Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lesson Fail

Friday was my last day of school before the two-week fall break, and everyone was excited for the day to be finished. I have two tenth-grade classes with the same teacher on Friday and had been asked to come up with a fun, light lesson for this final day. No difficult analyzing or worksheets please, just a game or a cartoon or something similar. So I had a plan.
My tenth-grade world history class played a game called “Congress of Vienna,” in which we pretended we were the five major European powers after WWI, parceling out the continent. France, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Great Britain had to decide who got what in Europe, with three votes (or three countries) required to agree on a certain course of action. For example, three countries might agree that Russia gets Poland while Great Britain gets Malta. Each country had a separate score sheet reflecting the points it would get depending on who got control over which territory. In the case of Russia and Poland, Russia would get 30 points if it could get Poland, 15 points if Prussia could get Poland, and 0 points if Great Britain, France, or Austria got it. The Russian group had to go to the other countries to see if they would vote for Russia to get Poland, and perhaps trade one vote for another. So Russia would vote that Great Britain gets Malta and Great Britain would vote that Russia gets Poland, for example. Or, if Great Britain was unwilling to vote for Russia, perhaps Russia could convince it to vote for Prussia instead and still get some points. We had to make these kinds of deals for two dozen or so different territories and then vote at the end of a few days. Clear? Good.

The Congress of Vienna. Our version included fewer old European men.
I thought that I could make a similar game for the American Constitution, splitting the students up and giving them a variety of issues on which to vote. Somehow they would have to try and convince two other groups to vote with them on something to get those points. A little complicated, certainly, but not unmanageable – I thought it would be fun. Ha.

"An assembly of demigods" in the words of Thomas Jefferson
In the teacher’s room before class started I explained the game to the teacher, who told me very gently that the students might not understand. We could try it, she said, and she hoped I had a backup in case it didn’t work. I did bring a backup (talking about holidays with pictures from my childhood to accompany the discussion) but thought I wouldn’t need it. Cue the beginning of class and my attempts to explain the game to the students. They looked at me in confusion while I explained the rules, then tried to play the game despite not understand what they were supposed to do. Ten minutes into the lesson, the teacher suggested that I go to Plan B and perhaps we could try the game later in the year. Cue Jessica curling up into a little ball and crying inside. Not outside, though, and we had a somewhat forced conversation about holidays in Germany and the US.

It turns out that Christmas in Germany is celebrated on December 24, and it includes a St. Nicholas figure who comes on December 6 to fill children's shoes with candy. In German folklore, St. Nicolas is accompanied by a creature called Knecht Ruprecht who hits bad children with his stick. My students told me that they had never been hit with sticks, though in some places in Austria the Christmas season includes a parade with St. Nicholas and Krampus (a very similar figure, though more like a demon who will eat you) who does actually hit people. Knecht Ruprecht is now more of a story than a reality for German children.
He's usually an old or hooded man, and puts bad kids in his sack.
Krampus is more of a demon that will scare the living daylights out of you
Two confusing German food I’ve been attempting to learn lately:
Paprika – bell pepper
Peperoni – chili peppers

So there you go.

1 comment:

  1. If you are thinking about any lessons on the American political/election process this link might help with ideas.

    Do your students have computers in their classrooms?