Kicked Off and Pissed Off

  Our newest social studies expedition kickoff was today! It succeeded remarkably well, in that 100% of students were furious by the end, a half dozen had voluntarily sent themselves to the take a break chair to calm down (well, there weren't enough take a break chairs so they took over the guided reading area to regroup/fume), and at least three were in tears.
  I'll back up a step to explain how, exactly, this seeming disaster of a lesson constitutes a successful kickoff. We're diving into an expedition on laws, and how they keep us safe and help us accomplish our goals. For our kickoff to launch the 12-week project, the second grade team decided to create some scenarios that would simulate various systems of creating laws.

  First up: anarchy. I laid out a medium-sized piece of yellow butcher paper and some brand new markers in the middle of the classroom. I told the kids that we'd get to create a piece of art for our classroom today and tried to talk up how great this art piece would be and how new the markers were. I sent them a few at a time to start in on the art. Pretty soon, 3/4 of the class was flopped on their bellies, furiously art-ing. The remaining fourth of the class was standing above them, arms crossed and scowling. There was no more room around the perimeter of the paper, and some kids weren't getting to participate. As you might imagine, arguments, grabbing, stewing, shouting, and sulking ensued. It was great. We teachers sat back, let the state of nature unfold, and took notes on what the kids were saying.
  Some kids were very considerate and tried to make sure others were getting a turn (while not necessarily giving up their own prized spot along the paper), but mostly we heard:


Hurry up!

Some people aren’t sharing.

I don’t GET to draw.
I don’t get to do ANYTHING.

That’s the stupidest idea ever!

  We hung the art on the wall and took some time to write down how that had gone. We agreed it had not gone well, so I proposed a new piece of art. Bringing us to the next scenario: dictatorship.

  "What kind of art would a dictatorship produce?" you ask. Black and brown art about tennis, that's what. The position of Student of the Week was a very convenient way to choose a dictator. I announced that for our next art piece, Samuel was going to decide what kind of art we'd make, and what colors we'd use. He selected his favorite colors from all of the marker boxes and we put the rest away. The Student of the Week then proclaimed that the art would be related to sports. Kids started in, drawing soccer balls, trophies, hockey sticks, baseball bats, and other generally sports-related items. They were coloring away quite happily, actually, so I decided to up the dictatorship ante.
  "Samuel," I asked. "Do you think maybe we should just draw what you really want to draw? What's your favorite sport, anyway?" "Tennis" he replied. "And which one of these colors is really your most favorite?" "Black and brown." And so it was that a second decree came down from the Student of the Week that everyone would only draw tennis. Black and brown tennis.
  This did not go over well.

Samuel, why are you being picky?
It's not fair.
I don't want to draw that.

I already drew soccer!

This is stupid. What's the point of joining?

  Art piece # 2 was certainly turning out to be quite the disaster I had intended, but there was a bit more unfair it could yet become.
  "And maybe only some kids should get to draw, right?" I asked Samuel. "I mean, like, maybe only kids wearing...." Samuel glanced down at his own green uniform shirt. "Green!" he exclaimed. "And gold."
  "If your shirt isn't green or gold," Samuel announced, "you have to leave."
  As the non-chosen kids stormed off, those left behind lamented the selection process, apparently preferring either a meritocracy or just to put themselves in place of the current dictator.

"But all those people were good!" one student said of the kids who had to leave.
"She was being bad outside at recess!" another said of one who got to stay.
"I wish I were the student of the week!"
"He’s mean. I don’t like him."
"He’s the worst student of the week EVER!"

  And just as the masses had begun to plot their revenge on the most unfair of all Students of the Week ever, I pulled the plug on art piece # 2. I proceeded to start on damage control--namely explaining that it was really ME who had made Samuel be so bossy--didn't he do a great job ACTING like I asked him to? Yes--let's not direct this at Samuel, in fact, let's come up with some compliments about Samuel--stat! And let's also get some paper into these kids' hands so they can FINALLY just draw what they want to draw!
  As the kids reflected on the experience of art piece # 2 and drew their own personal mini art piece, I went to check in with Samuel to see how he was feeling about having been the dictator. "What did you think of that?" I asked. "It was great!" replied Samuel. I then went around to each kid and asked if he or she had felt really mad. After the inevitable "Yes!" I told them that they had passed the test! This activity was SUPPOSED to make kids mad! "Isn't that weird?" I asked them. "What kind of a teacher DOES that??!" This got a smile out of most of them, and we joked around about it and they colored until a good mood was restored.
  I'm pretty sure that today's art creation will be useful in explaining many concepts related to laws!

photo from


Nate said...

Just as Thomas Hobbes thought:
1. Life in the state of nature is "nasty, brutish, and short."

2. Things get done much more efficiently with a Leviathan dictatorship in place. (After all, I bet you got some great tennis art out of this.)

Now with your next experiment, I bet you show that democracy is the noisy mess that we all know it to be and that we need an all-powerful dictator to hold things together.

Or am I missing something?? :)

Sarah Garb said...

Well, I must agree that things do get done much more efficiently with a Leviathan dictatorship. I just normally prefer it to be my Leviathan dictatorship so that the learning is not nasty, brutish and short! Imagine the recess we'd have with majority rule!

teachin' said...

AWESOME lesson. SO impressed.

Jim said...

Gutsy move, teach. Always pushing the envelope. The kids won't forget this lesson in a hurry!

Sheila said...

An all powerful benevolent dictator please.

pooj and jess said...

Please say you got some of this on tape?!

Jane said...

The last lesson sounds like it was verging on "Lord of the Flies"! You were VERY lucky they could finally be subdued by coloring.

And for your next lesson, are you going to show them how they do it in our fair Congress? You'll have to assign one group that refuses to compromise and ALWAYS votes against the other group, no matter what the issue.

Julia said...

I don't know about this Samuel character. What child's favorite colors are black and brown??

Sarah Garb said...

Was it coloring that was the opiate of the masses?

Nabiha said...

Best lesson ever! That's awesome.

luckeyfrog said...

This kind of lesson is the reason why scripted programs and science-proven curriculum will never be as effective as a great teacher.

Congrats on a fantastic lesson.

Heather Masno said...

Genius!!! I love it.

Elaine said...

ahh, the memories of letting purposeful chaos do the teaching:) i LOVE the way you had the kids experience opposite spectrums before they engage in the workings of laws in a democracy! and you capture those little meaningful moments so well. they will remember this in years to come!

Ms V said...

Wow- I am impressed with your ingenuity. Fantastic lesson.

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