Competition as a way to Apply Knowledge

In our U.S. Constitution unit the students are tasked with sketch noting each article as a way of diving deep into the meaning of each section and clause. The ideas have to bounce around their heads as they figure out how to make words written in 1787 into visuals. The sketch noting forces students to stop and think. They are not transferring ideas from one paper to another with minimum effort, they are engaging with material and transforming it on the path to a deeper understanding.

To deeply engage my students in this somewhat dry unit during our long winter months the classroom has been gamified to enhance the learning experience. Students are competing in groups to meet checkpoints and go head to head  in content and skill based activities. As discussed in this post, the gamification of the room has motivated students through the tough content of analyzing the Constitution and the long quarter 3 that usually drags on at a snail’s pace. 

Two classroom walls have been transformed into game boards. Students picked their own teams and names.Each name is presented on the wall as a plaque that will show students a visual representation of their progress in the work and game.. At the launch of the unit students were presented with their celebration criteria that helped them create their FLAP board, as well as an assignment grid that contains all lessons, rubrics, materials and extra credit information.

The only part that is not included on the Assignment grid is the Competition days. Competition days are fun. Filled with mystery and not announced until the beginning of class students have no idea what activity they will be faced with that day. The challenges are designed to show mastery of content and highlight group collaboration. 

 Yes, they have other forms of assessments, but I feel this is the truest in terms of true understanding. To complete a Competition students must internalize the knowledge and transform it into a different medium. They cannot pass a challenge with a superficial understanding of material, or a group that does not communicate and collaborate. It is a test of the fundamental pillars of my class. 

Our first Competition day entailed groups pitted against each other in a creativity battle of the wits. Grouped into 3 pairs students had to take different parts of Article 1, which is about the legislative branch and transform it into a song, poem, or visual. Each group was graded by their peers based on content and originality on a 1 – 10 scale. 

The extra pressure of peer evaluation adds to the pressure and the want to outdo each other. The competition helps drive the learning. 

Today we are doing a fun competition that will combine the content of social studies with lessons learned from the past unit in their English class. Students just completed their unit on Greek myths, by exploring different types of myths and characters and creating their own modern day myth based on Ancient Greek criteria. Today they will take that knowledge and bring in the United States Government. Students will take the second article of the US Constitution and create a Greek myth. They must use all clauses of the article and create a plot with characters, include props and wow the audience with their creative yet correct basis of knowledge. 

Honestly, I was a little worried about how this may work out. I know the students love studying the Greek myths, but I worried that this task may be too much for the students. They have to analyze the content of the Constitution and synthesize it into a Greek myth to present. It is an incredible amount of brain work that must be completed for this task to be successful. If completed correctly there will be no doubt that students deeply understand the role of the executive branch in the United States government and will remember this task for years to come. 

When I announced the competition students immediately shared nervous glances. There were a couple of giggles, followed by moans of despair. However, as soon as the timer was started groups lept from their desks and hurried off to work. The room was silent as students were enveloped in their work. As I walked around to check in on progress and answer questions the students did not even notice.. They were fully engulfed in their work and creating a mashup of English and social studies. 

Results

The results were astounding. The stories that were told were creative and engaging. The students ability to take an Article of the U.S. The Constitution and transform it into a fun story based in Greek myth was spectacular. They truly synthesized not only their Constitution content, but transformed it into a different medium within forty minutes. 

One story told the tale of shape shifter Ajax, who changed his form to get around the qualifications for being a United States President. 

Another created the tale of George Washington, goddess Athena’s son, that gains the presidency by having a duel with King George III. 

An ambitious group acted out Zues switching out election votes and his candidate being impeached with Greek face masks tied on by string. 

Finally, a group delved into the inner workings of picking a leader in a Greek agora and how the winner’s greed brought him to impeachment. 

What is truly impressive with the students’ work is how they jumped at the challenge, dove in immediately and were able to synthesize this information within a class period. I have no doubt that they fully understand the Constitutional obligations of a United States President and their role within the government. I am also thrilled to share these stories with their English teacher who will be delighted to see their love of Greek myths in a whole new format. 

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