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 ratings...so 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.