Originally created 11/23/05

Teacher brings battles to the classroom

John Fillop encourages fighting in his class.

The Butler High School history teacher creates miniature model soldiers, military equipment and landscapes to re-enact battles for his students, and with a grant he received Tuesday his lessons could be taught globally.

The Historical Miniatures Gaming Society-East presented Mr. Fillop with a $400 grant and will provide him space on its Web site to post lesson plans for others to follow.

"We find that the kids who get involved in this do better across the board," said Jim Birdseye, the gaming society's vice president for education.

Children learn history, but they also learn art, math, research and decision-making, he said.

That's why Mr. Fillop says he uses the miniature figures in his class.

"I realized that I can't teach them in the abstract," he said. "In the abstract, they just don't connect."

When he began teaching more than 12 years ago, he tried the traditional approach, sketching battles out on transparencies, but had little success, Mr. Fillop said. He soon met Dr. Birdseye and switched to creating scale 3-D models of battles to teach his lessons. An entire battle, down to the details of the landscape, can be shown in front of the class.

It may seem like child's play, but Mr. Fillop said it pays off when it comes to the Georgia High School Graduation Test, which includes maps and drawings of battles.

Some are going high-tech to deliver history lessons, but computers are limited in screen size, the teacher said. With replicas of battles played out on boards before students' eyes, they see and experience the big picture.

"It just makes history come alive and more interesting," said Mr. Fillop, who is retired from the Army.

He can even set up all of the pieces necessary to act out the Battle of Midway, the World War II naval battle. The students can see how the Americans pulled off the ambush, he said.

The result is that the students move beyond mere note-taking and dictation, he said.

"It stimulates them to ask why and what if," Mr. Fillop said. "I think it encourages more critical thinking with our students."

Knowing that, he plans to expand his miniature lessons to include his economics classes, he said. He wants to demonstrate how an economy works by getting students to develop their own miniature cities. The models will illustrate the economic effects of government, business and the community.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

Thinking small

Historical miniature war-gaming is the re-creation of battles through the use of a 3-D terrain table with model forests, roads, rivers, buildings, soldiers and vehicles.

Source: Historical Miniatures Gaming Society-East


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