Socratic Seminars. Tea Parties. Historian’s Breakfast. Process Dramas. In today’s relevant classroom, simulations are everywhere. Simulations — intentionally staged activities and event that bring real world experiences in the classroom setting so as to enhance student learning — are an integral portion of a student’s learning and understanding of concepts in today’s global classroom. Simulations — no matter how simple or complex — are a powerful learning tool in that often mimic real life and real world experiences. According to Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience, the very best learning experiences occur when doing the real thing. Simulations fall only second to the “real thing.” Therefore, to create meaningful learning for students, simulations should be planned and included in their educational process.
So what does this mean for a school counselor? How can a school counselor create simulation experiences that are meaningful, authentic, and have a lasting impact on student learning? How does a counselor engage students using simulations that impact the academic, social-emotional, career, or global development of a child? Should school counselors spend time creating simulations or should that work be left to homeroom teachers?
Just like a homeroom teacher, a counselor should be skilled in creating simulations to engage student inquiry and learning. One way I have managed to successfully use simulations to create meaningful learning opportunities for students is during our elementary to middle school transition program. In spite of all three divisions being housed on the same gated campus, our grade 5 students complete a comprehensive transitions guidance program. This includes classroom guidance around reflecting on the elementary and PYP experience, having questions answered about middle school and the MYP, participating in middle school tours, meeting middle school ambassadors and advisors, attending a middle school assembly, and more. However, what came to surface is that even with all this programming, students still walked around with a lot of unease and trepidation about what middle school looks like, feels like, and sounds like. The unknown experiences were causing a lot of stress. I could answer all the questions I wanted about changing for PE but since the students had never experienced this activity — their unease remained.
Enter guidance simulation activity.
After consulting with the grade five teaching team, a Middle School Mock Day simulation was designed and implemented. This means our grade 5 students spend a whole day experiencing middle school in the comfort of their own elementary hall.
How it works: Each homeroom teacher is assigned a teaching subject for the day. These subjects are based off the current offerings our grade six students have. We bring in specialist teachers to cover specific subjects and to create prep periods for our homeroom teachers. A master set of student schedules is created based on the middle school timetable (55 minute classes with 5 minute passing periods). Students are assigned a schedule at random with consideration being made to accommodate mother tongue class needs. PE space, break space, canteen needs, supervision, and supplies are all arranged as necessary. A meeting is held with all staff involved or impacted by Mock Day to go over logistics and questions. Students are then briefed about the day and informed that, just like in middle school, they are going to have a random, rotating schedule of classes that is made up of random groupings of their peers. They are informed that they might not have all the classes being offered (as true at the middle school level) and that they might have different peers in each class. They are also notified about now only having one lunch break (compared to the 2 in elementary) as well as only having one small “play” area instead of a playground. They are told about the daily advisory class in middle school which in the simulation means the students go back to their homeroom teachers to do some debriefing and reflecting about the day. Just like in middle school, advisory is a brief time with a trusted adult to discuss current things happening in the students’ lives and create strategies or interventions to solve problems and be successful. In the Mock Day simulation planning process we try to balance the amount of information we provide students so that they are comfortable while still leaving room for inquiry and for an organic experience to unfold. It is important to let the day play out for the students — we have not made everything “safe” for them which would create an inauthentic experience as there are always unknowns in life.
To allow the simulation to have the most impact we also enforce middle school rules: students must wear pants (no shorts) with their uniform, they cannot use mobile phones as devices, they collect tardies if they do not make it to class on time during the five minute transition and — the biggest one of all — the students have to change into and out of their PE uniforms prior to PE (which every student is guaranteed to have on his/her schedule). *Out of all the biggest fears, worries, and concerns about moving to middle school, changing for PE is consistently listed as the biggest worry. Once again, we could talk about it being easy and not scary but until the students experience it, the fear remains real.*
On Mock Day, students arrive to school with their schedules and begin the rotation process. A bell is used to indicate the start and end of classes and warnings are provided as the 5 minute passing period counts down. When staff see students struggling, frustrated, or perhaps engaged in an undesirable behavior, we pull the student aside to have a conversation and to make a connection to middle school. Every situation is presented as a learning experience.
The energy at the start of Mock Day is high. Students are excited, staff are engaged, and learning is occurring authentically. Not only is there the academic learning, but more importantly, social and emotional learning is taking place. It is amazing to see the student energy shift throughout the day when students get settled in. The frenzy dies out and the confidence sets in. Students are spending more of their transition time at their cubbies (lockers), having snacks between classes, visiting with friends. Also, after their PE changing experience when students successfully change clothes, fill their water bottles, and make it to class on time, the smile on their faces is evidence that this unease about changing is diminishing — through experience, the students have developed in the social-emotional domain.
By the end of Mock Day, students are tired yet happy and invigorated. The feedback/reflection sheets are genuinely positive and supportive of the simulation process. Student feedback shows an increase in confidence about middle school, a connection that middle school is not that different from middle school, an excitement to move up to the middle school campus, and a lot of thanks for having the mock day simulation.
So, do simulations have a place in guidance? Is it the school counselor’s responsibility to provide experiential learning opportunities for students? Absolutely. By providing a Mock Day for our students, the middle school transition process moved from theoretical to concrete. Students developed not only in the academic but also the social-emotional domains. Through a simulation, students were able to experience activities that helped alleviate concerns and fears. The simulation helped students develop confidence and understand that in all actuality, middle school is not so different from elementary. Most importantly, the simulation allowed students to face the unknown in a supportive, familiar environment surrounded by their peers and teachers who could address concerns and celebrate successes as they happened.
This is one method of using simulations to promote guidance activities. What are some other ideas on how to use simulations as a school counselor? How have you used simulations to support the academic, career, or social-emotional development of students?