I never want to get up in front of the class and be unprepared, but sometimes you won’t ever know you’re unprepared unless you get up in front of class.
Since I first started teaching I’ve always wanted to use a set of games to teach economics principles. I have a rose-tinted vision of how the game would work, how the kids would immerse themselves in play, and debrief at the end to discuss things like comparative advantage, or the creation of money. It was scheduled for today and I was making last second tweaks right up until class time. Once class started the game went by in a blur, most of the time was me trying to make sure the game was written and explained clearly enough for kids to get it. We ended up spending an entire class period on it, and we didn’t even finish.
Let’s go back to the morning, before the game started. I had in my head how the game was supposed to work. I had a sequence of steps for the game in my head, and a powerpoint for kids to follow. There was a spreadsheet system for logging data. I ran and borrowed a bunch of small whiteboards that kids could use to communicate, then added that into the workflow of the game. These tweaks took place all morning, right up until it was time to teach. I was reminded of my mom getting Thanksgiving dinner together right before the guests arrived.
When it came time to get the students to play it, my brain was trying to create when it should be trying to execute. I was approaching the game as a work in progress and not a finished piece. So when one group came up and asked if they could rename one part of the game something else, the creator in me thought “that’s not a problem”, when the executor in me should have said “that’s a good idea, write that on your exit slip and maybe next time.”
When creating things, lessons or games, there needs to be some distance between the act of creating it, and the act of executing it. Sometimes I can create that distance instantly. I can stand at the board and create rote problems quickly, (like a three-step equation with negatives, the distributive property, resulting in an integer) and immediately walk away from the board and not question whether the task is right, or could be done better. Experience shows me the potential pitfalls, and what success looks like. With this game, I was trying something outside of my experience and was unsure of the task itself.
It’s unsettling to be in a class where you don’t have a task you’re completely confident about. You still look for ways to make it better, less complex, and in a lot of ways easier for the kids. Turning that switch off and becoming the impartial judge of the tasks is an important part of making things work well with kids. Being able to separate your self and your creative process from the task, being able to walk to the back of the class and say “That is quite a problem up there, what should we do?” is really important for the task’s success.
As kids got started on the game, there were problems. Some were confused about the computer, others were doodling on their white board, and the name change I allowed confused two groups. The creator in me at this point was yearning to get back to the drafting table and start making fixes to all these parts of the game. I could have said “Alright guys, this isn’t working. Get out some paper and copy from the board” and whipped up a bunch of equations to solve. Instead I had to turn the creator off, and let the executor make sure the game gets finished. I was able to distance myself from whether or not the task was ideally formed, and spent the rest of the class pushing kids to understand it as it was written. There was certainly something for the kids to understand in this game, and I focused on making that visible.