The Making History Project is a classroom humanities simulation wherein students, grades four and up, undertake the challenge of building a rich culture or civilization from scratch. Each simulated society begins with relatively few technological skills, similar to the way early humans lived tens of thousands of years ago. During the four to seven month duration of the project, the simulation traverses thousands of years of cultural complexity and brings some of the civilizations into a bronze age. The challenge of the simulation is to cooperate as a team: to create and develop a rich culture; to work with specific and limited natural resources; to trade and interact with other societies; and to research, invent, and document the whole development in journals. The students celebrate their achievements and conclude the project with a presentation of traditional foods, stories, dances, and ceremonies developed by their truly unique societies.


The Making History Project began in 1996 at Alternative Elementary School II, a constructivist public school in Seattle. I worked as an artist in residence there for over eight years, where he and then third/fourth grade teacher Steve Chavez first conceived of the curriculum while playing the old Avalon Hill board game, Civilization, designed by UK game designer Francis Tresham. I designed the first edition of the curriculum for Steve's class, to excite his students and indroduce them to universal aspects and componants of culture. Whereas Civilization is a competitive game and focuses on advancement and competition, Making History is an educational simulation; it is therefore not intrinsically competitive, but requires extensive writing, research, and creativity rather than strategy—although, for some culture-groups, strategy may play a role.

That first unit in Steve Chavez's classroom spanned fewer than three weeks. But during the following year, I expanded upon Making History for use in teacher Pat Graves's class of fifth and sixth graders. This second edition unit lasted about a month. Then, two years later, in another teacher at AEII, Rick Lemberg, asked me to teach the unit with his fifth and sixth graders. I totally overhauled the project, adding an extensive list of natrual resources as an aspect of the game. The project took over four months to complete, and proved to be an unforgettable experience for many of our students.

Since 2001, Rick has taught the curriculum in his class at AEII (now called Thornton Creek Elementary School). You may be able to see what his class did with Making History last year here. As Rick continued the project, I earned my treaching credential so that I could someday teach the project on my own. Unfortunately, teacher resistance to the demands of the new curriculum delayed me until I moved to California, where Carol Cooper, head of an innovative charter school in Sausalito, Willow Creek Academy, welcomed the project.

From 2005-2007, working with teachers Wendy Powell and Nathania Jacobs, I taught the curriculum to six, seventh, and eighth graders at Willow Creek Academy. The diverse cultural backgrounds of these students—most who lived in Marin City—added a wealth of fabulous experiences to the project. During the final celebration feast, students eagerly scarfed down curried chick peas, smoked salmon, mangoes, dates, and rice pudding. Students shared elaborate dances and agricultural rituals unique to their invented cultures.

In 2007, Brian Williamson and Nicolette Jenson, teachers at Seattle's Salmon Bay School, took an interest in the project, and taught it beautifully in two classrooms of fifth graders at Salmon Bay School during 2007-2008.

It is my hope that as word spreads about the high level of student engagement and the wealth of student centered learning focused on the rich and diverse cultural history of our planet.


Below are links to two videos from Rick's class during their work on the Making History Project:


Fish Market Video


Invention and Technology Video