Students “Travel the Silk Road” at ATHM

On a recent spring morning, a school group from Second Nature Academy in Nashua, New Hampshire visited us for our “Travel the Silk Road” school program.  This program includes an introduction to silk (in which students get to touch and feel samples, as well as unreel a silk cocoon) and a Silk Road game designed by our Museum education staff.   A very inquisitive group, the children had an enthusiastic response and lots of questions upon arrival.  They were filled with wonder as they unreeled the cocoon.  Students then entered a classroom set up as the Silk Road, to begin the game.  The game works like a life-size board game, which is a map of the Silk Road.   They were divided into small groups called “caravans” which were friends they would travel with.  Each caravan received a cloth sack filled with representations of goods they would take on their travels; silk, spices, ivory, gold coins and food amphorae for survival.  Students were fascinated to discover the contents of their bags.  They pulled their gold tokens and goods out in awe.  They immediately began trying to determine their wealth.

They excitedly positioned themselves at various cities to begin the game.  A hand shot up as a student asked Paula Lochhead, our Museum educator teaching the program, if they could name their caravan.   “Yes of course you can, be creative.” Paula encouraged.  She then proceeded to explain to them that each city along the Silk Road has different values for its goods.  They looked again at their bags contents to get a precise sense of their caravan’s value.

Caravans began taking turns rolling hand-made over-sized dice.  They traveled spaces ahead as indicated by the dice.  The object of the game is to travel and increase your wealth by trading goods, while surviving the potentially brutal travel of the Silk Road desserts and rough terrain.  As they took their turns and read cards they found out how far they’d travel in a day and under what circumstances.  While waiting for their turns they sat in circles on the floor and planned their next move.

Students had fun fully immersing themselves in their roles.  “AW!” one group blurted out in unison as they rolled the dice and learned that they would lose a turn due to illness within the caravan.  They later cheered as a group when they reached their destination city where they could buy food and trade goods.  Another group cried out when they realized they were stuck on a long desert road without enough food to last them until they reached the next city.  They were grateful to read their next card and learn they would receive help from good Samaritans who shared food and water with them.

One father helping guide his sons’ caravan in their planning advised “look ahead, what city is in the distance.  Make a plan.”  A boy in the caravan frantically pleas with his group “Do you want to lose all our food and die?!”  The boys come together to negotiate their next move to keep their caravan in the game.   The boys cheered as reached Beijing exclaiming, “Yes!  We did it!”   They looked behind them and saw the caravan of girls not too far behind.  They huddled together and decided to buy as much as the food in Beijing as they could, strategizing against their opponents behind them.   Much to the girls’ dismay, the girls arrived in Beijing, which by then was depleted by the boys of any food amphorae to buy, adding to the sense of the unpredictable reality of Silk Road travels.

Parent chaperones and school staff were active in having conversations with the students as they waited for their turn.  “Ok, so if you are going to buy silk in Constantinople, look ahead and see what silk is worth in the next city.  Is it worth more or less there?  What have we learned about the value of silk?” A boy replies “Ah!  It’s worth more there!  We can buy some here and sell it there!” and the boys all quickly agree to buy the silk and increase their wealth.

At the conclusion of the game, caravans added up their worth and competed to see which caravan accumulated the highest value.  Cheering could be heard as one caravan learned they were worth the most by the games end.

Debbie Gleeson, owner and Director of Second Nature Academy – www.naturesacademy.com  –  was in attendance on this field trip.  She said that her school had spent a great deal of time studying World Explorers, trading and economics.  They have done much work around consumerism and the impact that wants & needs has on our planet.  She was extremely happy, stating that it had been a “wonderful experience.”   As she left she said that the program “brought everything we have been doing (around this topic) in school the past two year to life.”

By Stephanie Sewhuk, Museum Educator

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