Wyoming — It was Election Day in the world of medieval wizards, warriors, developing markets and governments known as VanEnktopia at Wyoming Junior High.
Current leader and vice leader Jeremiah Thompson and Zack Kinney were running for a second term in the simulated country, and wanted to change their form of government from a democracy to a monarchy.
But they faced challenges from three other candidate teams: Javeon Evans and Adrian Brooks, Max Fitzgerald and Zach Goff, and Anahi Flores-Cruz and Trinity Beek.
Each team gave campaign speeches to their seventh-grade peers, and included slideshows that addressed what kind of government they would run, along with culture, economy and language under their leadership. Challengers said they would run democracies, and had varying opinions on whether to allow students to wear hoods and play music in class. They expressed opinions on how to respond to invasions and other virtual dilemmas.
After a quick but intense tally, the class had elected new leaders: Anahi and Trinity.
“I wanted to be leader of the class because everyone who was previously leader looked like they had a lot of fun,” Anahi said. “I like this process that my teacher has because I think it’s really fun, and it makes learning better.”
In a separate vote, the class elected Tiffany DeMaagd as secretary.
As leader, Anahi appointed a constable and judge to help manage the classroom. She will also help lead lessons, share good news, answer questions, check assignment progress and give the class a “grade” on how they are performing.
Trinity assists the leader and steps in if Anahi is ever absent. Tiffany is in charge of technology, like chargers and spare Chromebooks. She also hands out paper and organizes materials.
“I wanted to make the classroom a better and comfortable environment for people to learn, to have fun and make sure we get our work done,” added Trinity. “I like that we have a lot of freedom in the classroom. I want to be a part of that and make the classroom even better.”
Wizards, Warriors and Social Studies?
Since 2017, social studies teacher Brent VanEnk has blended VanEnktopia with traditional instruction. He has evolved the virtual world into a website other teachers can access, called Teachertopia. Each year, students add their own elements to the ongoing story of medieval life, where vikings, scribes and mythical creatures co-exist. The goal is to create a thriving civilization complete with economy, military and culture. The world operates virtually and – as the election demonstrated– in everyday classroom lessons.
‘Now they can say, ‘our country has a democracy for this reason. Kim Jong-Un has a dictatorship for this reason.’ It’s something I don’t have to really quiz them on or test them on, which is fun.’— social studies teacher Brent VanEnk
“The coolest part is all the kids made this over the past five years,” VanEnk said. “We designed this whole thing from the ground up; kids make their own people, units, items, governments and languages… They have a blast with it.”
Simulating Real Elections
Nov. 9 – the day after national midterm elections – had a particular focus in VanEnktopia. Students elected their own leaders as they learned about U.S. and state elections. While the class always has elections for their world, this time they prepared by learning about current events.
“For two days we were hyping up the midterms, (learning about Gov.) Gretchen Whitmer and (challenger) Tudor Dixon … We made bubble maps to compare qualities of ‘what’s a good leader?’ versus ‘what’s a bad leader?’
They learned to associate what a governor is in the U.S. with the role of the VanEnktopia leader. They can now identify what a democracy, dictatorship or monarchy is and how those systems are different.
‘I like that we have a lot of freedom in the classroom. I want to be a part of that and make the classroom even better.’— seventh-grader Trinity Beek
“Now they can say, ‘our country has a democracy for this reason. Kim Jong-un has a dictatorship for this reason.’ It’s something I don’t have to really quiz or test them on, which is fun,” he said.
VanEnk weaved in information on results of the Michigan gubernatorial election during the students’ election and discussed the purpose of voting and why it’s important to have good leaders. Students shared their thoughts.
“It’s good to have laws and make sure our country is in order,” said Maisyn Ager.
Said outgoing leader Jeremiah: “If we do not have a good leader our economy will fail, and the country will fall apart.”