basics about gliders and how they were used in battle. Most of the session was spent watching clips from a great movie about gliders called "Silent Wings". They left the club on Tuesday with a lot of background knowledge about Operation Varsity so that when my grandpa comes in, they will have a context to help understand his stories.

If you want to know anything about the creation and use of gliders in World War II, "Silent Wings" is a great resource. It outlines the creation of military glider planes and follows their development through the war, highlighting every conflict where gliders were used. Interviews with surviving glider pilots helps bring this part of World War II history alive.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Introduction to the Pacific Theater

It was a week of firsts for the Memoir '44 History Club. Today, Thursday, April 9, we played a battle from the Pacific Theater called Bloody Ridge that was a good introduction to the new rules that come with the Imperial Japanese Army and the US Marines. Both sides only have Infantry and a single Artillery unit, which meant the students could focus on remembering the new elements of the battle.

After seeing their excitement and interest in learning more about the Pacific Theater, I'm planning to spend some time next year studying that part of the war and playing battles set there. I think it also helps that this Memoir '44 expansion is new to the kids and takes the game to another level for them. As always, I was amazed at the questions and interest my students had. Without them even realizing it, I think I've created a group of young historians!

Next week we launch into more of the history once again. We'll be studying about the Rhine Crossing and specifically about the glider operations that helped the troops hop the Rhine River. Check back in next week to find out why we're studying this.


We pulled out the Breakthrough map for our session on April 7, 2009 and students had the chance to try this new battle format for the first time. They loved it.

The Breakthrough map, for those of you who don't know, is basically two normal maps placed top to bottom and creating an extra deep map. The kids weren't sure how to change their tactics for this new format and the Axis players never really tried to break through to the Allied baseline. Instead they got bogged down fighting the Allied defensive positions and often suffered because of a lack of cover. When we try this format again, I think they will improve their strategy and enjoy more success.

We were also visited by Carrie Carpenter (right, talking to students about the game) from Teach American History (TAH), the organization that provided the funds for this whole club to happen. She said that she was very impressed with the level of critical thinking going on and the amount of excitement from the students. I don't always realize how much is going on every Tuesday and Thursday because I see it every day, but in retrospect I would have to admit that I don't usually see the same level of engagement every day in class.

There's something genuinely fun about playing this board game with friends twice a week that the kids apparently look forward to (although the boys in the picture to the left look pretty intense). When I see my club members in the halls during school, almost without fail they say something like, "I'll see you at the club" or, "See you this afternoon for Memoir '44".

I'm glad they're having fun!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Editing Scenarios - Part 2

Our second day of editing our Hurtgen Forest scenarios went much better than our first. It often happens in education that the students do better on the second day of an activity because they know what to expect and they understand the task better.

We had time to play through 5 different versions of the battle on Thursday, April 2nd. One table played a long battle that took most of the time but the other two tables flew through their battles and were able to set up and play another one. Each student took notes while their battle was being played and I helped them work to improve the design and historical accuracy of each scenario.

Only one student had time to get on a computer and finalize his battle but the result turned out better than I had expected. I've posted it on the Jewell History Club User Page on the Days of Wonder web site for everyone to look at. As other scenarios are edited and completed, I'll make them available as well.

I know that the students would be thrilled to see people playing their battles. If you decide to try one (or all) of their scenarios, keep in mind that these students are 9-10 years old and this is their first effort. We worked on the historical backgrounds together so those will look remarkably similar but I allowed them full creative license with the map itself. As a result, you'll see some interesting terrain features in Hurtgen Forest that might not be realistic (a moat around one of the towns, for example).

After playing one of their scenarios, please take a moment to write a short AAR (After Action Report) so the students know that you played their scenario. If you would like you can also rate their scenario but again, I don't want them to feel discouraged because they got low be gentle with them.

The students had a lot of fun designing these scenarios and are proud of their first efforts. They'll probably look back in a few years and shudder, but for now they're riding high.

This picture shows Francisco taking notes on his scenario while his group continues.
He is the only student who has finished his battle and published it for people to play.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Editing Scenarios

Students worked on editing the Hurtgen Forest scenarios that they created a while back. I printed off all of their different versions of the battle and they grouped up to test the battles.

You could sense the pride of the students who's battles were being played and the quiet determination they had to improve the map. Armed with pencils, they played the battle and listed ideas that their fellow group members suggested. We will work on improving the scenarios before we post them for everyone to see.

The students are still young and many of the nuances of creating successful scenarios are beyond them, but their efforts are noble. This first scenario is an important step in their educational journeys and may be something that they shake their heads at later in life. Having said that, I believe they should all be proud of these scenarios and judging by their behavior on Tuesday I think they are.

Friday, March 27, 2009

History Week

Sorry it's taken so long to update everyone on last week's activities. I'm on Spring Break and it's been a busy week of doing nothing!

We had visitors to our club last week and unfortunately I forgot to get any pictures of our first guest. Luckily he wants to see how Memoir '44 works so we'll have him back another time and I can get a picture then.

On Tuesday, March 17th, we were visited by Tom Myers. Tom (as he prefered to be called) is a veteran of World War II and was a reserve for the 5th Armored when they hit the Siegfried line. Later he was transferred to the 28th Infantry Division and fought in Hurtgen Forest. When he was finally moved out of that dark forest, he helped defend the small town of Weiler as part of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 110th Regiment 28th US Infantry Division. On December 16, 1944 the Germans started the battle that became known as the Battle of the Bulge and attacked Weiler. Tom and his unit successfully defended the town until they were surrounded and then pulled back to rejoin their battalion HQ. Most of the men didn't make it and Tom was captured on December 17, 1944.

Tom shared his amazing story with the students and then they had a chance for some very interesting questions. Tom was very humble as he showed them his medals (including a Bronze Star) and when he was asked what he got the medals for, simply said, "I did my job."

On Thursday, March 19th, Peter Hawkins came to talk with the club. Because it was just before Spring Break, many of the students couldn't be there but Mr. Hawkins (as he wanted us to call him) provided some good information for the students that were there. Mr. Hawkins was in the military starting in 1967 and had family from Germany who were in World War II. He studied the war and received a Masters in Military History with a focus on World War II from American Military University.

Mr. Hawkins helped put the War in context for the students and answered many of their questions. He also brought some of his World War II collections including several GI Joe collectables, a dummy pineapple grenade, and some .50 caliber bullets. This is a picture of Peter Hawkins with the students who were able to come learn from him.

Thank you to both guests who came to spend time with my students! They will never forget it and I believe they now have a better understanding of World War II history because of your visits. Thank you.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Scenario Design

Last week we spent both days researching a battle and then designing a scenario to match it. I discovered that designing a Memoir '44 scenario may be expecting too much from 9 year-olds, but I've been surprised by these kids before so I won't give up yet. It may just take a few tries before they manage to create a quality scenario.

We read about the battle for Hurtgen Forest in the lead-up to the Battle of the Bulge. The students helped me write the historical background and then worked on the map design by themselves. They had some trouble knowing where to place the terrain and units to make an interesting and even battle, but they had a lot of fun trying to figure it out.

We'll do some editing work but the most important step will be when we play them, which will show them what changes they need to make. While the scenarios may not be incredibly accurate, they do give a sense of the battle and they are a good first try.

I meant to take pictures of the students working on computers but got so engrosed in our work that I forgot. I'll make sure to get some pictures next time.

Friday, March 6, 2009

D-Day Landings Completed

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 was an historical day for the Memoir '44 History Club, here at Jewell Elementary. It marked the start of Operation Overlord for a group of 13 young generals as they stormed the beaches of Normandy and defended the coast of France.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009 marked the end of those landings with the completion of Omaha Beach. The D-Day Landings Tournament is over. We learned about the Allied invasion of France, talked about the Allied deception, and reviewed the historical results of each landing beach. Students played each of the Memoir '44 D-Day beach landing battles from both sides.

The top two teams played in the finals for the title of D-Day Champion. The Pickled Ponies were in the lead with 4 previous victories, but they were up-set by FS 101 Duel Shock. In a close battle, the Pickled Ponies lost the advantage in the first round of Omaha Beach and never managed to recover from their medal deficit.

Our D-Day Champions are Francisco and Skyler, members of FS 101 Duel Shock. Congratulations boys, you earned it!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Launch Operation Overlord

As we come to the end of our D-Day Landing Tournament, I decided it was time to take a quick break from tournament battles to try an Overlord battle. For those of you who don't play Memoir '44, an Overlord battle is where you take two boards and put them end-to-end. Two teams face off on a map that is more detailed than a normal map can be.

In an Overlord battle, each side has three Field Generals who are in charge of the troops in their section only. Behind the Field Generals are Commanders-in-Chief who hold the cards and hand out orders as they see fit. The whole process is designed to mirror the real complications and limitations that Generals and Commanders faced on the battle field.

My students squared off on the Omaha Beach Overlord Battle. They chose their teams; three Field Generals on one side and four on the other. The Commanders-in-Chief reviewed their cards while I reviewed the Overlord-specific rules with them. The battle was crazy, noisy, fast, and surprisingly close. In the end the Germans won by a single medal. Everyone had fun.

In a discussion afterward, the students could see how difficult communication during battle could be for generals and their staff. They are eager to try another Overlord battle.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

WWII game gets kids hooked on history, Bulletin says

The article about the Memoir '44 History Club apeared in the local newspaper, the Bend Bulletin, on Wednesday, February 18th. It was the central article on the Local page and continued onto a second page.

With a little bit of help I now have access to an online version of the newspaper article for people to look at. With as many international and cross-country fans as we have, it's nice for everyone to have the chance to read the article. Click here to read it or click on the picture I took of the newspaper.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thank You, Bend Bulletin and Sheila Miller!

The Bend Bulletin ran an article on our Memoir '44 History Club on Wednesday, February 18th. The article was very informative for readers who have never played Memoir '44 before, but also explained what the students are learning from the club and how history is a huge part of every session.

The students and I were thrilled with the article and most of my students are convinced that they're celebrities now. The result in the local community couldn't have surprised me more. I have received e-mails from people who are almost as excited about my club as I am. One couple even donated a 24-volume set of World War II encyclopedias that we can use for researching battles or to answer questions we might come up with. Possibly the most exciting development is that several local veterans have expressed interest in talking to the club since they found out about our club. If they are able to come, it'll be a new and amazing way for the students to learn about World War II.

Thank you Bend Bulletin and Sheila Miller.

I'm not sure why, but my students wanted a serious picture. We really were happy about the article, promise!