Friday, July 26, 2013

Beyblade Observations

When I started teaching 11 years ago I remember having to learn how to spell Beyblade because it was the subject of most of my grade 1 and 2 male students journal entries.  I remember complaining about how obsessed they were with the toys and taking solace in the belief that 'this too shall pass.'  This new vocabulary along with the Pokemon vocab. I had to learn was quite vexing for me.  I am not a great speller to begin with and these strange new words didn't help.  However, if present me had been able to talk to past me I might have been able to tell myself to take advantage of this obsession and use it to engage my students in Language and Mathematics.  But at the time, as a first year teacher, I was more concerned with trying to cover everything in the curriculum while working on my classroom management, and knew very little about inquiry or about the power of play.  Opportunity missed.

I have just finished my last day of teaching summer school with the inner city program in Toronto. It was a short, but packed program. which.  It was a shame that it was so short since the students from the 6+ schools that make up the summer school program have really started to connect and develop a summer school identity.  One of my students confessed this morning that the only reason she is going to finish off summer school this week instead of taking the last day off as many students do, is because she wants to be with her friends on the bus.  Maybe not the best reason for continuing to go to summer school, but it's a reason.  However was not the bus drive that is the strongest thing that has united the students here.  No, the biggest thing that students have bonded, the boys at least, was over is Beyblade.  It started off with a couple of students in grade 2 bringing their Beyblades to school.  By the beginning of the second week one student started bringing his stadium to school to play with, and the crowds grew.  By the last week of summer school there were 3 different students bringing in stadiums to school and at recess and before school students would huddle together in large groups playing.

A few students playing as they wait for their bus.  The recess groups were usually 10+ players
I never learned how to play with beyblades so, and when was outside I would watch them play.  It was a constant stream of beyblades being released and quickly retrieved or caught as they got knocked over, in or out of the stadium. I was having trouble understanding the rules of the game and asked the students how they know who the winner is. The players stopped for a brief moment to tell me -in slightly annoyed voices:"there are no winners, we are just playing."  They looked at me like I had missed the whole point of the game entirely.  Which I guess I had*.

Every day I made a point of watching one of the groups for a few minutes to try and understand the appeal of the game.  While they played some students maintained a running commentary of the action as well as engaging in a bit 'smack talk' along the likes of: "mine just owned!" and "mine destroys!"  But they did not keep track of any kind of score.  Before and after they played the would compare their toys; size, colour, and when or where they bought them and making plans for the next day.  I asked some of the students huddled together what grade they are in, and in one group the range of grades was from grade one to grade five.  It is a rare thing to see a group with that big of an age difference happily playing together at recess.

 After watching the boys play for a while I realized they were more interested in how their bayblades functioned and less about engaging others in their play beyond commenting on how awesome their own beyblade is.  Their play looked more like parallel play, than cooperative or competitive play.  It was like watching toddlers in a sandbox; they shared the same space and would talk, but not really engage in conversation beyond the narrative they were creating around their own toys.  There was a lot of general shouting, but little actual dialogue between players beyond: "don't touch mine!"

The only exclusions to the groups that I saw, was that no girls joined. I asked about this and the boys said that the girls just didn't want to play.  I then asked if they would allow girls to play and got some mixed responses of yes and no.  They did tell me that one girl (in grade 2 or 3) had brought a beyblade to school, but she didn't play with them, she just let them use it.  One of the boys lead me to the girl and I asked her about it.  She said it (the beyblade) was her brothers' and she wanted to show it to them (the boys) and let them play but she didn't want to play herself.  I couldn't ask her more because recess was over and because I was afraid my questions might be a bit leading.  Perhaps if I knew her better I would be able to find out more.

I had know idea that beyblades could have such a long life, nor did I realize how much knowledge students had around them or the way that it could help establish a connection across grades and schools.  It was really interesting to talk to the boys playing and having them share their enthusiasm for what they were playing.  Beyblades are not popular in my school any more, but is was obvious from my time at summer school that the fad is long from dead.  I am sure if they do not remember anything they were taught this month, they will at least remember the fun they had at recess playing beyblade with other kids from different neighbourhoods.

*I looked up the game, and according to Wikipedia the last top spinning is the winner.  But these students kept picking up their tops and relaunching them, so that there was never a 'last man standing' situation.  So I was right, there should have been a winner, but they had obviously change the game play to suit themselves.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Geekuality For All!

I just saw this video, and thought I would share it.  'Cause, feeling like you have to justify your 'geekness' to other geeks is dumb.  And really, since when has being a geek become an exclusive club you have to fight in order to get in?  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Play is a four letter word

At some point in childhood 'play*' becomes a baby word.  In its' place older children/teens say things like: 'I'm going to hang out with...'  They no longer 'play at the park'; instead they 'hang out at the park.'  Unless of course they are referring to a sport in which case 'playing' is allowed.**  But even then they are often just: 'shooting some hoops' instead of 'playing basketball.'  This year if I asked my grade 4's what they did at lunch they would tell me about who they played with, and what they played.  By the end of the year my grade 6 students would tell me they hung out with their friends at lunch, and would less frequently talk about playing.  Thankfully, even my most jaded grade 6 would still occasionally talk about how she and her friends played tag.  I can't articulate why I feel this way yet, but somehow I think that it is important to hold on to 'play'.

I remember the summer between grade 6 and 7 when I was 12 years old.  A new girl had moved in 2 doors down from me.  My mom had told me her dad was looking for kids her age to meet her so I -bravely- walked up to her front door and knocked. When her father answered the door I asked "Can Anne come out to play?"  He gave me a funny look and I instantly realised that 'play' wasn't the word kids my age used anymore.  I am sure I turned bright red on the spot.  Anne's father looked at me to see if I was just trying to be funny or if I was really being serious.  After what seemed like a lifetime, he went in and got Anne to come to the door.  I really didn't know how else to phrase what I said in a way that sounded more teenagery, and felt like an idiot for not being 'cooler'.  I knew that 'play' wasn't the word I should be using as a preteen, but didn't know why, or what word I should have used instead.  It was like I was learning English as a second language, even though I could speak it fluently.

Last month I discovered that 'play' definitely becomes a questionable word when you are an adult if you are not talking about what children do.

This past Wednesday at my staff dinner I had to give the farewell speech to my friend +Liam O'Donnell, wishing him well at his new school.  Which I admitted during my speech, I felt silly doing since I knew that I would still be seeing him in the future and playing with him.  I quickly realized I said the wrong thing.  This time however, instead of strange looks, I heard giggling coming from many of my colleagues.  I literally meant I would be playing with Liam, online in Minecraft or maybe even in Neverwinter, but the word 'play' was interpreted completely differently by many of the other adults present.  It became an off coloured joke.  I scolded my colleagues calling them 'children,'  and continued speaking.  Looking back, calling them children seems like the wrong label to have given them since I'm pretty sure children too, would have understood what I meant.  The kindergarten teachers were the only ones who did not laugh.  They understood what I meant and were confused by the giggling.  I love kindergarten teachers.

What does the various ways this word is used say about how we value (or don't value) play?  Is it difficult to imagine adults playing without it being something dirty or infantile?  Is play only something reserved for children?

* When I say play I am talking about playing: free play, or playing a game, not playing on an organized sport team
**Just in case you didn't already know: this blog is mostly about my opinions and I can't back up my observations with actual studies on the speech patterns and/or sign/signifiers that are often used by children and youth.  But if you have them, I would gladly read them.