What would happen if you gave fourth-graders the opportunity to grapple with some of the world's thorniest political problems? Too complex for tender young minds? Think again. John Hunter has learned that 10-year-olds can arrive at some pretty sophisticated solutions when given the tools and freedom to think critically.
That's exactly what unfolds each year in Hunter's classroom when his students play the World Peace Game, a multi-dimensional game Hunter created that encourages kids to find solutions for international problems that range from global warming to water rights.
As a fourth-grade teacher with the Albemarle County Schools in Charlottesville, Virginia, Hunter has won numerous awards for his instructional model. But the educator gained national acclaim following his 2011 TED presentation; he was even named one of Time magazine's 12 education activitists for 2012.
Hunter will present his ideas in Memphis June 13 and 14, at the Martin Institute For Teaching Excellence at Presbyterian Day School. The institute provides workshops and conferences to educators across the Mid-South and around the world. It was Jamie Baker, director of strategic partnerships for Martin Institute, who connected with Hunter after seeing his work. Hunter is now a Martin Institute Fellow, and with Baker, will be providing a host of teacher training workshops around the nation this summer.
What makes Hunter's program so beneficial is that once he explains the game's rules, he acts as a facilitator to students, someone who presents new problems and challenges but then takes a backseat, allowing students to arrive at their own solutions. "I can't tell them anything because I don't have the answers," he said during a presentation at the National Association of Independent Schools. "I admit the truth, I don't know. Because I don't know, they have to dig up the answers."
Hunter sees the game as multi-faceted, one that teaches strategic problem-solving, as well as leadership development, research, and individual engagement. His classroom was recently the focus of a documentary that is airing on PBS. World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements will be broadcast locally on WKNO-TV on Saturday, June 16, at 4 p.m. It also airs on Comcast Cable Channel 910 on Friday, June 15 at 5 a.m. and Thursday, June 21, at 4 a.m.
Teachers will discuss the kind of changes they can bring to their classroom to foster the critical thinking Hunter sees blossom when students tackle the World Peace Game. "The linchpin," says Baker, "is the role of a teacher. Many see themselves as in control of the classroom. They need to move to leveraging the learning environment and providing different tools. If you change the way someone believes, then they can change the way they act."