I don’t teach sharing all that much.
It’s not that I don’t believe in it, I promise. I just get the impression that it’s a huge lesson in elementary school–getting kids to share the scissors and markers without too much drama–but since I never went to elementary school (gasp!) I can’t be sure. By the time they get to high school, we expect students to share, depending on those elementary reflexes to cover for the kid whose entire backpack gets stolen or locked in a locker with a truly unbreakable combination. It’s educational courtesy, the unwritten code of “today it’s you; tomorrow it could be me” that keeps up a healthy commerce of loaned school supplies.
With high school students, the teachers have discovered another important motivator: competition. In our nobler moments, we push the race for self-improvement, encouraging students to write a better paper than the last one or score just a few more points on the next test. We know that pitting the students against each other is risky business, even in the friendliest classrooms. The debate over Mark Twain, in its best case scenario– the one in which students are engaged and knowledgable, passionately arguing their cases–ends with a class divided as I flail for reconciliation. Yet those days are filled with energy, and the spark of competition tempts us to return, again and again, to the battles of wits that make for the liveliest classes.
That said, several factors coalesce to bring Canadian History class into game-playing mode on Valentine’s Day, this fascination with competition among them. A third of the class is taking make-up tests from Friday, and I couldn’t find a good story to read in celebration of love, despite having spent ages over the weekend typing “Canadian, World War I, Love Story” into Google in different permutations. Feeling guilty that English classes would be delighting in one of my favorite short stories, I tried to make up for the inequity by playing one of our favorite games in history class.
The game is called “That Relates to Canadian History Because.” Its rules are simple, and few:
- As a class, we examine something. (A board game, a movie clip, a map)
- Students raise their hands and offer connections, literal or metaphorical, from the item examined to a feature of Canadian History, and explain the connection in great detail.
- For example, while one boy reads aloud the rules to Monopoly, a girl interrupts him and says:
- “That relates to Canadian history because… in the game you go to jail for no real reason at all, just like how in the West the RCMP would arrest people for really small things, and then they’d stay in jail for a long time.”
- Then she gets three chocolate Smarties.
- The student with the most Smarties at the end of the game wins!
- (Everyone gets to eat their own Smarties.)
This game has worked well in the past, as generally the students surprise me (and themselves) with the depth and variety of their connections. Today’s are a little shallower, but I suspect it has to do more with the artifact than the students. We are watching an episode of the 90’s Disney Channel show “Road to Avonlea.” It does relate to Canadian history, as it was filmed in Canada, set on Prince Edward Island and based loosely on short stories by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery. Still, after the first few students comment on the Scottish heritages of the characters and the fact that they “still lived, like, in the country, like most Canadians were doing in the late 19th century,” we begin to lose steam.
It’s only then that I notice that one girl, always the greatest connector, has been collecting all the Smarties. From everyone. Someone makes a connection, mentioning railroads or telephones or politics, and she deposits their three winning Smarties onto a paper plate. I watch as every few minutes, she passes the Smarties down the row of students. Each of them take a few before passing the plate around and back to her. They all contribute with answers, but it’s clear that three or four students are doing the majority of the intellectual work here.
I’m momentarily ruffled. They’re not competing! What is this? Then start to laugh. These students from Ontario and the prairies, they’ve been raised outside of their home country, and yet even in the simplest of games their manners are inescapable, their economic outlook indelible. I laugh as they model their economy in chocolate, equalizing their wealth so that the poor in information are served by those rich in knowledge.
“You’re all so Canadian,” I tell them. “Sharing, caring. It’s just beautiful.” They nod seriously, pass the Smarties down the row.
A few minutes later, I seize an opportunity to play the game. “That relates to Canadian history because her dad is killed in a factory accident, much like the thousands of non-union workers killed in accidents in the Maritimes,” I declare triumphantly, all in a breath. I award myself three Smarties.
“Do you want to put them on the plate?” Great Connector asks, pushing forward the plate of Smarties suggestively.
“I’m American,” I shrug. I eat one, then put the other two onto the plate with a grin.