Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Games People Play . . .

I love playing games!

Growing up my sister and I used to play massive, week-long games of Monopoly; tv game shows like “Sale of the Century” were almost compulsory TV viewing; we were even encouraged to exercise our word and thinking skills in animated and heated family debates. The advent of technology means I now no longer annoy my family (the old board games sit quietly in the cupboard) and I can find like-minded souls on Facebook and other gaming sites to play with.

I love playing games in the classroom!

Last year I introduced games as part of my “classroom management plan”.  I was frequently asked “Miss, if we do a good job can we have free time?”  I thought about this for a while and I replied, “I have scheduled some free time for you today …the first session starts at 10:45 and the second at 12:50”. It took the kids a while to figure this out too! Instead of free time I offered them a games session each week if they earned enough stamps in their planners.  Stamps were earned for completing tasks on time, bringing all equipment (pens, books) to class, beating their personal best in spelling tests, actually being silent during silent reading, among other things. They needed three stamps to participate in games day (in the early days I had to work really hard to make sure some of them got their three stamps). Since we were technically learning English all the games I offered were either word games (scrabble, boggle, upwords,hangman) or communication games (guess who, pictureka, pictionary, charades).

As the semester went on it became increasingly more common for students to earn 4 or 5 stamps in a week. So I brought in my DS, Ipod touch and Wii to reward those who earned extra stamps. The games were still word and communication games but this added feature of trust to use my game consoles gave added incentive to earn stamps.

My psychological game playing has paid off … this year I have that same class for English, Humanities and Homegroup (we spend a lot of time together).  They asked if we were having games day again (they no longer ask if we can have free time … they know the answer!).  I haven’t actually used my stamps yet … but my students are mostly meeting behaviour expectations and their work ethic is developing.  We have extended our games collection to include monopoly, card games and online games we add to our virtual classroom. (Yes, I do mean WE … students actually recommend sites to me to check out and add!)

Games Day not only gives the students a reason to “try harder” during the week it also gives them a chance to practice their thinking, communication, word and number skills.  They are learning to work/play/get along with everyone in the class. They have to make choices and manage their time (monopoly and pictionary need to be set up quickly or they run out of time).  They learn to follow rules, to negotiate changes, to win and lose graciously (the winner always packs up). There is the added bonus of beating me if they invite me to play, and the greatest outcome is the relationship building that goes on when we let our guard down and just have fun!

This group of students are young high school students but I have used games in my classrooms from prep to year 12! The problem I have with “free time” is that teenagers particularly don’t actually know what to do with it.  Schools constantly wrestle with the boredom factor that students face with the hour of free time we call “Lunch” and at home parents are constantly challenged with the “I’m bored” moaning on Saturday/ Sunday afternoon once weekly sport is over.

What games do you play in your classroom?

Homework … the Great Dilemma!

Many moons ago, when I sat my original interview with the Board of Education in order to graduate from university as a teacher, I remember only one question I was asked that day – “What is your opinion about homework?

The reason I remember only that question is because I was totally unprepared for it and I waffled on for a few minutes, completely contradicting myself and walked out thinking “They’re never going to approve me to teach after that!”

Last week during one of the many phone calls I made to parents one of them asked me when the homework would be starting? She had told her child that it was time to “step up” and “knuckle down” now that they were in year 8, but she hadn’t noticed any homework being brought home. I assured her we would be sending regular homework out soon.

Indeed the year 8 team has discussed this and we had also agreed that we would each write questions about the topics we are doing in humanities. However, I find myself questioning the value of this! While I do see the value of homework that reinforces or practices a skill or technique started in the classroom, I struggle with the idea of setting questions just for the sake of homework. After all, how much knowledge do we really retain from our school days? Children can google as fast as I can if knowledge is really important! Surely skills are more important than knowledge in school and in life beyond school?

Tonight I have been revisiting some past thoughts about homework and its value/purpose. I found myself googling Ian Lillico as I vaguely remember a homework grid that encouraged a wide variety of activities.  In year 8 over the past two weeks we have been looking at our learning styles and strengths / weaknesses. I’m thinking tonight that instead of writing those humanities questions I’d rather create a Lillico style grid that encourages family interaction, communication, problem solving and thinking skills.

Our school has a strong focus on restorative practice … something I think good teachers do intuitively but I am learning alot from the formal training and observation of practice. I think Lillico’s concept of homework fits nicely in an environment of relationship building.