case study

Statecraft "Makes Learning Sticky" & Adds Fun in Online Classes


The top three reasons that Alex McDonnell uses Statecraft in his high school classroom are:
       1. It lets students apply theory
       2. They get to play the role of expert
       3. It’s fun!

With the move to an online class format Statecraft has helped by offering an engaging activity that forces interaction and requires kids to pay attention. It’s a great way to integrate technology in the classroom and increase the digital literacy of students. He knows they’re actually learning when he sees them make connections on their own in the Statecraft memos. Plus, his students really enjoy Statecraft; he’s even discovered that they’re talking about it outside of class with their friends.

Instead of simply memorizing material and then regurgitating it for tests, students are actually applying practice to theory. That increases knowledge retention and “makes learning sticky.”


Fall 2020, December 3rd


Alex McDonnell has over 30 years of teaching experience. He currently teaches at Friends’ Central School, an independent High School in Pennsylvania. In the last four years he’s used Statecraft IR twice in his upper school history and social studies classes. Along with teaching, he is also the Technology Integration Specialist. In this role he helps teachers integrate technology into their class experience.


Alex McDonnell Teacher Photo

Getting kids engaged in ideas is important. I don’t want kids to be passive receptacles of knowledge that they sit back in a test and two or three weeks later they promptly forget and never use [the information] again.

Statecraft helps make learning sticky. I’ll use it again.



I want to be able to apply practice to theory. I wanted to introduce the basic theories of international relations. For instance: realism, liberalism, security dilemma, mutually-assured destruction, those kinds of concepts. But those concepts can be dry or difficult to understand if one doesn’t experience them firsthand.

So I was looking for a simulation or roleplay. I like getting kids to play the role of expert to try to simulate what experts, the people who really do the job, have to do.

Statecraft does a really nice job letting kids apply theory to practice or at least see where the theory shows up.


The Statecraft memos really help. I ask the kids to apply the theories. I have to be intentional about making that connection, and I’d be lying if I told you every kid was making those connections… but almost all of them are. I definitely have some very thoughtful memos. 

The most authentic and best examples of the kids learning aren’t the results on quizzes or tests. The best examples are when THEY make the connections. 

I’ll ask “Can you make a connection?” or “What are connections?” and then they make that connection. 

An insightful connection might be: I talk about Van Clausewitz Trinity theory of war, about how it’s both rational and irrational and an extension of politics. And then a kid, in their Statecraft memo, talks about that concept. That’s when I know that they really got it.


I’m teaching remotely most of the time. My kids were in person at the start of the semester, but we moved to all-virtual and I haven’t seen them face-to-face in months now.

It’s really hard for a teacher to have a class discussion whenever I don’t see everybody’s faces. I’m going back and forth between screens; it’s not the same. I think it would be easier if kids were in-person and could physically go talk to other groups; diplomacy would be more fun.

That said, giving the kids a hands-on task that forces interaction is really nice for them when they’re at home. They have to pay attention, they have to engage. They can’t be passive. And it’s easy to be passive behind a zoom screen. 

It’s a really good activity, but I don’t know if anything is as good online as opposed to in the classroom. The online format is a lot harder… but Statecraft helps.


I like the materials that Statecraft puts out, they’re useful to make video presentations. I won’t spend 40 or 50 minutes talking to kids on zoom, I feel like that’s deadly for them. I don’t think they’d last! So what I do is make 10 or 15 minute pre-recorded videos – sometimes borrowing heavily, sometimes borrowing lightly, sometimes using all of it – from the Statecraft materials.

Statecraft materials contain basic IR theories and they show you applications of where those theories show up in Statecraft. It’s really helpful!

It takes just 10 or 15 minutes, that’s my video, and then the kids have an activity or reading, or they play Statecraft.

It's fun!

This group loves it. It’s fun, they look forward to it. 

We have 50 minute classes and I leave one class period per week to play it in class and then say “please spend another hour outside class playing Statecraft.” I’m not sure all of them do that, but I can tell a lot of them do.

My son is in the grade, but not in my class. He has friends who are in the class. We were at dinner maybe two weeks ago and he asked: “Dad, what’s Statecraft?”
I explained what it was and said, “Why do you ask?”
He responded: “Well, my friends in your class, that’s all they talk about.”
He said they were grumbling about having to do their work that night… but that they talk about it a lot and they are really into it. That’s cool to hear.


One doesn’t want to completely gamify something and arrive at a situation where it’s more about the game than the learning experience. That’s a fault of roleplays as well. One can’t completely simulate reality, one just can’t.

I do the Model UN, for example, and it’s great, but it’s not the same thing as reality. Nor is Statecraft, but I think Statecraft gets awfully close because it’s so vast and there are so many variables. The sheer amount of knowledge, the sheer amount that kids have to know, makes it more realistic.  

It’s not simple, Statecraft is complicated. And that’s a good thing; it gets kids thinking.


I ran Statecraft three years ago, and then again this semester. This time, the interface is way better. Everything is better. The game is the same, no rules have changed but navigating the site and playing the game is a lot easier; it’s easier to follow and figure out. I think it’s cool that Statecraft continues to improve.

Tech integration in the classroom is now important. Words and writing are always going to be the bread and butter of literacy, but digital literacy also needs to be taught. Kids need to learn a certain amount of facility with managing data, how to present a story in a visually engaging way and how to engage with technology.

Statecraft doesn’t hit every part of digital literacy, but it’s this vast multi-layered many-levels online game. It’s smooth gameplay, it lets kids be the expert, it achieves a lot of technology learning goals.


Getting kids engaged in ideas is important. I don’t want kids to be passive receptacles of knowledge that they spit back in a test two or three weeks later and then promptly forget and never use again.

Studies have shown that if you don’t recall something, if you don’t reuse it, it’s gone within three weeks… and then it’s gone forever.

Statecraft helps make learning sticky. I’ll definitely use it again.

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