Using Virtual Spaces for Affective Learning: A WWI Lesson Plan



IB history teachers who teach the 20th century section of the course are obligated to address the causes of the World Wars. Most teach it through a textbook with a traditional set of tests (perfectly formatted to the IBDP’s demands, of course.) When I taught the course in 2011, I was deeply disappointed at how staid the lesson plans were.  This lesson plan is intended to address the demands of the IBDP while introducing strong universal design strategies that could recontextualize and revitalize the material.


Universal Design for Learning (UDL) theories posit that students learn best when their brains are engaged in three areas: recognition, strategy, and affectiveness. Students recognize information first: this is memorization, the outcome being regurgitation. It is the “what” part of the learning process. They then strategize to categorize and use the information effectively,  and which is the “how” part of learning. The students must then be affected by the information, and be given to present it in an engaging and thoughtful way. This requires students to attach significance to the information. This is the “why” of the process, which is impossible to absorb without thorough mastery of first two processes. At no point can we completely separate these processes — they are interwoven. However, a well-planned lesson using these processes will present to students a pathway to achieving each process in turn.



The IB History curriculum examines the causes of wars, not the events or outcomes of them. When we consider the causes of wars, we cannot simply focus on events. We have to take into account societal, economic, and political factors before we can address events. Events are best categorized as triggers, catalysts that causes events to cascade into large-scale conflicts.

Lastly, IB requires a historiographic analysis of the causes of world wars. Students are expected to be aware of the seminal authors on a given subject, and should be able to speak intelligently about the differences of opinion concerning it. By the end of my proposed module, students will be familiar with the basic arguments of three authors’ analyses of the causes of World War I.

In short, the lesson must incorporate factors, events, and historiography. These must be categorized in a way that is understandable to a variety of learners, and must use terminology that historians would use. This is something we can do surprising well through images.


Museums are amazing at doing two things: categorizing and contextualizing information. When you walk through an exhibition, you are seeing these processes at work. The best exhibitions are engaging, informative, and aesthetically powerful, and if you’re lucky, you come out of them seeing things in a new way. While it’s rare we can run to a museum to see the perfect exhibition that covers every aspect of something we study in history, we do not have means of designing “virtual museums” that we can navigate online. In this assignment, students will create an exhibition that outlines the factors, and triggers that led to World War I. The exhibition must also include the analyses of three authors who have studied the causes of World War I.


We will use ArtSteps, a virtual gallery program that allows you to create a 3D space to display objects online. In ArtSteps, students create their own exhibition spaces. There are templates available, but more ambitious designers can build totally unique spaces for their exhibitions.


All exhibitions must include the following content:

  • thesis and theme for the exhibition. What is the point of your exhibition? What central ideas should a viewer understand after looking at the exhibition and reading the background text? In short, what the “big ideas” of the exhibition? What conclusions were reached about the causes of World War I?
  • At least three Images that represent the social, economic, and political factors that helped to cause World War I.
  • At least three images that represent key events, or triggers, that sparked the war. Obvious examples would be the assassination of Francis Ferdinand, but there are many events connected to World War I that could be represented. Each image must represent a separate event, but could be arranged as a chain of events.
  • At least three graphics or concept maps concerning the arguments surrounding the causes of World War I.
  • At least one cartoon that illustrates proposed causes of World War I. One can be obtained through careful Internet-based research, or students may design their own.


Students will have their exhibitions judged on the following criteria:

  • Presentation of Ideas (how organized your ideas are, how clear your thesis is, and whether or not your images and text support your ideas) 
  • Accuracy of Content (how accurate the information is in your exhibition, how well you remember to use proper dates for events and time periods for other factors, and how well you understand the factual information your images represent)
  • Understanding of Arguments (how well do your graphics represent the arguments used for the exhibition?)


By creating a lesson plan around student-driven design, it is my contention that students will better understand the material as well as practice vital problem-solving strategies that have applications far beyond the classroom. If IB teachers want to introduce inquiry-based learning as well as design into their classrooms, it is my hope that this sample lesson plan begins to address the marriage between the content of the IB program and the demands of new teaching pedagogies that incorporate technology.


One response to “Using Virtual Spaces for Affective Learning: A WWI Lesson Plan

  1. Pingback: Reflections on The Virtual Gallery Lesson Plan | teachbygoofyaccent·

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