“Oh Christmas Tree, Oh What’s That Tree?” A Winter Holiday Play

How do you celebrate multiple cultures simultaneously? Is it even appropriate to talk about religious holidays in a public-education classroom?

The Polite Pirates experienced a "cheese & meats from around the world" tasting, following our performance. --Many thanks to Dr. Deb Campbell for the amazing charcuterie.  

One of the ways I taught my students (The Polite Pirates) about various Winter Holidays and customs from around the world was by having them read plays. I’d construct the plays from the text of picture books. I’d have the Polite Pirates practice and perform the plays for their parents right before winter break. One of the plays is about Old Befana. It introduces an Italian tradition of getting stocking stuffers on January 6th (Epiphany) from a “Christmas witch.” There’s one about a family making Latkes to celebrate Hanukkah. Parents loved listening to their children pronounce the fancy French words from Margie Palatini & Richard Egielski’s “Three French Hens” that I turned into a play.

Because plays were read, as opposed to memorized, we call them “reader’s theaters” (2015).

Many of the texts have wonderful themes. One of my all-time favorites is “The Christmas Piñata” by Jack Kent, a story about two pots who have very different uses. The “good pot” is made into a beautiful and useful watering can, while the other comes out of the kiln broken. This broken pot is sad that it can’t be as useful as the “good pot…” until one day it is made into the star of the Los Posadas parade in a Mexican village! This makes for a very powerful play whose theme, even the youngest children can interpret.

The Polite Pirates of 2015 perform “The Christmas Piñata” for parents and peers.

This year I decided to do something different, and it proved totally awesome! Rather than use an already existing book to make a play, I wrote my own. I wanted to have the Polite Pirates travel around the world to experience various cultures. Perhaps their pirate ship could magically become a flying vessel that skips from one continent to another. Then, the idea came to me… I would use my silly pirate captain to lead everyone all over time and space by appropriating the zany television legend, Doctor Who and his TARDIS. Instead of “Doctor Who,” however, it would be “Captain Who”.. and the idea for a time-jumping class of kids was born!

Of course Mr. Weimann has a smoke machine… And, of course we had to use it each time we jumped through time!

Instead of focusing on winter holidays, I decided to research the origins of the Christmas tree. I knew that the symbol of evergreen predated the dominant religion’s appropriation (Schroeder, 1992). I did not know that the use of branches, trees, wreathes, and plants to symbolize immortality stretched back to ancient Egypt and beyond (History.com Editors, 2021). The variety of places, cultures, and uses of evergreen over the face of the Earth and throughout time is staggering.

Open-ended questions helped us get more out of our reading.

Rather than deciding which of the many facts to include in our classroom play all by my lonesome, I decided to include the Polite Pirates in the project. We practiced research by writing down open-ended questions. I wetted their appetites by giving them teasers like, “Did you know that Christmas trees were illegal at one time?” and “Some cultures don’t call them Christmas trees.” Then I had my students read the History.com article (2021) that started me down this rabbit hole.

After learning many interesting facts, the Polite Pirates and I decided on our favorites to include in our play. Each story would be a separate scene for our TARDIS-traveling pirate players to visit. They would explore one of the oldest cultures to use greenery as a symbol of life; ancient Egypt; with its mythology of the sun god becoming ill, and therefore reducing its daily dose of light. The god gets increasingly sick, until the Winter Solstice finds him lying in bed the longest of any day of the year! Egyptians would decorate with palm fronds to encourage Ra to awaken and feel better.

I used the word “sacrilege” to play a round of balderdash with the Polite Pirates. That game will be the topic of an upcoming blog.

We also wanted to share the experience of getting in trouble for having Christmas trees. This happened during the puritan era of early Massachusetts. They believed it sacrilegious to make merriment on or near the day they celebrated Christ’s birth (December 25th).

Image from 1846 London newspaper

How did Christmas trees come to be a favorite holiday decoration? It was a popular monarch who changed everything. And, it wasn’t a king. Queen Victoria was the evergreen tree trend-setter. She had married Prince Albert of Germany, and invited him to share some of his Christmas traditions with her. This little story was a nice way to show the Polite Pirates open-mindedness and acceptance, as well as cause and effect. It was a newspaper illustration that turned tree decorating into a national craze. A picture of the royals standing next to a 4 foot high tree decorated with glass ornaments from Germany and placed on top of a table was published in a local London newspaper in 1846. After that, Christmas trees were the rage in every English-influenced culture.

Finally, it’s always helpful to include something the students are extra fond of. Everyone wanted to know the story behind the German pickle that hides in the tree. Here was an opportunity to learn that research does not always yield neat answers. According to Alexandra Churchill (2021) of Martha Stewart.com, no one knows exactly where this tradition originated.

The Christmas Pickle

I made a scene at the end of our play that has a shop owner speaking with a pickle-eating worker, while a couple of patrons peruse the recently invented and imported German-made glass ornaments. This story encapsulates the way myths are born. In the play I even named the pickle-eater “LEGEND WRITER” to point out that this tradition stems from people simply making up the idea.

By connecting Christmas trees with research, I aim to make the roots of this lesson tap into this time of year. Anytime my Polite Pirates come across an evergreen, I hope they think about not only its symbolism, but the process of digging up the facts that added to their understanding.

In several ways the process of researching mirrors the Scientific Method. After coming up with a question, looking for answers, and carefully observing information, recording what you learned, one must do something with what is found; The crux of it all is to publish your findings. The Polite Pirates are well-versed in writing paragraphs. Why not use what we learned to produce performance art? Of course that was the point all along, but I pointed out that our classroom’s winter holiday celebration play is actually a way of publishing or “making public” the information that we researched.

And so, without further ado, here is our play; the readers’ theater that the Polite Pirates performed for parents visiting the Willow Lane cafeteria on December 21st, which actually is the Winter Solstice! Feel free to use, adapt, and enjoy this play with your class. Perhaps you want to use this process to have your class make its own. Let me know how it goes.

This was the first time I had ever made a “set” for a play. I had the students help decorate the ship and make a Jolly Roger for our ship. Polite Pirates accessed the play via iPads. Everyone followed along as actors read.

SETTING: Behind 2 foot high pirate ship

There are 21 parts for my 21 students.
I numbered the pirates, students, and Egyptians, so that I could assign those parts to corresponding classroom numbers.

PIRATE3: Land, Ho!

PIRATE4: More like “School, ho!”

PIRATE5: This DOES seem like a place of learning. But, what’s that tree, there?

PIRATE6: More like a place for eating to me. What are those called?

PIRATE3: cafe? Trattorie? (Italian for casual restaurant, pronounced “truh*tor*ee”)

PIRATE4: restaurant? Are we in Italy?

PIRATE5: eatery? I thought that this was Pennsylvania. 

PIRATE6: No, no, no…

STUDENT11: (enters, wearing a Santa hat, and seeming to ecco PIRATE6) Ho, ho, ho…!

The day of our play just happened to coincide with “formal day” in our holiday themed week.

STUDENT12: (addressing the hat-wearer) If you want to play Santa in this performance, you’ll have to “Grow, grow, grow…”

STUDENT13: Not necessarily. That all depends on whether you want to portray the original “Saint Nicolas” or the modern, mythological… 

PIRATE3: Students… HO! Never mind labeling the luncheonette! Here are patrons.

PIRATE4: (ignoring everything, and continuing with synonyms for cafeteria…) Not tratorrie. Osteria (Another Italian word, pronounced “oh*stir*eeee*ah”)

PIRATE5: These DO appear to be students. Let’s see if they can help us figure out where we are.

PIRATE6: (triumphant, and ignoring others) Cafeteria! That’s what it’s called. 

(All of the students stumble to the ground in alarm.)

STUDENT11: (first to regain composure) Why hello there. Nice ship. Where do you sail?

PIRATE3: (In an overly loud, boisterous voice) Hello! We are the Polite Pirates, comrades of Captain…

PIRATE4: (Addressing PIRATE3, as much as the students) There is NO need to shout at them. (And then, polite speaking to the students…) 

We, the (throwing the word “polite” over his shoulder, at PIRATE3) Polite Pirates are pleased to make your acquaintance. 

STUDENT12: Yes, well, welcome to the cafeteria of Willow Lane.

STUDENT13: (over-emphasis the “who”) Who is your captain? From whom do you take orders?

PIRATE5: The captain comes and goes. He has invented… or found…

PIRATE6: Captain entered an old fashioned police box the other day, and we haven’t seen him since. 

STUDENT11: (seemingly beginning to get frustrated…) Yes, but…

STUDENT12: Captain…

STUDENT13: WHO! 

(smoke from smoke machine, and blue police box; Doctor Who-style TARDIS appears from behind ship) 

CAPTAIN: Hello everyone! Are these new Polite Pirates? 

ZEUS: (ignoring everyone, and pointing at the tree) Hey! Captain! There’s one here! We have our very own Polite Pirate Christmas tree.

MARY: But, it’s not decorated. How do you know it’s a Christmas tree? Perhaps, it’s only a… 

CAPTAIN: I know you two are excited, but do you think that it is polite to ignore our audience? 

ZEUS: Who? Them? (points to parents watching the play)

MARY: No, no, Zeus. Captain is simply calling our crew and these newcomers an audience because they witnessed our arrival in the TARDIS. 

PIRATE3: Excuse me. The what? 

CAPTAIN: (matter factly) TARDIS; Time And Relative Dimensions In Space… machine, portal, or whatever…

ZEUS: We aren’t completely sure how it works, but it’s loads of fun.

PIRATE4: What does it do?

MARY: I’d say loads of learning…

CAPTAIN: It enables us to travel through various… eras (say that last word with mystery)

STUDENT11: Why do you need a fancy box to travel through air?

ZEUS: “Air-uhs…” E, R, A, S. Eras are specific times and places in history.

MARY: An era will have unique elements that separate it from other times in history. 

STUDENT12: That sounds wild! What sorts of places have you visited?

STUDENT13: Traveling through space and time sounds scary. Are there any slow moving, wanky robots to fear? 

CAPTAIN: There are a few from the 60’s series, but mostly we have been exploring some winter holiday traditions. 

PIRATE5: Winter holiday traditions? Like what?

PIRATE6: Yeah, tell us what you learned. 

CAPTAIN: How about we show you? Come on.

EVERYONE: Yeah! (Everyone enters the TARDIS. More smoke.)

One of our kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Mauro, was sporting a Christmas tree head piece during the Winter concert that morning. It’s hard to imagine NOT being allowed to decorate.

SETTING: A Puritan village in 1649 New England   

(Students and pirates observe the exchange between the police officer and puritan, without getting involved… Students speak amongst themselves over on the side.)

POLICE: (Hands a person a piece of paper) You must pay this fine to the local magistrate by the end of the week, or we will be forced to return and confiscate something of comparable value.

PURITAN: I don’t see what the problem is with hanging a little evergreen around my house. It is MY home.

POLICE: I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them. No decorating on or near December 25th. That’s the law.

STUDENT11: What? People are not allowed to decorate for Christmas?

PURITAN: I bet the baby would have liked the wonderful, lively smell of evergreen. It would have covered up the foul smell of all of those barn animals.

STUDENT12: It sounds like they mostly like the smell. 

POLICE: While I agree that your evergreen clippings DO smell rather pleasant, you know the law: No hanging of decorations on or around December 25th. This is a sacred day. 

How do you teach the holiness of the Puritans without getting religious? Pagan was a new vocabulary word used in the article we read. I defined it as anything outside of the dominant culture. The practices of the Puritans would have seemed pagan to the Native Americans!

PURITAN: Officer, I am NOT (said with attitude) “pagan-izing” my home just by making it smell nice!

POLICE: Are you being obstinate, my puritan friend?

MARY: This must be the puritan era.

ZEUS: Around the 1650s…

STUDENT13: What if the puritan really does just want the place to smell nice? 

STUDENT11: I have a pine freshener that I took from my parents’ car this morning on the way to school. (Tosses the pine tree air freshener to the puritan.)

PURITAN: What’s this? (Holds pine tree to nose and sniffs.) Oooooh, this is wonderful.

POLICE: What do you have there? Where did that come from? What kind of witchcraft is this?

PURITAN: It’s just a thin wafer of wood, scented like an entire forest of evergreen. 

POLICE: Hmmm (smelling pine tree), that does smell rather nice. I’ll have to check on this.

PURITAN: It’s so tiny (whining), can’t I keep it? 

POLICE: (still smelling the tree… over and over, clearly enjoying the fragrance) I’m going to need to keep this… (to himself) I could hang it above my head in the paddy wagon. If only mirrors were invented, I could hang it from a rearview mirror… (wanders off)

PURITAN: Hey! (disappointed and whining) I found it!

(Captain pulls students back into TARDIS. Smoke. Police and puritan disappear.)


CAPTAIN: What are you doing?! You can’t share technology and ideas from the future with people from the past!

MARY: I totally forgot; We might mess up the space-time continuum. 

ZEUS: The whosie-whatsit?

CAPTAIN: If you go back in time and alter something, it could completely change the future; our time! We could cease to exist.

STUDENT11: Oh no! What have I done? Am I fading? I think I can see through my fingers.

STUDENT12: That’s because you have them spread out.

STUDENT11: (closes fingers) Oh, you are right. 

STUDENT13: Where are we now?

ZEUS: And, when are we now… I mean what is “now”? Or, when is “now”?

MARY: We get it, Zeus. Come on, let’s find out. 

(Mary leads group away from TARDIS, toward pyramids.)

I used magnets to hold decorations and the TARDIS up.

SETTING: Yellow pyramids in background. People hold palm fronds and speak to each other. One has a cold and is sneezing.

EGYPTIAN14: (pointing) I think it looks better over there. 

EGYPTIAN15: Yeah, but no one will smell it over there.

EGYPTIAN16: I don’t know how much smell palm fronds have, my Egyptian friend.

(Egyptian15 sneezes several times.)

EGYPTIAN14: We could put the fronds in water, if we arrange them in this vase. They might last longer.

(More sneezing by 15.)

EGYPTIAN16: Oh, for crying out loud! (Talking to 15) Can’t you take something for that? 

EGYPTIAN15: I think I’m allergic to palm trees.

EGYPTIAN14: I don’t think that’s a thing. We live in Egypt. They are everywhere. You probably have a cold.

(Again, the students and pirates remain separate from the people from the past. Just observe the Egyptian conversation.)

PIRATE3: (speaking to the TARDIS travelers) So, we are in Egypt this time.

PIRATE4: Your powers of observation are impressive.

PIRATE5: That doesn’t sound very polite? 

PIRATE4: You’re right. (turning apologetically to pirate3) And, you are right. I wonder what these Egyptians are doing with those palm fronds.

PIRATE6: It appears they are using them as decorations. I wonder if they are celebrating a holiday.

EGYPTIAN16: Why don’t we just get more fronds and put them on both sides of the house?

EGYPTIAN14: I like that. They can symbolize both, Ra rising and Ra setting. 

EGYPTIAN15: (sneezes) Ra has forsaken me!

EGYPTIAN16: No, he has been experiencing the same thing you are.

EGYPTIAN14: Maybe he gave you his cold.

EGYPTIAN15: That would explain why it is so powerful (extra big sneeze)

EGYPTIAN16: But, now we turn the corner.

EGYPTIAN14: After today, Ra will return in strength.

EGYPTIAN15: I can’t wait for my strength to return.

EGYPTIAN16: This will be your darkest day.

CAPTAIN: I bet the Egyptians are celebrating the Winter Solstice.

MARY: The shortest day of the year.

ZEUS: Who is Ra? And, why is he sick.

CAPTAIN: Ra is the Egyptian sun god. They must be talking about his disappearance.

MARY: Because there is less and less daylight.

ZEUS: They think he got sick?

CAPTAIN: That would explain why he hasn’t been around as much.

MARY: And, after today, the daylight will begin to increase.

ZEUS: As in Ra is recovering…

These students begged me to use British accents way before the play had been completed. As it turned out, one of our scenes took place in England. Score! They were fabulous.

SETTING: Palace in England

QUEEN: This is such a magical time of year, my dearest husband.

PRINCE: So true my queen. Might we decorate the palace to celebrate the season?

QUEEN: Tell me, your majesty. What traditions did you practice in your homeland of Germany?

PRINCE: My people erect trees in their homes and decorate them with fruits and nuts.

REPORTER: “Queen Victoria Goes Nuts for Trees!” Get your paper. Hot news for sale.

STUDENT11: What? That doesn’t sound right. Would they be able to print that kind of salacious news?

MARY: I don’t think so.

ZEUS: I’m pretty sure they would lose their head.

CAPTAIN: This is 1846, not the dark ages.

STUDENT12: Yeah, he said Queen Victoria, not the Red Queen.

STUDENT13: Did you think we were in “Alice in Wonderland,” or something?

PEASANT: I’d like to purchase one of those newspapers, please. 

REPORTER: Sure. That’ll be two pence. 

PEASANT: Here you go.

REPORTER: Thanks. Everyone loves Queen Victoria. 

PEASANT: I know. With this illustration of her and Prince Albert standing with their family next to a decorated evergreen tree up on a table, I wouldn’t be surprised to find one in every house tomorrow.

REPORTER: I already got one! Apparently, they are the rage in Germany. The Queen asked the prince about his childhood traditions.

PEASANT: She honored his traditions. How classy.

REPORTER: Right? The people will be happy to decorate. Somber occasions are no fun. 

PEASANT: No fun at all. (Looking closely at newspaper) What do they have hanging on the tree?

PRINCE: My people used to place apples and other fruit and nuts upon the tree to symbolize the harvest. Then they began adding marzipan cookies and more. 

QUEEN: That sounds joyous! I think it would look even better with color. 

PRINCE: In the future people will make strings of popcorn.

QUEEN: They could dye the popcorn with various bright colors. Then they could mix berries in to vary the texture…

PRINCE: In 1847 people began making glass ornaments.

QUEEN: Like these?

PRINCE: Yes, like these.

REPORTER: (announcing to crowd) Queen’s tree full of glass!

PEASANT: Ornaments; glass ornaments.

REPORTER: Just a technicality. 

PEASANT: No, truthfully…

REPORTER: Just trying to sell some papers, my man.

PEASANT: (reading newspaper) It says here that the tree is only 4 feet tall and sits upon a table. Is that true?

REPORTER: How do I know? I can’t read!

PEASANT: Oh, sorry. Well, according to this article, the dime-store magnate, F.W. Woolworth from Pennsylvania will visit Germany in the 1880s, bring some glass ornaments back to America and then make a fortune importing more. This will begin a trend in American Christmas tree decorating that will grow from there.

REPORTER: That article says all of that?

PEASANT: No, but that DOES happen…

STUDENT11: How do they know about Woolworth, when this is only 1847? That doesn’t happen until 1880.

MARY: I don’t know. Perhaps we are messing up the space-time continuum, doing all of this TARDIS traveling.

ZEUS: I don’t know, but I’m getting hungry. Do they have a Christmas pickle? That’s German, isn’t it?

CAPTAIN: I’ve heard the legend of the German Christmas pickle. I think it’s an ornament. Perhaps we could go to Germany next.

SETTING: Inside an old fashioned general store

STUDENT12: Are we in Germany? 

PURITAN: There’s some lovely glass ornaments over here. (PURITAN & POLICE wander around the shop pretending to browse.)

SHOPOWNER: (in a “salesy” voice) Oh, yes! We just got those in from Germany last week. Hot off the furnace. 

LEGENDWRITER: (eating a pickle, says to himself) Those were probably made months ago.

SHOPOWNER: (whispering to the LEGENDWRITER) Shhhh, we want them to think that our German glass ornaments are better than ever. 

STUDENT13: These two seem a little shady.

LEGENDWRITER: Sure. Why don’t you just get ornaments that are unique and special? Something different. (Hold up a pine tree air freshener.) This one’s different…

SHOPOWNER: (scolding) Put that down! That is sacred. And what are you eating?

STUDENT11: Hey, that’s my air freshener!

STUDENT12: I don’t think we’re in Germany. They keep calling these glass ornaments “German.” If we were in Germany, they’d just be “ornaments.” 

POLICE: (sort of complaining) We already have one of all of these.

SHOPOWNER: (complaining to the LEGENDWRITER) As if I have any say over what arrives from Germany. It’s the 1800s. It takes weeks to get a shipment of ornaments that have sailed across the Atlantic. It’s not like they can just fly them on over in the matter of hours. It’ll be another 200 years before Amazon takes every last bit of work out of shopping and shuts me down!  

STUDENT11: That was a lot to unpack. Are we in the 1800s?

STUDENT12: I’m pretty sure we are. 

(LEGENDWRITER is munching on a pickle louder and louder, drawing more and more attention to his actions.)

CAPTAIN: I wonder if the space-time continuum is fracturing.

STUDENT13: How would this shop owner know about Amazon?

ZEUS: Uh oh, we should probably head back to our time.

MARY: What did you say, Zeus? I can’t hear you over this guy munching on… What is that thing?

LEGENDWRITER: (answering everyone, but talking to the SHOPOWNER) This? Oh, it’s a pickle. I was hungry.

SHOPOWNER: Well, put it down! We have customers.

(LEGENDWRITER slyly sticks pickle on a shelf.)

PURITAN: (picking up the pickle) Hey, we don’t have one of these.

POLICE: That looks like a pickle.

SHOPOWNER: That’s not just any old pickle…

LEGENDWRITER: (mumbling to himself) Yeah, it’s my pickle. And, I’m still hungry.

SHOPOWNER: It’s a magical (draw the word out, making it sound mystical) pickle! (elbow the LEGENDWRITER) 

LEGENDWRITER: Sure… It has magical powers (barely buying in to the silly sales pitch).

SHOPOWNER: With this pickle… Whoever finds this pickle (Look to the LEGENDWRITER for inspiration)

LEGENDWRITER: Okay, ok (sighing, and giving in). Look, (in a matter a fact voice; unimpressive) this pickle is to be hidden on the Christmas tree… Every Christmas tree… And, whoever finds it first… You know, when the tree is first revealed, or something, that person gets good luck for the year. Yeah, that’s it. (Clearly, this guy was making up this legend as he went.)

SHOPOWNER: (impressed with the story) Ooooh, that’s good.

PURITAN: What if it’s an adult who finds it every year. The kids would hate it. It’s just a pickle.

LEGENDWRITER: Right. Well, the adult who sees it should leave it where it lies. They’ll just know that they get good luck for the year… see? And, the first kid to find it gets to be the one to begin the gift opening. 

POLICE: That will solve the problem of deciding which tyke begins the present mayhem.

STUDENT11: That’s what we do in my home.

STUDENT12: Is this really how the German Christmas pickle tradition began? I’ve heard that a Civil war hero was saved from starvation eating a pickle. 

STUDENT13: I heard that Saint Nicholas saved two boys by sticking them in a pickle barrel.

SHOPOWNER: You should write down those rules. That was good.

LEGENDWRITER: Sure. Or, we could add to the rules, change them, make up new stories each year, building on the legend. Who knows? Perhaps it will become a tradition.

SHOPOWNER: It’ll help us sell more German glass ornaments, anyway.

CAPTAIN: Come on everyone, let’s return to the present.

ZEUS: Did someone say present.

MARY: Not the kind you open. It’s a homonym…


SETTING: Back on pirate ship, but the entire length of it has pine tree air fresheners all over it.

ZEUS: What is that funky smell?!!

STUDENT11: And, what is all over the pirate ship?

PIRATE: Are those pine trees?

MARY: It feels like my nose is being accosted by an entire evergreen forest!

EGYPTIAN14: What? We are just decorating for the annual pine tree air freshener party.

PEASANT: (slightly correcting the Egyptian) Polite Pirate Pine Tree Air Freshener Party.

REPORTER: When we celebrate the Winter Solstice with the smell of the everlasting…

QUEEN: Forever green…

PRINCE: Symbol of life…

PURITAN: Evergreen.

POLICE: For our hemisphere may be cold and dark, now…

EGYPTIAN15: (small sneeze) With Ra… (sniffle) I mean the sun… hiding himself a large portion of the day…

EGYPTIAN16: But, today we turn the tide… Our day begins to grow… With the smell of these magical trees…

(Everyone turn and gaze at air fresheners, pointing, and “aaaahh-ing”)

ZEUS: Wait a minute, remember, Lea threw the air freshener at the puritan back in the 17th century.

MARY: The police officer took it. 

STUDENT12: He must have kept it. He had mentioned attaching it to a paddy wagon, whatever that is.

STUDENT13: I think it is the equivalent of a 17th century police car. 

PIRATE3: Perhaps, this is where the tradition of hanging air fresheners on rear view mirrors comes from!

PIRATE4: I don’t think that is really a tradition. It happens all year long.

PIRATE6: Yeah, without one, you wouldn’t want to step foot in my family’s car! 

PIRATE5: Could we have altered the past when we left that marvelous feat of modern technology behind?

STUDENT12: (incredulous) A pine tree air freshener?

STUDENT13: Feat of technology? Really?

STUDENT11: They are pretty marvelous… And, sorry;)

CAPTAIN: That must have fractured the…

EVERYONE: Space-time continuum!

The event ended with an “Around-the-World Cheese Tasting.”

Sources:

Churchill, A. (2021, November 3). The Untold Story of the Christmas Pickle Ornament. Martha Stewart. https://www.marthastewart.com/1097532/decorative-past-tradition-christmas-pickle-ornament

History.com Editors. (2021, December 8). History of Christmas Trees. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees

Schroeder, H.W. 1992. The tree of peace: Symbolic and spiritual values of the white pine. In proceedings of the White Pine Symposium (p. 73-83), Sept. 16-18, 1992, Duluth, MN. https://www.nrs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/jrnl/1992/nc_1992_Schroeder_002.pdf

“Talk Like a Pirate… Or Else”

A Readers’ Theater by Mr. Weimann


Introductions:

NARRATOR — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m the narrator of this play. While the other characters are reading dialogue, my job is to fill you in on the “behind the scenes” information. Because we aren’t “acting” this out, and do not have a set with decorations and all, you will have to picture some of what I tell you in your heads. This is called “visualizing.” 

MARY — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m a Polite Pirate, named Mary, in this play. I’m a Polite Pirate in real life, too. Polite pirates look like regular pirates, but we don’t steal anything. Also, we have extremely good manners. 

ZEUS — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m a Polite Pirate in the play, as well. In the play my name is Zeus. The problem is that I think people will not like me if I act like my normal polite self. Wait until you see the silly stuff that I do, to try and look tough!

CAPTAIN — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m the Captain of the Polite Pirates in this play. I am very wise.

EVERYONE: So wise!

SAILOR1 — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I play a sailor in this play. I think that Zeus is funny.

SAILOR2 — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m also a sailor in the play. I’m sad to say that my sailor friend and I end up making fun of Zeus a little. Find out what happens as you listen to…

EVERYONE: “Talk Like a Pirate… Or Else!”


NARRATOR:  There was once an island that rescued several sailors who had survived a massive storm.  

ZEUS:  Where are we?

CAPTAIN:  We are safe.

ZEUS:  I asked, where we were; not how we were.

MARY:  Are you questioning the captain?

ZEUS:  No, that was a statement.  I do declare, my statement was referring to our whereabouts, rather than our condition.

CAPTAIN:  The storm has taken a toll on us.  We have lost many crew members; We are weary and hungry; We have no shelter; This is a strange and foreign land; But, for the moment, we are safe.

ZEUS:  You are right, Captain.  I apologize for my ungrateful attitude.  

CAPTAIN:  Apology accepted.  Now, lets make a fire and collect some food.

NARRATOR:  These three polite pirates were not the only sailors surviving on the island.  There were people from several different ships marooned on the same piece of land.  And, yes, I did say “Polite” pirates… For this small remaining band of pirates was none other than Captain Iron Knee’s crew of Polite Pirates!

MARY:  Zeus, I have collected this dry wood for a toasty fire.  

ZEUS:  Excellent!  The captain will have to instruct us on how to begin the flame.  He is so wise.

MARY:  So wise.

NARRATOR:  Captain Iron Knee was considered rather wise:)

ZEUS:  Now, let’s gather some food.

NARRATOR:  The fire was started and food was gathered.  As the polite pirates ate, they looked around.  They saw other surviving sailors who did not have a toasty warm fire.  Not too far away were two sailors shivering on a log.

CAPTAIN:  We should share some fire and food with those unfortunate souls.

ZEUS & Mary:  Yes, mmm, definitely.

NARRATOR:  As you can see, these pirates did not behave in the typical piraty way.  However, they did look like other pirates, complete with eye patches, pirate hats, and even an iron knee.  It doesn’t get much more piraty than an iron knee!

CAPTAIN:  Why don’t one of you two go over there and offer some food and fire to our neighbors?

ZEUS:  I will go.

NARRATOR:  Zeus hesitated, though.  He wondered what the neighboring survivors would think if they knew just how polite he and his friends were… Or, was it the fact that they looked like pirates but did not act or talk like pirates.  Either way, rather than going over to the two shivering sailors and saying…

MARY: “Hello, I happened to notice that you have been struggling to begin a fire over here.”

NARRATOR: …He actually said… er, growled…

ZEUS:  Ahoy!!  Shiver me timbers!  Dis be a fancy mess o’ sticks!  Avast: me fire be yours if ye belay that shiverin’, get yerselves off the yardarm and fetch some (far less piraty voice) really really small sticks.  I suggest the fine twigs of spruce trees.  Those work quite well.  (recomposing himself) SHOW A LEG!  Let’s go!  

NARRATOR:  You can well imagine that the shivering sailors were as confused as they were cold after that display.  

SAILOR 1:  What on earth was that?  

SAILOR 2:  I do not know.  (Thinks for a moment; then in a gruff, piraty voice)  Yarr, I be not knowin’ what that be ‘bout! 

(Both Sailors giggle.)

NARRATOR:  Zeus did not walk upright, the way he usually did on his return to Captain Iron Knee and Mary.  He was hunched over, dragged one leg, and swung his arms ferociously.  

CAPTAIN:  Zeus, did you offer those sailors some of our food and fire, as I asked you to?

ZEUS:  I did tell them that they could have some of our fire.

MARY:  How exactly did you communicate that idea?

ZEUS:  (Hems and haws; then mumbles) I talked like a pirate.

CAPTAIN:  That is what I thought.  

ZEUS:  (Making excuses) But, what if they don’t like us?  What if they think we are weak or not scary?  

MARY:  What does being scary have to do with anything?

(Pause and look at sailors who are acting out piraty behavior)

SAILOR 1: Hoist the colors, hearties!  

SAILOR 2: The Jolly Roger be missin’, cap’n!

SAILOR 1: Blimey, land lubbers be scrapin’ off with me hook if-wernt-‘tached-me-arm!

SAILOR 2:  And ye may lay to that!

(Back to the polite pirates)

CAPTAIN:  Now look at what you have done!

MARY:  Were you trying to sound scary, the way pirates typically do?

ZEUS:  (embarrassed) Maybe.

CAPTAIN:  Why would you do that?  That is not a way to make friends.  If we are going to survive on this island peaceably it is important to make friends.  We will need to cooperate.

MARY:  (In an understanding, kind tone) Captain Iron Knee is correct.  We may be pirates, but we are shipwrecked just like every other person on this island.  

NARRATOR:  Zeus thought about this, and felt badly. He walked back over to the sailors still giggling and trying to talk like pirates, themselves.  Only, this time Zeus walked the way he normally would, tall, proud, with shoulders back, straight, and chin up; not swinging his arms, but carrying them like instruments for helping others.

ZEUS:  (To the sailors who have been mocking him and pretending to be pirates)  Excuse me, but earlier I came over here and behaved badly.  I was afraid that you would not like me if I talked to you normally, so I tried talking like a pirate.  The thing is… I am a pirate, but a rather polite one.  I belong to an unusually mannerly group of pirates who share politeness with others.  Actually, that is why I was sent over here, originally.  We have food and fire that we would like to share with you if you are interested.  

NARRATOR:  This left the two sailors rather speechless.  

SAILOR 1: Yarr! (Sailor2 nudges the first)  …Uh, yes, yes, we would greatly appreciate some help with fire and food.  

SAILOR 2: Thank you for coming back over here and explaining your behavior.  We weren’t sure if you were a silly person, weird pirate, or shipwrecked savage.  

ZEUS:  My name is Zeus, and I am the chef on Captain Iron Knee’s ship.

(They get close enough for Mary to hear this.)

MARY:  You were chef of the ship.  Hello, I am Mary.

(Sailors shake hands all around.)

CAPTAIN:  Pleased to make your acquaintance.  

SAILOR 1:  We would be grateful for your help. 

SAILOR 2:  We are freezing over here.

ZEUS:  Rather than give you fire, why don’t the two of you join us.  

MARY:  Yes, we have enough food for all of us.

SAILOR 1:  You really are polite pirates!

SAILOR 2:  How do you become a polite pirate?

NARRATOR:  And with that, the polite pirate crew grew once more.

Once a Polite Pirate, always a Polite Pirate. Here’s a photo of our plays from 2015.

Chess Club Isn’t Just for Members

I’d like to invite you to join the Willow Lane Chess Club kids for a game or two of chess. “But, I’m not good at chess,” you may say. This might sound weird, but you are exactly what we are looking for! The purpose of this event is for the Willow Lane Chess Club to show off its skills. We want to impress you with our knowledge of the game and ability playing it. The less you know of the game, the more impressed you will be when witnessing our skills. Also, as discussed in a previous blog, playing and losing to children is empowering (for them;). 

This event is the very first of its kind. Grownups are being invited to join the chess club from an elementary school; these are 9 to 12 year olds; during their regularly scheduled last club meeting. We have been meeting every other Tuesday all year. Students have learned how to move the pieces, win the game with checkmate, use tactics like skewering, pinning, and forking, as well as practicing with game after game. Each club member has played nearly every other one, and it is time to put our skills to a new test. 

Parents who attend will view not only their own child’s chess-playing ability, but that of their peers. The adult who is willing to sit down with a preteen and potentially lose at a strategic game like chess is a giant in humility and a god of empowerment. Students will become giant killers of fear, apprehension, and insecurity when they survive a chess match with people they view as all-powerful. Even if a child does not win, being able to play with dignity and hold one’s own against an adult will help raise a child up in their own perceived self-worth. 

If you think that you are too good at chess to join us for this day of play, I have two things to say to you. 1. Let’s see. And, 2. Please share. First of all, we have some pretty competitive kiddos in our Willow Lane Chess Club. If you are game, come on down and show us your stuff. Perhaps you crush our top players. Good. That will teach them some humility and show them how much they have yet to learn. If they give you a run for your money, all the better. Growth through challenge is strength. Secondly, we would greatly benefit from experiencing high-quality play. You could show our students some playing techniques and strategy that will help them in the future. The model of your play will give them something to strive for.

With the simple goal of showing off our skills, this ought to be a fun afternoon of gaming. Adults will be able to play a few kids. The winners of matches will NOT be recorded. This is NOT a tournament where only a few players sift to the top of a pyramid. Rather, it is going to be an hour of playing a FIFTEEN-HUNDRED-year-old game, minus the stress of game clocks, notation, or elimination. Even if you don’t know how to play at all, come and learn. If you have well-behaved children you are responsible for, bring them. They may be inspired. Don’t let anything hold you back from this extraordinary event.

Mark May 24th down on your calendars. Sign up on signup genius. Invite other grownups. And, prepare to be wowed by the students of Willow Lane.

Get Endorphins From Helping Others

Have you ever felt super good after experiencing an extra grueling workout or after finishing something really difficult? This is natural and normal. The human body has a way of protecting itself from feeling pain; It releases what some call a “Happy Hormone” that tricks the mind, so that the body can heal in peace. This hormone release is known as endorphins (Myers, 2021).

I like to run in the morning for a couple of reasons. One is that it is when I have time. Running while my daughter and wife are sleeping means I’m not using up time that would be spent with them. Also, my wife and daughter aren’t the only ones sleeping at the hours I run. There are far fewer people pounding the pavement when the sun is just barely hinting over the horizon than later in the day. In other words, I can run in peace, with much less crowded park paths. 

The other day I was running at a nice clip, and I was feeling pretty good about it, when a guy called to me from a jeep. He asked me where the “Water Park” was. I stopped to tell him to turn right at the light. I was about to explain more, but he told me that this was enough information. It actually was, since there are signs, and his destination was right around the corner. 

As he drove off, I was left with curious thoughts and feelings. It is rare for someone to release you from helping them. Most people would sit there and take in all of the directions I would be willing to give. Another interesting realization was that I didn’t feel annoyed about this interruption hurting my pace or disrupting my run. I use an app to measure my pace, and I enjoy keeping pretty close tabs on how I am doing. A recent goal has been to run at a slightly faster pace. Stopping to talk to someone would hurt my overall average! 

The overwhelming feeling that I experienced was one of giddy elation at simply helping someone. It was so strong that I videotaped myself sharing a hypothesis about these emotions. I wondered if, in addition to exercising, there were other times and ways to get endorphins. 

Lots of runners are familiar with a “runners high” after a run. This high feeling helps the exerciser (It doesn’t have to be running; Any form of physical activity or exertion will work) NOT feel the pain that their muscles will experience. It is the body’s way of self-repair. 

When I helped the traveler find his way, I had stopped what I was doing. My pace was suffering. I was not using my time for me. My focus was being distracted. My goals were getting harder to meet. In short, I was experiencing, albeit minor, psychological pain. But then, afterward, I felt awesome, having helped someone. 

My scientific question: Could helping people cause endorphins to be released? 

From just a tiny bit of research the answer seems to be, yes, helping others can cause real, physical, good feelings (Myers, 2021).

I highly recommend that everyone conduct many science experiments of helping others. How does it feel? Journal about it to collect data and observe trends.

Also, share with me not only what you discover from your own personal research, but any articles that support (or deny) this claim. I’d like to dig deeper into the physical benefits a person acquires from helping others. 

“Being kind” isn’t just a nice thing to do. It actually benefits your self. So, be kind for #selfcare. 

Sources:

Myers, Amy. July 26, 2021. What Are Endorphins & Why We Want Them.  https://www.amymyersmd.com/article/what-are-endorphins/ 

Goals Gone Awry

Goals are helpful. Without them we can wander around aimlessly. But, how much gets missed? How many wonderful lessons get left behind and ignored due to our mission of meeting goals? I experienced this earlier in the week in a fun and silly way. 

I paused during a run to record a selfie, but forgot what my point had been! It ended up being a real rant; a rambling recording. I laughed at myself and posted it anyway.

A couple of years ago I came across a group of people who posted selfie videos on Twitter. It caught my attention. The videos had some things in common. Each one was recorded directly or very soon after a workout or run. They were short. (Twitter only allows 2 minute videos.) Each tweet contained the hashtag #RunAndRant. And, there was usually a weekly theme or word that everyone “ranted” (discussed).

Most of the people who participated in this running and ranting activity had something to do with education. If the topics weren’t specifically teacher-related, many of the rants were. The videos were fun to watch, and it was awesome to connect with people through discussion in the comments under the tweets. 

In addition to communicating with others, I was inspired to get out there and run, myself! I had wanted to for years, and the time had finally arrived.

The weekly topic would be decided by Monday night or Tuesday morning. Then participants (Not everyone ran; Some swam, many walked, and there were weight-lifters, too!) would make short selfies that contained whatever thoughts they came up with during their workouts. People tagged known #RunAndRant “members” and friends, and there would be a nice cachet of videos to watch and comment on within 24 hours.

I want to thank Mark Ryan for pioneering this fun activity and organizing this group. I’m not positive if he literally started this, but he was the point person, as far as I know, for initiating topics and connecting like-minded people. Thank you. This activity is why I am regularly running right now:)

Goals Gone Awry

Okay, fine, but why is this blog titled “Goals Gone Awry”? you may be wondering. Let me explain. 

During my run an interesting idea popped into my mind that I wanted to share with the “Run And Rant” team. Just as I had many times before, I kicked it around in my head as I pounded the pavement. The idea grew and deepened. I was excited to share it via selfie on social media. 

Here’s the thing, though: I told myself, Let’s wait until I’m at a better location to record my thoughts; a place that is quieter. When I got to that place, I found that my train of thought had jumped the rails. My rant ended up being more true to definition, a rambling mess of thoughts. I laughed at myself as I recorded it and posted it anyway. Perhaps someone could get something out of it, I thought. (This is the one shared at the top of this blog;)

A few days later I was running my favorite loop when I came to a section of road that was a little bumpy. It had been treated with “loose gravel,” a coating of tar and aggregate that preserves the roadway and provides skid-resistance (Kent County Road Commission FAQ, n.d.). This jogged my memory. I remembered my unrecorded rant.

But, then I got to thinking about WHY my thoughts had evaporated like the morning fog. My goal of waiting until I had reached a particular place on my run made me lose the lesson. If I hadn’t set that goal, if I’d recorded my original thoughts when I had them, I could have captured a more coherent idea. 

This time I put my run on pause and began recording immediately. Now, I got my initial idea in the recording, plus this concept of goals potentially holding us back.

If you watch the video, you will see that there is a lot of traffic zooming by me. You can’t see it, but I’m coming to a busy intersection that I will have to cross. Smack dab in the middle of the rant my running app starts announcing my stats! Nuts! Needless to say this recording is far from ideal. 

All of these details are why I had waited to rant during the previous run. 

Have you ever had a goal ruin your lesson? Are there ever times when goals get in the way of progress? When is it okay to let go of a goal? Perhaps it is okay to run with a thought or lesson that didn’t have an established goal. 

I’d love to hear about times goals have gone awry for you. What have you found helpful for getting the most out of life and learning?

Assasination Obsession: MLK was more than a martyr, much more

With schools attempting to be as safe as possible, field trips are being conducted via Zoom meetings. My students, The Polite Pirates, experienced one of these the other day.

We had the opportunity to hear a gentleman from a local historical society narrate a slideshow about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). This person made MLK come to life by sharing many details about his childhood and behind-the-scenes facts from the Civil Rights Movement. I had my students taking notes, while listening. 

Part of taking notes was writing down questions. In the end, while the Zoom was still muted, I told my students to choose one open-ended question that they wished to ask the expert. They were to circle it on their papers. I walked around and looked at the questions. A few had already been answered within the presentation. Perhaps the student missed the answer and wanted clarification. Several had to do with MLK’s death.

I chose the two questions that I thought would further the understanding of what kind of person MLK had been. They were both able to ask their questions.

A girl from my class asked, “What types of texts did MLK like to read?” I loved this question because it focused on what I want my students to develop: A love of reading. Also, it focuses on MLK becoming who he was through reading. 

The other question made my heart stop when I read it: “Why did MLK like to write?” I couldn’t wait for the expert to persuade my students that writing is a powerful tool that could move mountains. 

Both of my students’ questions were asked and the answers were wonderful. What struck me was how many students focused on MLK’s death. They wanted to know who killed him, how old was he when he died, where did he die, what was the date, could you stay at the hotel where MLK was assassinated???? The person from the historical society, when asked one of these, did a good job honoring the questions that were asked, while bringing focus and attention back to MLK’s life and accomplishments. 

I’ve been thinking about this idea of “Assassination Obsession” ever since the Zoom virtual field trip a few days ago. Some thoughts have risen to the surface. First of all, there is the never-ending news of mass shootings and gun violence in our media. I wonder how much mental space this consumes in our youth. Then, there are the video games: “Among Us” and “Fortnite” are the two biggest ones I hear about on a daily basis. 

I have to confess that I haven’t played either of these games. From what I understand, “Among Us” is all about solving a murder mystery. This seems pretty classic. It appears to model the classic game of Clue. The thing is I played Clue when I was young. It was one of many board (bored) games that I enjoyed. I definitely did not talk about it with my friends, and there was no way we planned to join up at one another’s houses (today it would be Zooms and group realtime games online) to play it. 

I am not one to preach against video games or poo poo all violent games or movies, but this experience of witnessing how consuming the topic of assassination was has caused me to wonder what could be done to help students grow healthy perspectives and thoughts. First of all, teachers could redirect thinking the way the expert during my class’s virtual field trip did. “Yes, MLK was assassinated, but that was a tragic, horrible end to an amazing life. Let’s explore and learn about the magnificent things MLK accomplished and inspired, instead of focusing on who or what ended it.”

What ideas do you have? Have you witnessed this obsession, also? What have you done, if anything, to combat the “Assassination Obsession”? Pointers?

Intro to Persuasive Writing

Commercials Have Gone Undercover

I recently read an article from The Atlantic about a change in the way companies market to kids. When I was growing up, a hundred years ago, kids watched cartoons on TV. Every few minutes there would be an interruption in the program. This break from the animated story I’d been watching was filled with videos showing toys, food, and places that kids simply HAD to buy, eat, and visit! These videos are called commercials.

Commercials were made by companies that wanted to sell something. They were designed to convince kids that it was worth spending money on what they had to offer. How did they do this? 

When I was around 12 years old, I bought a Pogoball. I used money that I had earned on my own, delivering newspapers, to buy this toy. Even over 30 years after this experience, I can still remember the feeling of I have to get one of those Pogoballs! I don’t think anyone would have been able to persuade me that it wasn’t a good idea. I learned a valuable lesson the day I handed my hard-earned cash over to purchase this person-propelling bounce toy: “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.”

I got the Pogoball toy home and used an air pump to blow up the ball that fitted inside a hard plastic ring. I stepped on the ring, squeezing the top of the ball with my feet. I leaned forward and jumped… The Pogoball stayed tucked between my feet. I landed, the bottom of the Pogoball squishing on my driveway, and the air pressure within the flexible plastic pushed me up… A precious-little-bit. 

It worked! 

Somewhat. 

I was successfully bouncing, jumping, and… NOT having fun. Rather than propelling me into the air, the toy just squished and pushed. In order to get into the air, I had to jump up. The higher I jumped, the more the Pogoball squished, but it never pushed enough to be considered helpful. After a disappointing afternoon of trying many experiments on various surfaces, jumping styles, and tricks, I placed the Pogoball in the garage, never to be touched again. The money I spent on that toy was gone and hadn’t bought me anything beyond the lesson, don’t be fooled by jingles, acting, and repetition. 

Jingles are catchy short songs that stick in your head. Commercials in the olden days depended on these to mesmerize people. You’d find yourself humming a jingle when riding your bike. You might mention this to a friend, and then the both of you would sing the song together, laughing at how corny it sounded. Later that same day, the both of you would be munching on whatever that jingle was advertising! It is like you were hypnotized into spending money on that product.

One of the reasons jingles get stuck in your head is that you hear them so often. Companies make sure that kids see and hear commercials many times. I remember complaining about seeing the same commercial every single commercial break when I was a kid, only to then go out and buy the very thing advertised in that annoying announcement! Did I spend money on the product in hopes to stop the commercials? If so, it didn’t work!

Commercials from long ago were recorded in studios with elaborate sets, lights, and high-paid actors. These short videos cost companies tons of money to make. But, the price was an investment, because the better the commercial, the more influential the message, the more products would be sold. In other words, although a company would spend a lot to make a commercial, if it were good enough, the business would reep a lot of sales that would produce a great deal of revenue or profit. 

The actors who were featured in the Pogoball commercial had me completely fooled. When I saw the smiles on their faces and all of the many places Pogoballs could be used, I thought that this must be an amazing toy with limitless possibilities for fun. This was a lie. Once I got the Pogoball home and working, I saw that it was actually boring. The actors were paid to pretend that using a Pogoball was mind-blowing fun. 

Nowadays, many families have quit cable. Kids don’t have to look at the clock to see when their favorite shows are on. They can login to Amazon, Disney Plus, and Youtube to watch their shows whenever they want. No more commercials… Right? Sort of. 

According to the article, “Toy Commercials Are Being Replaced By Something More Nefarious (sneaky, evil, criminal),” the persuasive marketing to children has morphed from a jingle-ridden, actor-driven, hypnosis-inducing commercial aired during breaks in a child’s program, to the program itself (Fetters, 2020). Companies that sell stuffed animals stopped making commercials and began making whole shows. When I read this, I remembered the tons of PJ Mask toys my wife and I bought for our daughter. Scarlet didn’t see one commercial for these toys. 

The article mentions one other way that kids are targeted by companies: YouTubers. How many kids nowadays say that they want to be a YouTuber when they grow up? What is this? Who is a YouTuber? One of many answers is that a YouTuber is someone who makes videos that are published on YouTube for profit. The important idea here is that the people videotaping themselves opening toys and products in their bedrooms and homes are getting paid. They are not “high-paid” celebrity actors, like in olden days, but they are actors, nonetheless. They have an incentive to persuade you to buy the product that they are pushing. 

In other words, companies are convincing regular, everyday consumers to act like they are providing an honest review of a product. These Youtubers seem like they are truthfully sharing what they have personally experienced, but they don’t tell the viewer that they were paid to do this. It is a sneaky way to make commercials; Make them seem like they are not commercials at all… No more jingles, No big-name actors, No fancy sets or elaborate narratives… Just regular Joes sharing their honest opinion, right?

Don’t be fooled! Trust the advice, opinions, and stories of people you know over watching a YouTube video. Go ahead and watch your favorite shows on your convenient streaming apps, but know that these are working at getting you to buy stuffed animals, toys, apparel, and more. Commercials used to be convincing. They worked at persuading a specific audience to spend money. Today’s marketing is more covert than compelling. 

One of the many cartoons that I enjoyed watching when I was a kid was “G.I. Joe.” (I’m sure that this show was geared towards helping sell the action figures by the same name… I had spent lots of money on those!) At the end of every episode there was a little lesson, teaching smart behavior to kids. After the moral was explained, a catch phrase was used: “Knowing is half the battle.” 

“Knowing is half the battle.”

While the new ways businesses market to people may not be criminal, it is good to at least know what is going on. Then you can make wise decisions with your funds. A show is not just a show if it is trying to get you to buy stuff. And, now that you know that, half the battle is won; The battle for your bank account. Good luck. 

Fetters, A. (2020, February 2). Toy Commercials Are Being Replaced by Something More Nefarious. Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/02/how-toys-are-marketed-kids-without-cable-tv/605920/ 

Please Cheat

Something amazing happened the other day in my classroom. During our class’s online morning meeting two girls excitedly shared that they had worked on a quiz together during a Zoom meeting the previous day. Not only was I “Okay with that,” I enthusiastically celebrated–not their supposed “confession,” as you may imagine it to be–but, their tremendous success! 

I teach a hybrid third grade class of 22 kids in suburban Pennsylvania. In addition to having my students only half of the time, my district shortened our school days, so I have one less hour than I normally would. This has pros and cons. One difficulty to manage is administering assessments. I only see these kids 12 hours a week! It doesn’t make sense to sit them all down and have them bubble in answers on a test during diamond-valuable instructional time!

 So, I have been providing Google forms that contain comprehension questions on days that my students are not physically with me. These forms accompany texts that students read outside of school. I have struggled with what to call these questionnaires. With students taking them in who-knows-what setting with who-knows-how-much help, they aren’t true assessments.

Because I want my students to complete them, I’ve been tempted to call them “quizzes.” And, I confess that term may have left my lips once or twice. 

My favorite title for these text-accompaniments is “teaching tool.” Although this is exactly how I view them, the title has far less pizzaz than “Test.” What I most commonly do is use several different terms in reference to the same assignment. I will call a Google form a quiz, but then explain that it isn’t really a quiz. It is more like an assessment. Then I suggest that I want them to go back and read the feedback that I built into the form, because more than this testing you, it is a “teaching tool.” Does all of this sound confusing? It doesn’t seem to discombobulate my pupils. 

I’d like to write more and provide examples of how I put together and use these Google forms, but this blog is about students supposedly cheating!

…And, how I encourage it!

This past week, I cleared a couple of mental hurdles that I want to share with educators. The first occurred Wednesday, when a student showed me his use of Safari while taking a quiz on vocabulary words. He interrupted a guided reading lesson to show me how he had used split-screen to look up each vocabulary word, as he evaluated them to find which would best fill the blank in a sentence. 

I had to make a split-second decision. 

Do I point out that he ought to have worked harder to learn the meanings and uses of the vocabulary words the day before, so that he would not need Safari? Should I suggest that he didn’t do anything wrong, but ask that he not do that in the future? Can I just tell him to, “Stop interrupting me and my guided reading session,” to buy time and think about the most appropriate answer? Perhaps I should pretend I didn’t hear this news and sweep the idea under the cognitive carpet: “Where were we, students?” 

This is what I did: I stood up and told that student to screen-mirror his device through our classroom Apple TV. The student’s split-screen iPad filled the screen on the wall, so every pupil could view the potential misdemeanor. I then praised the student for this ingenious way of researching answers. I pointed out that vocabulary is a wonderful tool, but when used wrongly, it can wield unfortunate results. “You definitely want to know what you are saying. I love that this student made sure that he got each word just right, when filling the blanks in these sentences!”

I suggested that everyone open the slideshow, containing the definitions of these particular vocabulary words, and have that available in split-screen mode, along with the Google form. Many words are homonyms, and it would be helpful to have the definitions that I provided to accompany your decision-making for filling blanks in sentences. 

Mouths involuntarily fell open. Sighs could be heard. 

I also showed the class how they could simply press and hold down a word in their Google form and a menu containing “Lookup,” among other things, would appear. This would enable them to double-check the meaning of a word, while taking a quiz.

“Wait, hold on here,” you may be thinking. “Weren’t you assessing students’ knowledge of those vocabulary words that kids are now looking up???” 

“Why are you quoting yourself within your own blog?” Mr. Weimann asks himself. “These are not normal times,” he explains. “Stop pretending they are!”

“Yup,” is my answer. “And as long as I am speaking to you within this silly blog, I will explain that we, educators, MUST break out of traditional thinking!!!”

I am speaking as much to myself as anyone else. What I am sharing here are surprising realizations. They are not masterfully planned and researched pedagogies. I am sharing an idea… And, I would love to hear your thoughts about it. 

As revolutionary as this seemed to me at the time and now, my students sort of shrugged the suggestion off. Some will use the split-screen to make sure that they choose the very best word to fill in blanks, and others will just guess at which ones are “right.” There will always be students who want to succeed, some who want to finish so they can bother me with, “I’m done; What do I do now?” There will be kids who need to get assignments completed as perfectly as humanly possible, and others who only care about what is for lunch or “How long ‘til recess?” 

Allowing students to use the tools that they already found and craftily accessed to complete my “teaching-tool-quiz” validated that first kid’s genius and points to the development of 21st century skills. I almost titled this blog, “Another Brick in the Wall,” referencing one of my favorite songs and diatrib-ing against traditional assessment.

I know teachers who are trying to figure out ways to administer the same paper tests that are years-old to students who are wearing masks, sanitizing their hands every ten minutes, sitting 6 feet from one another in a half-full room, and have been teaching themselves through self-guided, unmonitored learning sessions at daycare centers, in bedrooms, at doctor’s offices, etc. This is not traditional. Stop trying to be traditional. Stop attempting to forge “bricks of kids” for a wall that should never be built. Factories are not the future. 

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box. I still have the story of two girls sharing all of their answers over a Zoom call to discuss.  

It was the same exact quiz that my in-class student had used split-screen to complete. This was a longer questionnaire, with 24 questions. In all transparency, and what makes this whole story more meaningful, I had actually planned to use the results of this Google form to measure how my students were doing. So, it was honestly a shock when two of my students excitedly shared that they had figured out a way to use split-screen to participate in a Zoom call, while simultaneously filling in answers on a quiz. 

I laughed when they told me. They were so innocent. Again, do I reprimand them? Do I deflect attention from this seeming “abuse of technology?” Should I tell them that I won’t count their “scores?” 

Educators, how sad are you that our students cannot “pair-share” in the classroom? My heart breaks that I cannot partner kids up to help one another and work together! 

These two girls found a way around COVID-19. They snuck under the pandemic wire to escape the confines of their isolation. 

Did I get an accurate measure of their ability to answer questions correctly on their own? 

I cannot even put to text the negative answer to that question. My mind makes the cognitive noise of wagging a metaphorical mental tongue, pedagogical spit flying everywhere. WHO CARES? 

Sure, I want to have data to see how well my kiddos are reading and understanding… but, why? What is that data good for? I would like to know what my students need to grow. Don’t they need to socialize, learn how to work together, figure out ways to problem solve??? 

Let me stop here. I love the fact that my students cheated on their quiz. I’m thrilled that they told me. I rejoice that they found each other. They were not friends before this year, and now they are Zooming. I am ecstatic about the possibility of my students communicating with each other about academics. 

I know I said I would stop, but let me leave you with one more thought: Do NOT force yourselves or your students into regimented, controlling, synchronous instructional sessions at the peril of this kind of organic, collaborative learning opportunity. Don’t do it. Say “no” to building bricks out of kids who ought to be astronauts.

Straight Answers Close Doors

#Bowties EVERY Tuesday!

I’m a bit of a jokester. There are different kinds of jokesters. I’m not the type to play pranks or make up silly stories. My style is to never give a straight answer. My coworkers will tell you that they usually adopt the opposite of whatever I tell them when it comes to deciphering the truth on a matter. Everything I say is met with sighs… That kind of jokester.

Can you just be straight with us?!

In the classroom, I am even worse! Right before I’m able to provide some hokey response, my students complain when one of their peers dare ask me a simple question. They know I will use that inquiry as a tool to teach an entire, off the cuff, mini lesson that will share a ton of valuable, real-world-information, and they will eventually love, but might take time away from whatever task is at hand.

I teach third grade, which finds student-development at pre-abstract-thinking. This doesn’t stop me from throwing curveball answers at every swinging student. Life isn’t straight. Why pretend its answers will be? Look at this pandemic. Look at politics. Look at pedagogy. Everything is swaying and swerving and swinging.

The moment an answer closes a question, the journey of thinking is over. This is why I encourage my students to ask open-ended questions. Even when these are “answered,” there is a whole adventure of learning just beyond the horizon of the information provided. Rather than the answer closing a door, it shows you an orchard where, not only can you eat the fruit of that information, but you have a treasure trove of other interesting facts at your disposal.

This morning I noticed a classy comment in the Google classroom. A combination of my having just downed some super strong coffee and my being a jokester caused me to provide a pretty productive answer.

The question had to do with the recent requirement of reading at least 20 minutes per day. My school is operating, like many during the pandemic, in hybrid mode. This means that I don’t get to see my Polite Pirates (students) nearly as much as I would like! Now, they are going to have to deal with my jokester answers in text form! Ha!!

This student wanted to know if I was requiring any kind of proof of her reading. What will she need to “do” while she reads? What tangible things will she produce as a result of having read some text?

My answer: If you do it correctly, you will grow as a reader… As a person… As a citizen… As a Polite Pirate… As a student of life…

Lest you think I left my poor pupil hanging with nothing but a ranting reply, I’ll settle your soul with the fact that in the end, I finally gave the class a clear explanation of expectations.

The moment an answer closes a question, the journey of thinking is over.

Combat Prejudice by Turning Your Mind into an Entire Judicial System

Have you ever seen someone who you thought wouldn’t be nice, but once you got to know them, you were pleasantly surprised? Have you experienced the feeling of regret after realizing you’d wasted time keeping your distance from someone, only to find out they are the most friendly, helpful person you’d ever met? And, now that you got to know them, you wish you had that time back. 

To pre-judge is human. It can be useful to observe information and categorize people as friendly, helpful, hardworking, and also unkind, lying, and dangerous. This notion of placing a person into a closed category can be problematic. What if the person who looks scary is actually both friendly and knowledgeable? 

Before pre-judging, consult the jury.

There are few things more classy than having an open mind. It is wise to observe the behaviors of others, judging whether their actions are friendly, intelligent, and kind. Before you completely write them off, however, do this:

Turn your brain into a courtroom

In Chapter 2 of my classroom story, “The Polite Pirates” I introduce the idea of people being more than they outwardly seem.

The survivors of the massive storm (See Chapter One) did not feel comfortable being stuck on an island with pirates. The leader of the pirates was not only frightening looking, but also appeared to be lazy and bossy. All he did was command his few remaining friends to do things for him! Was he bossing them or instructing them, though? 

I recommend that prior to judging someone’s character solely on first impressions or outward appearances (relying too heavily on prejudice), a classy person will introduce some additional thought-characters to the cognitive work of cementing opinions. You could think of them as mental lawyers and a jury.

Lawyers use the Law to forge arguments, proving and disproving cases. They interpret laws, using them as tools. A judge is like a referee. What do the jurors do? Jurors are like the audience at a baseball game. If players cheated, and a biased umpire favored the cheaters, the spectators would boo the wrong-doers right out of the stadium. Another outcome, if there was persistent cheating, could be growing disinterest and lack of support for the sport. 

Jurors are common people from the populace who are purposefully un-versed in the language of complex laws (Horan, 2019). They force judges and lawyers to frame complicated ideas into simple, easy to understand concepts for everyday people to grasp. 

Apply this to what you do in your head when you are judging someone. Do not trust your base instincts. Do not assume that what you observe with your eyes and ears is the whole story. How much backstory are you missing from an action you are witnessing? Try not to project your own attitudes and experiences onto other people. They didn’t grow up the way you did, where you did, with what you had! 

It’s your job to interpret actions and looks for your mental jury. Even if you think a person’s motives or attitude is obvious, investigate the history behind them. Try to put this new information into understandable terms, like a courtroom lawyer would for a jury.

Lastly, do NOT condemn anyone to a negative, cognitive classification if there is ANY reasonable doubt (Kenton, 2021). Until you know the entire story behind an action, look, word, etc., a person should maintain an innocent or neutral position in your opinion. Find out their history. They could become your best and most valuable friend!

Source:

Horan, J. (2019, March 6). All about juries: Why do we actually need them and can they get it ‘wrong’? Retrieved September 09, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/all-about-juries-why-do-we-actually-need-them-and-can-they-get-it-wrong-112703

Kenton, W. (2021, August 26). Reasonable Doubt. Retrieved September 2, 2021, from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/reasonable-doubt.asp