‘The Trading Game’ ~ A classroom simulation

As part of our final PYP unit of inquiry for this year my students are examining the central idea “Organization is critical to the effective use of natural resources.”  In researching Canada’s natural resources, we discovered that many ‘regions’ (physical or political) produce specific natural resources. This means, that it is necessary to ‘share’ or ‘trade’ them in order for them to be used effectively. As we dug deeper into our inquiry, I suggested that we could try and simulate how we could share the natural resources to discover why organization was so important.

My students were full of ideas about how we should structure the simulation that I was referring to as “The Trading Game”. One of the books that we had explored was from the Close Up Canada Series – Canada’s Natural Resources. This book had classified natural resources into 5 categories – forests (pulp and paper, habitats), water (fresh water, aquaculture), land/soil (agriculture), rocks/minerals, and energy. After we had learned about the various natural resources each group of students was assigned a physical region of Canada to research and had to learn about the natural resources present in that environment.

Then came developing the game!

As a class we decided that for our purposes each physical region would have the same ‘number’ of resources to export or trade in the game at the beginning of the game; however, as a few groups learned, the population is certain parts of the country (Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Lowlands) was a much greater percentage of the population so they would require a greater percentage of the resources. Thus, the amount of resources you needed to have at the end of the simulation could be higher or lower than your starting number.  It was interesting to develop the game as a class as a discussion because each physical region needed to make sure that they were representing the best interests of their region.

The following chart was created during our discussion. The blue numbers represent how many resources each group will begin with and the red numbers in the circles represent how many resources they need to finish with.

The Trading Game Organizational Chart

This was the chart that was created to record our starting values (in blue) and finishing values (in red).

Next came the discussion about who would be allowed to trade with who. As we had not discussed ‘modes of transportation’ yet, it was decided that you would only be able to trade with your neighbour – based on the location on a map. This meant that if you were the Cordillera and you needed to trade with the Appalachians – you would need the Interior Plains and the Canadian Shield to assist you in the process. This added an interesting element of challenge – but also helped to develop the conceptual understanding of ‘organization’ within the process of utilizing natural resources effectively.

In looking for an easy way to represent each ‘natural resource’ in the trading game we used the ‘square tiles’ from a math manipulative bin. Each colour represented a different resource which made it visually easy to see. In order to keep track of all of the ‘natural resources’ each group used white stickers as labels to stick on their ‘squares’ and write the name of their physical region so we could track where each resource had started. As they needed to export their resources, at the end of the simulation they needed to have resources from different regions – not their own. They also needed to be conscious about having a ‘variety’ within the type of resource as ‘land/soil’ from one region would provide different resources than ‘land/soil’ from another region. This simple tracking step seemed to do the trick.

This photo shows the labeling system that was developed to keep track of where the resources had originated from.

This photo shows the labeling system that was developed to keep track of where the resources had originated from.

Throughout the trading, students were required to record the ‘trades’ that they were making. The first ’round’ students found this difficult and many partnerships were having discussions about it. When we experienced a ‘deep freeze’ in the ‘Winter’ that required us to pause the game because all transportation methods were closed, we had a good discussion about using ‘systems’ and ‘strategies’ to ‘communicate’ within the partnership to make the process more ‘effective’. It was so great to hear the students using the language from the central idea and related concepts to the unit in trying to resolve the problems that they were experiencing.

After we had our discussion, the students returned all of the resources to their ‘origin’ and we began the game again using our new knowledge to see if we could do the process more effectively. It was so interesting to see how the strategies that students were using changed, but also how the roles within the small groups also adjusted. They were much more strategic and aware of communicating clearly with the other members of their group in the second round.

At the end of the second round, we had a large group ‘knowledge building’ talk to try and make the connection between our ‘game’ and the real world. Some of the question prompts that I used are:

What are some of the things you noticed playing the trading game?
What were some ways or strategies that you used to be more organized?
Why was it important to be organized?
How does this game represent what happens in Canada? around the world?
What do you think would happen if we weren’t organized in the ways that we used our natural resources?

Some of the comments were:
“there wasn’t many connecting trades because it was too difficult to organize”
“when it got near the end it got more difficult to make your trades, you also needed to keep certain things that could be traded later”
“think about what you are going to trade – plan – helps you not make extra trades”
“have specific roles that help each other so we weren’t try to do the same thing at the same time”

I am looking forward to our continued discussion and ideas that students use in the reflection on this process.


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