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Endgame: The Game

Post-It Note 1: You are at the bathroom sink, getting ready for the day. One of you is moving extremely slowly, the other is moving extremely fast.

Post-It Note 2: One of you is packing a suitcase. One of you is unpacking the same suitcase at the same time.

Post-It Note 3: You are taking a walk together. One of you can move in straight lines, the other can only move in curvy patterns.

Post-It Note 4: You are building a treehouse together. One of you keeps dropping things, and the other is scared of something above you.

Post-It Note 5: You are drawing circles on the ground. One of you is using your finger, the other is using anything but your finger.

Post-It Note 6: You are a clock. One of you is making ticking noises, the other is moving their arms in a clockwise pattern.

Post-It Note 7: You are a human and a dog on a walk, having a conversation. The dog can talk, but the human can only make barking noises.

Post-It Note 8: You are making sandwiches. One of you keeps getting your head stuck on things. For the other person, things keep floating away.

Post-It Note 9 (for three students): You are playing a card game. One of you has one arm. One of you has no arms. One of you has shoes for hands.

In my first class (13 students), the notes that ended up being drawn, at random, were 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6, and I gave the trio note number 9.  In my second class (10 students), the notes that ended up being drawn, again at random, were 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 (poor note 7 never got drawn). In my first class, the highlights were the two who drew note 1, who happened to be a pair of girls. It is quite interesting to watch two girls get ready at varying speeds, with one slowly brushing her teeth and the other fiddling madly with her hair; the two guys who drew note 2 were folding and unfolding imaginary clothes; the girls who drew note 5 got around it by using a pen (kind of against the rules, but whatever); and the three guys who drew note 9, because everything is hilarious with limited arms and shoe hands. Class #2’s highlights were the guy/girl pair who drew note 8, with the guy rubbing his head all over the desk; and the guy/girl pair who drew note 5, where the guy ended up spinning around on his bottom.

Probably one of the best parts of the exercise were the reactions. People started to really enjoy playing, and watching their classmates do seemingly random things. One student in my first class likened the activity to a sense of chaos, but a strangely satisfying chaos. For me, other than having the power to command, it was really interesting to see how seriously people took it. I mean, unlike the characters in Endgame, no one was forced to obey any of the rules, yet somehow everyone chose to stay in the universe; ostensibly, someone could have broken a rule, or refused to participate, or just gotten up and walked out of the room or sat back down in a seat. Everyone seemed to do what they were told to do, without any real reason, which is one of the foundational tenets of the Theater of the Absurd. Overall, I think that the students got a lot more out of absurdism by acting it out on their feet.

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Tales from School: To Market, To Market

My voice is almost gone and I’m falling asleep left, right, and center, but I think I managed to put together and execute a pretty good (if not interesting/unique) lesson plan for today.

To preface: this month in Social Studies, we traveled from Greece to Nigeria, our first country in Africa. It’s proving to be a difficult country to teach, since I know way less about it than the others we’ve done so far (Russia in September, Argentina in November, China in December, and Greece in January), but I’m turning into my own expert, I guess. Good thing we are having a guest from Nigeria come in on Thursday, thanks to one of my co-teachers.

Last week, I introduced Nigeria with a folktale, then taught some facts, and after that, broke the class up into three tribes, reflecting the three main tribes of Nigeria: the Hausa, which consists of (names changed) – Sara, Ben, Kanisha, Henry, and Suzanne; the Igbo, which is Kenny, Pilar, Jimmy, Shannon, and Hannah; and the Yoruba, which is Alexis, Abbie, Parker, Frannie, and Elizabeth. Their task was to create a costume from their given ethnic group, and at the end of class, the Hausa were in the lead, followed by Igbo and Yoruba.

So, today, after reviewing some facts, and talking about the differences between the farmer’s market here and the one in a YouTube video about Nigeria, I introduced the next challenge: the Nigerian Marketplace. In this activity, two people from each tribe would set up a market stall while two of their other tribe members would set out and barter items with the other tribes at their market stalls, while the 5th person would write down and keep track of the ingredients and the recipes. The recipes each team needed to complete were Igbo okra soupHausa jollof rice, and Yoruba efo riro (a vegetable stew). Each recipe required different quantities of ten items, represented by differently shaped/colored pieces of foam, representing onions, tomatoes, curry, ginger, spinach, yam, okra, fish, rice, and ato rodo (red pepper). Each tribe’s market stall received a different amount of goods, and the buyers went around asking for different items that they needed, offering deals. The first tribe to return to the Social Studies classroom from the marketplace with all of the items needed to make all 3 dishes would win the challenge.

It turned to chaos pretty quickly. Since the activity was supposed to emulate a Nigerian marketplace – it wasn’t too out of place. After the items were distributed to each tribe’s sellers, the buyers would get items from their team that they had too many of (for example, if they had too many onions), and barter for what they needed. Each group took a different approach. The Hausa tribe, which is mostly older kids, were very into the “character” aspect of the game and set their stall up neatly. Their sellers, Sara and Suzanne, stationed themselves behind the table and the buyers mostly stuck by them, only going out when absolutely necessary, adopting more of a “trading post” strategy. The Yoruba tribe, who completely imploded the previous week, were helped out by my boss, and they did a little better as a team but still struggled. This group had trouble understanding the challenge, and pretty much just did everything together, especially when Parker (a seller along with Elizabeth) lost interest and wandered away. As usual for that team, Abbie (the recipe writer) took control while Frannie (who was supposed to be a buyer along with Alexis) just sort of did whatever she wanted, annoying her team by picking up random items from their table and putting them on other tables, and taking random items and putting them on her tribe’s table, which made everyone angry. The Igbo tribe, which is most of the younger kids, started out with no real strategy; they did not have a lot of supervision, so their market stall was usually unmanned and just full of disorganized “stock” that the team kept trading. Pilar and Shannon were the two designated buyers and for the most part did what they were supposed to do, but Jimmy and Kenny, who were supposed to sell, got bored because the other two teams were pretty much just staying around their own tables while Pilar, Shannon, and Hannah bartered, so they started bartering their items too.

Eventually, the Igbo team compiled all the things they had and put the dishes together, so they had two dishes completed rather quickly and just needed a few items from the other groups (the Hausa were arguing about strategy and Yoruba were still trying to figure out what to do) and managed to sneak through and get all their items through their “divide and conquer” strategy and within 30 minutes, they accompanied me back to “base” (the other room) to check on their dishes. There was some minor drama when Suzanne’s chair tipped over and she fell out and hit her head (she was fine, it was probably either clumsiness or for attention), when most of the boys just wandered away from the classroom because it was too noisy, and when the Igbo team realized that they had too many tomatoes, and traded some away, but then needed them back when they realized that a tomato had been put in the wrong dish, but initially, they had all their ingredients and came back first, winning the challenge.

We were running very close to over-time, so I had the Igbo tribe clean up their items while I went to the other room. Basically, Abbie from Yoruba kind of gave up and started just giving all the items to Hausa because she was frustrated with her team, and even though neither group got all their dishes, I had them clean up anyway. That was when I learned that it can be risky to play this type of game with a mixed-age group; Alexis from Yoruba (age 6) came in crying because her team lost the challenge, and it took Abbie (age 10), Parker, and Elizabeth from Yoruba team, to cheer her up, telling her it was just a game. Abbie and Kanisha said that they understood that the point of the game wasn’t really to get all the items (actually, it was, kind of…to get the correct items) but it was about teamwork and working together (also true). In the final moments of class, I awarded 30 points to Igbo for winning and split 15 each between Hausa and Yoruba; gave Yoruba 10 points for “best leadership” (Abbie); gave Hausa and Igbo 10 points for “best teamwork”; gave Igbo 10 points for “best shoppers” (Pilar and Shannon); and a 5-point “sportsmanship award” to Yoruba for Abbie, Parker, and Elizabeth’s comforting of Alexis after losing the game. Who knows if the younger kids on Igbo would have cried had they lost, but they were quite happy to be the winners, and overlook the lead from Hausa while Yoruba still trailed behind. At the day’s end, Igbo was in first with 119 points, followed by Hausa (97) and Yoruba (84). Overall, I think this activity might have been too intense for the younger ones, despite them gaining the knowledge of haggling/bartering and Nigerian market products.

Man was that exhausting. My voice is now almost totally gone, but hopefully this will serve as a good memory for the kids and they will have learned from the experience.

What do you think about this lesson? Write it below!

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Tales From Elementary School: To Vladivostok and Beyond…

Day two of Tuesdays at the elementary school, check. I also led a lesson on Thursday, but today’s turned out to be pretty epic.

In going along with our theme of Russia for social studies, I began where I left off last week, at the end of the Czars and the beginning of the Soviet Union. However, I wanted the kids to get some perspective on just how large Russia really was, so I introduced them to the Trans-Siberian Railway. I know that these kids love anything that has to do with transportation, so it was perfect. We went around the room and made guesses on a) how many miles of train tracks there were, and b) how much time it would take to get from end to end, Moscow to Vladivostok. Some of the guesses were silly, but most were pretty on target. Miranda (again, all names for privacy), one of the youngest students, guessed that the train was 6,000 miles long, which was the closest of anyone; the actual distance, according to my source, was 5,772 miles, but I checked a few more places, and the number seems to be closer to 6,152. Still, in the ballpark. The actual time it takes to travel the whole way is 8 days, and two students got extremely close in their guesses, choosing 7.5 days. Those two? Kate, and…Miranda. I don’t know about you, but if it involves guessing numbers, I want to be on Miranda’s team.

Next, I wondered aloud how long of a trip that would be, so it was time for a class trip. We all lined up in a train, and I used my phone’s stopwatch to time how long it took all of us to march around the block and back to the school, and then see how long it took, and then see how many trips around the school it would take to equal a one-way trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The answer? 1,152. That’s a lot of walking for little legs.

After a quick break, we headed into the Multi-Purpose Room for Part II of the lecture. We left behind the train and fast-forwarded to the 1950s/1960s, the birth of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and the Space Race. Crystal surprised me by knowing what the Cold War was, and explained it to the rest of the class. We then talked a little about the first people to go to space, and the first to land on the moon. Then, it was time to do…a space dance!

First, I instructed everyone to find their own space in the room, and crouch into a ball. Then, I turned on “Cold War” by Janelle Monae – a perfect backdrop song for this activity – and we went through the stages of space flight. We built our rockets, attached our engines, put on our seatbelts, flew through space, landed on the moon, experienced zero-G, re-entered our pods, strapped in, and flew back to Earth, landing just as the final drumbeats hit on the song.

Then, we reconvened in the classroom to talk about the breakup of the Soviet Union, and I broke the kids up into five groups of three, and each group got a packet of info about a country which came from the Soviet Union, and were assigned to make a poster about it, following the diagramming plan (a satellite diagram) that I did on the board about Russia. For this project, I did research on five interesting countries: Azerbaijan, Latvia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Each group got an info packet and an iPad to look up pictures of things like national symbols and flags. Marla helped the Ukraine group with their poster, which included horses and the Chernobyl disaster. The Azerbaijan group worked on their own to draw an incredibly detailed Azeri flag, and made a border of flames, and a cup of tea. I flitted between the three other groups – the Latvia group had a slow start, I think they ended up with a flag and a few other shapes; the Kazakhstan group, consisting of three kids who I wasn’t sure would work together well, came up with a cool poster full of apples and eagles; and the Kyrgyzstan group drew flags, airplanes, snow, tulips, and their national animal, the snow leopard. We only had enough time for Azerbaijan and Ukraine to present, but we’ll finish it up next week.

As for me, I learned a lot today as well. Dealing with the train game taught me to handle outdoor activities with care, and that I need to figure out more about how rocket ships work. Also, when doing guessing games, everyone gets one shot, no answer-changing. And of course, make sure the kids know why Azerbaijan is the Land of Fire, and not just what it is.

Oh, and someone in the class wants to be me when they grow up. So that’s kind of a big deal.

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First Day of Elementary School!

Deer  Dear blog,

Today was my first day of school. I learned a lot! The teacher was great, and not bad to look at either. I love school!

Love, Jacob.

Okay, so it wasn’t my first day at a student, but it was my first day as a bona-fide, on-the-payroll elementary school teacher.

Go adult me, real job hell yeah.

So, here’s how it went:

I got to school about an hour before my lesson started at 1 PM. All the kids were there, 10 girls and 5 boys. And before you say anything, for privacy/protection purposes, I am changing all their names. Plus, it’s fun to make up names. Anyway.

I came in and introduced myself, and against my better judgement, I asked a group of children to go around the circle and tell me their names (even though I already knew most of them) and one fun thing they did this summer. It actually went smoothly and no one lost focus until the circle was just about complete. I then led them in the Heartbeat Hello game, after which I started my lesson, which was about storytelling.

I told them about three ways to tell a story: having it read to you, reading it yourself, and performing it. I asked the kids to comment on which type of storytelling they liked. Melanie said that she liked being read to, because she didn’t have to do anything but listen. Crystal said that she enjoyed reading, because when she reads to herself, no one interrupts her, and she can go as fast or as slow as she wants, and she can imagine as she reads. Paul said that he liked acting it out, because he could cast his friends in the roles and put on costumes. Caroline agreed, saying that she could make up her own characters and her own story better by acting it out.

So, I read them this story that I wrote, based on Evgeny Schwartz’s The Dragon:

A long, long time ago, there was a little town in the land of Russia. It was a quiet little town but it had a big problem. A dragon ruled over the town for four hundred years. The dragon had three heads, four paws, and five claws on each paw. He was big and tall with scaly skin, and he breathed fire. Every year, the dragon took someone from the town, and they were never seen again. Everyone was scared of the dragon, even the town mayor.

One night, a man called Lancelot visited the town, to learn more about this dragon. He stopped at a small hut, the house of a man and his daughter. The daughter’s name was Elsa. Lancelot asked Elsa to tell him more about the dragon. Elsa did not want to, for fear that it would bring her the bad luck of being kidnapped by the dragon. But Elsa’s father told Lancelot about the dragon, and how he scared everyone by burning down houses and filling the air with smoke from his breath. He also said how much the dragon ate – many chickens and cows each month, and all the vegetables and fruits they grew in the summer and fall. Lancelot decided that it was time for a change, so for Elsa and her father, he made up his mind to kill the dragon.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Elsa answered it, and an old man walked in. Elsa introduced him to Lancelot. The old man then asked Lancelot why he came to town. When Lancelot told him that he came to kill the dragon, the old man laughed and said that he, himself, was the dragon.

Lancelot was confused – how could this old man be a dragon?

The old man said that he liked to come and visit the people, but to fit into their homes, he had to change himself into a person. Lancelot then challenged him to a fight. If Lancelot won, the dragon would give the people their town back and let the mayor run the town again, and if the Dragon won, he would kidnap Elsa to be his servant. He accepted before going home for the night.

The next day, Lancelot and the dragon met in a field. The town mayor wished Lancelot the best of luck before going to join the rest of the townspeople far away from the fight. The townspeople watched as one by one, Lancelot chopped off each of the dragon’s three heads. The struggle was over. Elsa was safe, and the mayor could run the town again. Lancelot said goodbye to his new friends and went home. Everyone was happy.

However…

One year later, Lancelot returned to the town to visit Elsa and her father. To his surprise, nothing had changed. The people were still poor, and Elsa and her father still lived in the tiny hut. When Lancelot saw Elsa, he asked what happened. She pointed toward the castle where the dragon lived, only now it was the castle where the town mayor lived. She explained that even though the town mayor did not kidnap people, he took the peoples’ animals, vegetables, and fruits, and sold them to make money for the town. Instead of helping the town, he kept the money and made the dragon’s castle even bigger, and moved in himself. Finally, Elsa told him the worst news of all; the mayor decided that he wanted to marry Elsa, and the wedding was tomorrow! Elsa was not happy, and Lancelot needed a plan.

The next day, before the wedding, Lancelot arrived in the town square. Once the townspeople saw Lancelot, they cheered, remembering how he killed the dragon. They urged him to kill the town mayor, who had made their lives harder and was now marrying their friend Elsa. Soon, the mayor arrived, followed by Elsa, to start the wedding. Lancelot went up to the mayor, and asked him what he had done for the town since the dragon’s death. The mayor looked guilty, and said that he had done some bad things. Lancelot was angry. The mayor then asked Lancelot how he could start to help the town. Lancelot then turned to Elsa, and asked her if she wanted to marry the mayor. Elsa looked at both of them, and said that no, she did not want to marry the mayor. The mayor agreed not to marry her, and the wedding was over. Elsa was happy that she had her freedom again, and the mayor was happy that Elsa was happy.

However, the townspeople were still angry at the mayor for all he had put them through. They wanted him dead, just like the dragon. Lancelot turned to them and said that killing the mayor would not help anything; someone else could then become the new mayor and be even worse for the town. Instead, Lancelot told the town that everyone has a little bit of the dragon inside them, and to have happy lives, they needed to stop that dragon and do what was right, just like the mayor did by not marrying Elsa. The town said thank you to Lancelot, and worked on making their lives better, little by little.

The End.

After the story was read, I passed out copies of the same story, and we went around the circle, each reading two lines. I was surprised at the fact that almost everyone could read all the words, although a few times, the next kid in the circle stopped paying attention, so we had to stop the flow of the story to catch him or her up. I checked the time, and we were barely halfway through the story and it was already 1:50 PM, so I finished up until “however…” and then acted it out, with me as the narrator.

I narrated as Caroline stood up to play Lancelot, and Max and Susie sat in their tiny hut (made by the arms of Melanie and Grace), and Paul and Jordan created a giant castle behind them for Susie to point at. Then, we switched out for the next scene, the morning. Natalie got up to play Lancelot, and the rest of the kids were excellent townspeople, cheering for her. Ariana, who’s very particular about what parts she plays, was happy when I called her up to be the mayor, and I had her bring up Kate to be her Elsa. Natalie repeated Lancelot’s angry words, and Ariana played a sheepish town mayor. The best part? When Natalie asked Kate, as Elsa, if she wanted to get married, and before she could even get the question out, Kate let out a firm and immediate “NO,” causing us all to laugh. Natalie then repeated Lancelot’s wise words to the angry townspeople, and they thanked her.

In our reflection, I got mostly silly answers, but it had been almost an hour. In the brief “what did you learn?” question, Crystal said that she learned that you can’t place blame on just one person for all your problems, and Susie – one of the youngest – said that she thought the point was that you can’t just say that something’s fixed and walk away, you have to make sure that it stays fixed.

After a brief bathroom break, it was time for the lecture portion, so I told them about Evgeny Schwartz, his life, and walked them through 1000 years of Russian history in just about 15 minutes. Surprisingly, most of them stayed with me, with the exceptions of three goofballs, but I just ignored them and maintained eye contact with the kids who were paying attention and asking questions. When I told them Evgeny Schwartz’s birth/death dates, both Grace and Max asked me how Schwartz died, and Melanie – who quickly determined that he died at age 62 – said that it was probably old age. Thank goodness 62 seems like an old age to a 10-year-old.

At 2:30, I introduced the concept of a satellite diagram, and drew one about Russia, after which they went back to their seats for written/drawn journal time, and my first lesson was done. When Marla (real name of their teacher), asked them for feedback on the lesson, what they said basically melted my heart. Susie had fun learning a new story, and she loves dragons, so that was a bonus. Melanie and Crystal were amazed that we learned social studies, history, and theatre all at the same time, and Paul called me the best teacher ever, which basically put him on my good list, forever. Marla said that it went exactly the way she imagined it would go, so…mission accomplished. I was so worried that I’d be too boring, or slip into college-teaching mode, but it seemed to come together, somehow.

I think I’ll go back on Thursday.

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Theatre Thoughts n Things: Trifles, The Mafia Game

As some of you may know – well, anyone who reads me knows – I’m teaching a course at my university this semester, an introductory theatre course. I have 4 sections of students, and it’s my job to keep them occupied and discovering the wonderful world of theatre and plays during a weekly 1-hour supplementary discussion section.

This morning, I woke up with two realizations. First, I had to lead 2 discussions today on Trifles, by Susan Glaspell. Second, I had no idea how to do it and was scared like no other. I pictured myself, stammering and staring in front of a room full of bored college students, watching the minutes tick by on the clock, and then lowering my head in defeat as the bell rang.

However, I came up with a plan. A lesson plan, incorporating both Trifles and a super-fun party game.

Introducing: Trifles, the Mafia Game.

Essentially, it’s a simple version of Mafia. I dealt out a deck of cards, one to each class member. 5 of them were clubs; those 5 were the Five-Club Mafia. Their goal: eliminate all the townspeople, AKA the rest of the class, who were all dealt spades. We started off in “night” mode, with everyone asleep on their desks. I asked the Mafia to wake up, and by silent gestures, decide on a victim. Then, they go back to sleep, and everyone wakes up for “day” mode, in which we find out which townsperson has been “killed,” and they are now “dead” and out of the game. Together, the townspeople must put in three nominees for lynching, and by a majority-vote, lynch one of their own, who then reveals his/her status. If the townspeople eliminate the mafia, they win. If the mafia gain a majority in the town, they win.

This ties back to the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell, in which a murder has been committed, but the sheriff, county attorney, and a farmer overlook key pieces of evidence, disregarding what two women find (a dead bird, a knotted quilt) and referring to those items as “trifling,” when they are indeed pivotal to the case. Subsequently, the two women make off with the evidence.

In my first section, I think the discussion went on a bit too long because we only ended up having time for two rounds, which is a problem when you have 14 students. However, after two deaths, and two lynchings of townspeople who turned out to be innocent, we were left with 5 Mafiosos and 5 townies. Technically, a stalemate, but I awarded the win to the Mafia, who largely remained out of suspicion. I think that only maybe one of them was even suggested as a potential Mafioso.

My second discussion section yielded a more interesting result. In that section, I had 15 students: 7 male, and 8 female. As luck would have it, unlike the previous section, whose Mafia was 3 male and 2 female, this section’s Mafia ended up being 4 female and just 1 male. In the first round, the victim was male, and another male (innocent) was lynched. In the second round, the victim was again, male, and another male was lynched, but he turned out to be one of the Mafia. In the third round, the class woke up to find that the third victim was – once again – male. Now, down to 2 men and 8 women, I put forth the suggestion to the class…

“Notice that the men are being taken out one by one? Maybe, just maybe, there’s an all-female Mafia that’s slowly eliminating the guys, continuing the work of the ladies from Trifles?”

After that suggestion, the townspeople lynched a female classmate, who turned out to be one of the Mafia. We only had time for one more round, and with 9 students left (2 male, 7 female; 3 Mafiosos and 6 townspeople), the townies had already decimated the Mafia and had a higher probability to win, but I decided to see what would happen. We went to night, and the ladies of the Mafia switched it up and eliminated a female townie. When we switched back to day mode, I think that the townies caught on that the mafia were trying to cover up their identities even further, so the only names that were nominated were girls. Oddly enough, of the 6 girls that were left, the three names that the townspeople offered up for nomination were the three innocent girls, so the townies ended up lynching one of their own. If we would have gone on one more round, the Mafia could have turned the game around, but since class was over, I ended up giving the win to the 4 remaining townspeople, despite the 3 remaining Mafia ladies never really arousing any suspicion from the rest of the class. Even though the townspeople won by default, I think that had we gone on one more round, the Mafia would’ve taken control.

Overall: Had we more time (and if I had more time to think and be creative) it could have been more successful, but I think that it was a good exercise, involving acting, entertainment, strategy, and a little reference to the play we were studying. It worked better when the Mafia happened to be (almost) all-female, like what happened in my second section, but I think that people enjoyed it, even if they did not get too much out of it.

For a homework assignment, I asked them to reflect on their experience, and connect it to performance and to Trifles.

Which I kind of just did, myself.

I give myself an A.

Good job Jacob!