Friday, May 27, 2022
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Students Command Classroom in Innovative Honors Course

Eyes swiveled towards room 313 as “God Save the Queen” melodically filled Haag Hall, the chorus of student voices drowning out Wednesday afternoon yawns. Some students began to peer into the classroom, only to be greeted by two professors decked out in 19th-century garb: Dr. Henrietta Wood, smiling beneath her bonnet and awash in a petticoat and floor-length dress, and Dr. Aaron Reed, adjusting a thick, gray cloak and long gloves.

Despite their attention-grabbing wardrobe choices, Wood and Reed remained at the back of the classroom for the full, 75-minute period of their course Honors Anchor I: Reacting to the Past. Instead of lecturing, the faculty members attentively observed as their students participated in what has come to be known as “the Darwin game.”

“The Darwin Game is one of the two ‘Reacting to the Past’ games that our Honors Anchor 1 class is playing this semester,” Wood said. “‘Reacting to the Past’ is a series of historical role-playing games that invite students to explore important issues and ideas by recreating the historical contexts that generated those issues and ideas. We are recreating… the debate about Charles Darwin’s natural selection theory in London from 1862-1864.”

As part of this recreation, students adopt historically accurate roles, including titles such as the anthropologist, the astronomer, and the geologist. Together, these roles represent the general body of the Royal Society of London.

Freshman Landon Volkmann acts as the head of the Royal Society. His job is to facilitate discussion and “keep the peace,” as the two factions of the class— the adamantly religious and the more scientific— enthusiastically debate.

“I really like the pace of [the class],” Volkmann said. “We the students get to set the pace, we get to set the tone, [and] we get to decide what we want to talk about. It gives us some control and power.”

This student autonomy stands out as what attracted Wood to reacting to the past classes and what inspired her to teach one. She even attended an annual conference at Barnard College that further exposed her to this type of teaching.

According to the Barnard College website, Reacting the Past classes have been added to course offerings at over 300 colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad. Wood and Reed are proud to continue this emerging educational trend and bring it to the forefront at UMKC.

“[Reacting to the Past classes] allow students to see how complex these issues really are—that the answers to the difficult questions cannot fit into 140 characters,” Reed said. “They also have to find their own answers and not just repeat what Dr. Wood or I tell them in a lecture and that may change their opinion on an issue.”

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