Thursday, February 11, 2010

Turn a Super Bowl Office Pool into a Classroom Project

This past Sunday, I watched the Super Bowl with a group of friends who weren't football fans by any stretch of the imagination.  Yet they were watching the game (and the commercials) intently because they desperately wanted to win our Super Bowl pool.  Shortly before kickoff, we predicted everything from the final score to how many times Kim Kardashian would be shown during the game.

I've been to Super Bowl parties in the past where it seemed like I was the only person who actually wanted to watch the game, while the others were interested in just the commercials (or just the company).  I realized that even though I was totally into the game itself, my friends who weren't into football needed the pool to get invested in the game.

You might argue that their investment wasn't authentic, that they weren't really invested in the game because they weren't invested in football in general.  Yet don't we deal with these same issues in the classroom every day?  Our students rarely care as much about our subject matter as we do, so we have to appeal to their intrinsic motivation or create an extrinsic one with a constantly evolving array of strategies.

So here's a crazy idea: let's create a "Classroom Pool" modeled on these Super Bowl office pools to motivate and invest students at a much higher level.  Let's have students make predictions on all the happenings in your classroom over the course of, let's say, a week.  I think that would get quite a few students to pay close attention for the duration of the project, and likely beyond. 

Here's a list of potential question stems you could use:
  1. The first assignment we'll get this week will be...  A. worksheet  B. project  C.  reading & writing  D. interpretive dance  E. other
  2. How many total [tests / quizzes / projects / assignments ] will we get this week?
  3. How many times will [teacher name] say [funny or quirky thing you say all the time] this week?
  4. How many times will [teacher name] do [funny or quirky thing you do all the time] this week?
  5. The first day we'll [see / hear the items from #3 and #4] will be...
  6. The first student to ask ["What are we doing today?" or other irritating phrase] will be ...
  7. The first day we'll hear [the phrase from #4] will be...
  8. My grade on this week's quiz will be ___ (letter grade).  BONUS: closest number grade (without going over)
  9. How many times will [kid who does funny thing] do [that funny thing] this week?
  10. Total number of class interruptions (announcements, calls from office, people coming into the room, emergency situation, etc) this week: ____
  11. How many snow days will we have this week?
  12. My class participation percentage for the week: ____  Class average: ____
  13. My homework completion percentage for the week: ____   Class average: ____
You could craft any or all of these questions to lead towards a desired outcome.  Instead of leaving many of these open ended, you could make them multiple choice, and have all of the choices be things you would be happy with.  For example:

How many times will [teacher name] have to stop the lesson for disruptions? 
A. Zero
B. Once
C. Twice

You could do the same with #12 and #13 above, making the options something like 80%, 90% and 100%, which will certainly motivate some students.  There's an infinite number of ways to adjust it to fit your needs.

As for prizes, I think the competition of the game will provide all the extrinsic motivation needed.  The winner(s) will probably be happy with something intangible like having their name up on a bulletin board so they can brag on their mad skills.  This way, it's ultimately about you doing whatever you can to get your students invested, and they will try harder merely because you are trying so hard.

I'm not proposing this as a long term solution to your problems, but one more thing to put in your toolbox.  I hope that you will look for inspiration in unlikely places in order to come up with new and better strategies to get your kids to the ambitious goals you've set for them.

Have ideas for additional questions or ways to extend and adapt this?  Share them in the comments or link to this in your own blog post.