Anyone on the Gethsemane Lutheran School campus last Thursday might have been curious to see kids in blue or red t-shirts and helmets running around. Some may have been wet—but most would have been smiling.
They were simulating activities military units might have carried out in World War II.
This is middle school teacher Eric Hoffman’s eighth time leading the simulation, and it’s a big hit with students. He alternates years so that kids won’t know the activities in advance.
That’s part of the drill. Students are thrown into situations with little or no preparation and they must problem-solve as a group. Often no one can speak; or maybe a student who is designated as a leader can speak to give instructions.
The simulation is designed in preparation for studying World War II. The students learn to work as a unit to achieve a goal, follow leaders, exhibit leadership skills and act quickly.
In the gymnasium, students tried to build a bridge using cinder blocks and 4×4 pieces of lumber. It was no accident that they didn’t have enough materials to get all the way across the “river.” They had to pick up the unwieldy lumber and extend the bridge to get to the other side.
Other students were guided through a mock minefield. They wore blacked-out goggles and followed the directions of a teammate who walked them around the “mines.” Directions like “Step lightly to your left” or “Keep your hands at your sides” kept them alive.
A team was tasked with transporting supplies from one side of the campus pool to the other. Then the team had to transport all the members, silently, without dropping any boxes or people into the water.
Only one person could give directions. The other students pointed wildly to suggest tactics or warn of impending errors. The activity simulated clandestine troop movement.
Hoffman brought the students MREs (meals ready to eat), the modern version of WWII C-rations. Main dishes included lentil stew with potatoes flavored with ham.
Teams launched water balloons, trying for the correct angle and trajectory to guide “artillery shells” to targets. First-year simulation students—unaware of the proper arc of a rocket to hit a target on the other side of a building—shot the water balloons on a level trajectory, breaking windows.
Code breaking was a quieter activity. Students used a computer application that simulated the German Enigma machine used to encode and decipher military communications during WWII. Students entered an impossibly long string of letters into the program to find the locations on a map to locate enemy troops. One false entry and students had to start all over again. As with the original Enigma machine, there was no backspace in the program.