I have much to post this week, but I thought I’d do a quick share: my favorite week at school was last week, or Kindness Week! It runs in conjunction with National Kindness Week, and I’m happy to see that tradition grow. At my school, we keep it simple. Sometimes, this is the best way- after all, kindness in its most simple form is a powerful thing.
Our guidance counselors invited the whole school to write notes- of encouragement, of gratitude, of greeting- to anyone in the school. Teachers were encouraged to write colleagues, students, and staff; students the same. The cafeteria dedicated a whole table to notecards of all sorts, makers, crayons, pens, and stickers so that anyone could write their note during the day. The notes were delivered via snail mail, which in our school means the student board or your faculty box.
I cannot tell you how incredible, how moving it is to watch a student squeal in delight (I teach all girls, so squeal is really the right word) when they get a card. I cannot tell you how much it just makes my week to open up my own notes and find words that make my job so meaningful, even from the most unlikely sources.
And so, while I am behind in posting, know that I spent my time writing others. If only we all did this year round!
Sometimes, the best part of my job isn’t my job at all. Sometimes, the best part of my job involves play. This was completely the case on Sunday, when Andy Looney of Looney Labs came to play with us during Casual Sunday.
Now that statement may not quite mean anything or sink in yet. If you are a Fluxx player, then start melting. Andy Looney, inventor of the Mensa approved game, Fluxx, ventured out of Looney Labs with 6 different versions of Fluxx, 4 of which were not published on the market.
I’d like to claim that I’m just so cool even Andy Looney likes to play Fluxx with me, but I don’t think I’ll ever reach that level of epicness. My students however, are awesome. It was their epicness that made things happen. Let me explain.
A big part of my teaching philosophy involves gaming in the classroom. I firmly believe that strategic gaming is a great platform to engage play and higher level critical thinking skills. About two modules ago (we teach on a module schedule), I asked my American Drama Module to create an adaptation for A Streetcar Named Desire. My only rules: it had to be an adaptation, which means certain plot devices had to remain and the story had to be mostly recognizable. Beyond that, no guidelines, no project format, no detailed page long project description. Oh, and there was a prize: best project won movie tickets and me as a chauffeur. For a boarding school, this was “jackpot”. (Apparently using article is now not considered hip.) As nervous as I was about the outcomes of this “open ended project” format (ermergawd I’m going to get cardboard-put-together-last-minute-diaromas), the students were much more in stress mode.
“Can you at least give us a list of project options?”
“Can you tell me if my idea is right?”
“What if I do it wrong?”
This is exactly why I think teaching creative play in the classroom is so important. I will spare you a diatribe until a later post, but I will say this: we have programmed our students to believe that thinking outside the box is too risky. It’s not worth the risk of getting a bad grade, it’s not worth the risk of being wrong. We have programmed students to think that creative play is wrong. And that is fundamentally the opposite of what learning and the classroom should do.
Every single group blew me away. I had a fairy tale adaptation, a Teletubbies version, a fake documentary, and A Street Car Named Desire Fluxx. While they didn’t win, I did tweet their version to Labyrinth Games in DC (best game shop ever). I didn’t realize this at the time, but Kathleen at Labyrinth sees Andy Looney for Small Business Saturdays (yet another reason to love this place). In passing through, I showed Kathleen pics of the version, and lo and behold, in about the time span of a week Andy Looney wanted to come play it.
It began as sort of a “I like board games. You like board games. Can we play a board game?” and has kind of become a thing. We call it “Casual Sundays.”
Each Sunday, a colleauge and I bring a new game for girls to play. Two Sundays ago, we brought Slash. Almost instantly, we started an obsession (at least for half of the 10 who played).
I’m way ahead of myself. I need a scale of measurement. Let’s say 1 is a “I’d like my _hours of playtime back,” a 3 is an “eh. Kinda cool,” and a 5 is a “I lost track of time this was so amazing ohmergawd can we keep playing.” At some point, I’ll include a rubric.
Slash is like Apples to Apples but with fictional characters. It’s completely unlike Apples to Apples in that you are the matchmaker; you’re not matching the best adjective with the best noun or even the best offensive category with the best proper noun (I heart you Cards Against Humanity). You’re playing Cupid with characters from classic fiction, cult fiction, television, movies, mythology, you name it. AND IT ROCKS.
My favorite part of this game (other than it generated at least three fan fiction stories) is the moments you have to explain a character to the current matchmaker. Example:
“You don’t know who Captain Mal is? Ohmergod.”
“Nope. I also don’t know who The Kraken is.”
“One is a space captain. The other a giant octopus. Lots of tension could happen, but lets face it. The conversation about space vs ocean would be epic.”
The game combines two things well: romancey angst (which teenage girls love) and characters from all different kinds of verse. My favorite paring: Captain Jack Sparrow and The Golden Girls. All of them. I can totally see that too.