Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 17, 2017

Trench warfare brought to life

By Andy Hallman | Dec 13, 2013
Fairfield High School social studies teacher Andrew Hopper, right, plays the part of a military general directing troops during World War I. Hopper turned his classroom into a battlefield where two opposing trenches were separated by “No Man’s Land.” The students took turns firing “artillery” at each other (wadded up paper) and tried to attack each other’s trenches by crawling around the “barbed wire” (desks) in between the two. Hopper said he created the simulation to make the war more palpable for the students.

Taking a peek was a dangerous proposition, for every time they did bullets whizzed past their heads.

But they had no choice in the matter since they were under orders to make the perilous charge across No Man’s Land, bullets or no bullets, barbed wire or no barbed wire.

Such was life for a soldier in the First World War and, for a brief time, the life of a Fairfield High School social studies student. That is because the students engaged in a trench warfare simulation Monday that recreated battlefield conditions of “The Great War.”

The historical re-enactment was the brainchild of high school teacher Andrew Hopper. Hopper had been inspired to do something out of the ordinary after listening to a presentation by professional development speaker Dave Burgess. Burgess urged the teachers in the district to do something their students had never seen out of them before.

Hopper took the message to heart. He asked himself what he could do to enliven his teaching methods. He discovered the trench war simulation through the Internet and modified it to suit his own classroom.

He spent 10 hours the previous weekend decorating his room to look like a 1914 European battlefield. In all, Hopper devoted 20-30 hours outside of class time to plan and set up his simulation.

“It made for a hectic two weeks, but I got to step out of my comfort zone in teaching,” he said.

Hopper got the idea for the simulation from another teacher who posted the rules for the gameplay on the Internet. The basic idea is to divide the class into two teams and to give each team a trench to hide in. Hopper did this by turning over desks and covering them with tarp. Each side was given big wads of paper to turn into “artillery shells” and smaller ones to use as “machine gun bullets.”

The two sides were given a chance to fire their artillery shells in an effort to hit the soldiers in the opposing trench. If a soldier was hit, he had to lie still for the rest of the simulation. Once that was done, the two sides took turns charging the other trench. However, because each side was armed with machine guns, the attacking soldiers had to keep their heads down and crawl toward the other trench.

Complicating their advance was the presence of barbed wire, represented by desks, in No Man’s Land. The goal of the attacking side was to capture a flag on the wall behind their opponent’s defenses and bring the flag back to their own side, a practically impossible task designed to illustrate the improbability of a successful attack in a real trench war.

Hopper shouted instructions to each side as a general would to his troops. He even dressed the part, borrowing an early 20th century military uniform complete with fake medals and a fake mustache, all from the drama department’s closet.

Hopper’s social studies class spends about a month studying World War I. In fact, Monday’s battlefield simulation was not the first simulation the class has undertaken. The class spent the early portion of the unit learning about the lead-up to the war. Librarian Jolene Bullis came to the class to teach them about building alliances, just as the Great Powers of the era built alliances before the war.

“I didn’t want the students to go right into the fighting,” Hopper said. “I wanted them to understand why they were fighting. I did a lot of preparatory work on the main causes of the war and why certain countries were involved.”

The class learned about the United States’s participation in the war and how domestic politics influenced the decision if and when to enter the war. He said he enjoyed being able to make a century-old historical event seem so real to the students.

“We refer to this as entertainment learning,” he said. “We want to educate the kids but do it in a way that invigorates the students and gives them something to care about. If students are going to learn about things in the past, they need to know why it’s relevant to today’s world.”

Comments (2)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Jan 13, 2014 16:43

"Lone Survivor"


by Daniel Doherty

This is one of those movies that stays with you. I saw it Friday night, and it’s been with me ever since.

Like so many, I had read the book when it first came out. Thus I knew what happened, and was deeply moved by Marcus Luttrell’s story when I first came across it six years ago. So when I learned that Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg were going to turn “Lone Survivor” into a feature film, I was excited.

However, watching the story unfold on the silver screen was a different kind of experience. And a sobering one at that.

At times, I had tears in my eyes. At other times, I was on the edge of my seat hoping -- no, praying -- these four men would all make it out alive. Of course, only one of them did.

At one point in the drama -- which I think perfectly encapsulates a major theme of the film -- a wounded Matt Axelson (played by Ben Foster) says under his breath to an approaching squad of Taliban fighters: “You can die for your country. I’m going to live for mine.” It was clear in the film that despite the long odds against escape, there was never recognition -- by any of these men -- that they would not return home to their families and loved ones. They were determined to live. And indeed, they had much to live for, as the filmmakers went to great lengths to show us. A viewer would need a heart of stone not to be moved by what these men went through, and by what they did for one another to survive once the mission was compromised.

When I left the theater, all I wanted to do was meet these four young Navy SEALS -- to shake their hands and say thank you -- although I knew that was clearly not possible. I wanted to tell them that although I could never directly understand what they went through, I was so moved by their heroism, selflessness and compassion that I would pray for them, and would always remember what they did.

How many other American soldiers have made similar sacrifices for our country, I wondered? Certainly too many to name, let alone remember properly. Experiencing this film, I felt the same way I did after watching “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” for the first time: a mixture of pride and astonishment at the capabilities of the American Warrior under fire.

So, go and see this film, my friends. Experience the power of "Lone Survivor" for yourselves -- and you will understand why everyone is talking about it.


Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Jan 09, 2014 08:13
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