Sunday, August 30, 2009

Teaching brain, keep it up!

Like a poorly taken photo - gotta dig to find a positive, productive side.

My evening ended very nicely on the social side, but this morning wasn't too bad on the pedagogical side either. Well, if you can call it that.

The summer break has been so full of people coming and going that we haven't really put too much effort in creating unit lessons for Sunday school at my church. Today, we just let the students play and watch a movie and have snacks. Which allowed the other half of my team to prepare for the church retreat next week.

But of course, no matter how well I know these students, and no matter how well they have behaved for me in the past, they are bound to get squirrelly after nearly two hours of free play.

Someone donated a model pirate ship to the nursery toy stash, and the Sunday school kids put it together last week. This week, they decided to take the miniature canons that really fire a little plastic harpoon to chase and shoot each other with. There was much running and yelling and fun of course. And they played pretty gently at first - like I said, they are well behaved and they know the Sunday school rules.

But I saw it begin to get rough and the teacher in me couldn't help but put an end to that before it got out of hand. My first thought was to confiscate the harpoons, but then what would they play with? Something else in just as destructive a fashion. Besides, there were already signs that someone was going to fight for the harpoons (there were only two to go around eight kids) in a way that is NOT suitable for any place, let alone the church nursery.

So I pulled a rabbit out of my hat and made it into one-player shooting game. The students took turns aiming at empty paper towel tubes placed at varying distances from their marker, trying to knock them down.

Then I made it slightly more difficult with shooting at a dry sponge to try to push it past the same two paper towel tubes, like a field goal.

Then they shot at the cardboard box cover of that annoying electronic game with the ducks and the quacking, also trying to knock it over.

Then they tried to knock over an origami boat balanced on top of the paper towel tube, which was standing on end.

Then they tried to knock the same origami boat on the paper towel tube into the box cover.

Then they tried to shoot and knock down three plastic cups placed like a pyramid.

Then I flipped the cups over and they tried to put the three harpoons (which was standard for all these variations so far) into any of the three cups.

By then, I was running out of ideas. Also by then, luckily, it was time to go. I captured the attention and concentration of eight 1st-6th graders for a solid 40 minutes with seven variations of essentially the same game with only two pre-set student expectations: that they must form a line to take turns, and that everyone will have a chance - successful, or unsuccessful - before we moved on to the next variation (for the latter 2-3 variations I let each student take a couple more turns; the challenges were getting harder, plus I could stretch out the engaged time a little longer). They pulled themselves back from the brink of chaos to a group that lined up to take turns, helping each other pick up stray harpoons after each turn, encouraging and cheering for each other, protecting the toddlers from those same flying harpoons, and made the space spic and span again when it was time to leave.

They were the ones who pulled themselves back, but I like to think I had some influence in it too, yeah? I only hope I can get more ideas on this side of brilliance from here on out.

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