Mussolini's missing marbles: simulating history at GCSE


By Arthur Chapman and James Woodcock, published 31st August 2006

Arthur Chapman and James Woodcock have collaborated before: Woodcock extended Chapman’s familiar casual metaphor of the final straw breaking a poor abused camel’s back. Here, they collaborate more explicitly to suggest a means of teaching students to produce adequately nuanced historical explanation. Their two central ideas are to produce a decisionmaking simulation (using PowerPoint) to enable students to make the kinds of decisions that might have faced participants in the Abyssinian crisis, and to ask students to design a game to simulate the process. The effect of these activities is to leave students with a fantastic level of detailed knowledge of the events of the Abyssinian crisis – a knowledge obtained as far as possible without using hindsight. Their students are also inspired by creating a game to think carefully about the relative importance of each part of the causal explanation. Chapman and Woodcock’s prose – and the students’ responses – are rich with causal metaphors which might aid students’ understanding. This article also contains a rich analysis of the types of causal errors students make – and why they are errors, and what to do about them. Most importantly, though, it brings exciting, active teaching and learning to GCSE history, in a manner bound to engage students of all abilities.

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