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The Toxic Node

Katherine R. Cooper (DePaul University), H. Brinton Milward (University of Arizona) & Michelle Shumate (Northwestern University)

July 2019


This simulation is designed to help students identify toxic node behavior, contain the influence of toxic nodes and determine how to resolve conflicts.

The scenario involves a grant awarded to partners representing public schools, private schools, local nonprofits and city government to improve student educational and socio-emotional outcomes.

Students receive a common scenario, instructions for the simulation and an introduction to all participants, along with confidential instructions for each participant that reveals the participant goals and motivations. One student is instructed to play the “toxic node” or an organization which has incentives to sabotage the nascent partnership.

The group “wins” the simulation if they can come up with a plan to allocate the program funding among all its partners in the time allotted. It includes a comprehensive teaching plan for the scenario, including readings, a board plan and discussion prompts.