Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review Games & Flying Buttresses (Dear Katie #2 V2)

Dear Katie,

Every so often I will be in contact with a student from my World History class of the late 1990's and they will remark that they will NEVER forget what a FLYING BUTTRESS was.  Early on in my teaching career I discovered I needed to make memorizing the facts of history palatable for my students.

During college basketball season one year, I split my world history classes into 16 teams and we had our own version of March Madness.  I would ask 6 questions and a "defensive" question.

Questions 1-6 each had a different point value.  The goal was to make the average score of each team to be within the realm of the actual score of a college basketball game (50-80 points). Everyone started with 30 points, I made sure if someone had all the questions correct, they would finish somewhere around 100 points. (Which would be on the high side for a college basketball game).

The last question was a "defensive question".  It was the only one where you would lose points if you answered it wrong.

After the students corrected each other's papers, I would take the scores.  Your team's average would be compared to your opponents.  Higher average would win the game and advance in the tournament.

It was so successful, I did the same thing in the fall, creating a college football season that culminated in each team playing in a "bowl" game (we had the Candy Bowl, Salad Bowl, and of course, the two worst teams faced off in the Toilet Bowl).  The March Madness season had both a regular season added.

Kids like competition, and the game quizzes motivated them to learn the material.  For me as the teacher, I could see the questions where students were struggling.

That brings us to the flying buttress.  One year, on almost every game quiz, I would ask them "What was the wing structure in gothic architecture that allowed buildings to be created higher with thinner walls?"  Hearing it so often, they didn't forget.

I did have some students ask me what was the point of knowing what a flying buttress was.  I told them that for the boys, they could impress a date by taking her to New Haven, point up to the gothic architecture around Yale, and say, "Look, a flying buttress."

More on games in the classroom later,

Uncle Kevin

(And despite what people tell you, yes we HAVE TO MEMORIZE facts.  Yes, history classes should be about recognizing trends, analyzing causes and effects, and drawing conclusions, but in order to develop arguments in your speech and/or writing or to understand the context of what you are reading, you need a foundation of facts in your head).

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