Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Quiet Morning Playing Mancala at Young Explorers

This morning began the first day of Block 3, after a nice long break over Christmas. However, it was oh so quiet! I had three students (siblings), who were unable to attend, which left me a group of only five kids plus my own.  Quiet!

So here's what we did today:

1. Icebreaker
If you were stranded on a desert island, what book would you bring and what luxury item would you bring? This is an awesome icebreaker and in fact we used it for our first Snack and Yak held this past weekend. More on that later, but essentially it was a socratic evening with older youth and parents. So fun.

2. Poetry
You all remember Willie Wonka/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl? Well he's also written some fabulously funny poetry, and today we read Television.  This poem is really addressed to parents and we get a very clear picture of what Roald Dahl thinks of TV! FYI, the poem calls the TV an "idiotic thing" but I substituted the phrase "silly thing," in case you decide to read it aloud I don't want you to be appalled. Actually, I wanted to read his poem called "Cinderella" and was all excited until he used the word slut. Dang, otherwise it was totally funny.  But "Television" has a wonderful message and a great rhyme and rhythm; here is an excerpt:

Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did. 

3. Living Math - Make Your Own Mancala Game
Mancala is believed to be one of the oldest games in the world; it is an African game of counting and strategy that almost all ages can enjoy. I myself got hooked playing it online against the computer but that's another story. The typical gameboard has 2 rows of 6 cups, plus a larger cup on either end to hold your winnings. I've seen these end cups called your Mancala, but I've also seen them referred to as your kalaha. The word "Mancala" is Arabic for "to transfer," which describes the essence of the game - transferring pieces from one cup to another, following a few simple rules, and thinking hard about strategy. You want to end up with the most marbles/beads in your Mancala cup.

We made our gameboards out of egg cartons, like this:

And then got right to work playing each other! I gave the kids a demonstration, but then set them into pairs to try their strategy.  They loved it! This is a really great family game, and very effective for teaching mathematical logic. The egg carton version is just fine, but because the inside of the carton is a bit bumpy, its hard to scoop your marbles out easily. I had purchased beads for today, but we quickly found out the beads were too tiny and difficult to scoop out. I had some of those floral rocks and we used those instead. I think if you could use foam egg cartons, that might work better because of the smooth bottoms.

Check out an overview of Mancala and how to make your own game here, and watch a You Tube demo right here.  

4. Socratic Discussion - The Goat's Ears of the Emperor Trojan
While we were busy painting our Mancala gameboards, I read the kids this tale from Andrew Lang's Violet Fairy Book. I really really like the fairy books for bringing up lofty discussions. In this story, the Emperor asks his barber if he has noticed anything odd about him (like Goat Ears!!) and when each barber tells the truth they are put to death. One apprentice barber tells the Emperor he did not notice anything odd at all, and of course the Emperor likes him and continues to bring him back to the palace for a daily shave. But the young barber is tormented by holding this "secret," and while he doesn't want to share the secret with any other humans, he is advised to dig a hole in the dirt and tell the secret to the earth, and he is relieved to be rid of this burden. Except that a 3-stemmed tree grows and when a stem is cut down to be made into a flute, the flute doesn't play music but tells the secret. I'll let you read the rest. The discussion revolved around keeping secrets, telling lies - is it EVER ok to tell a lie? Some kids thought it might be if their life was at stake, like the barber. One of the girls said it depended on the secret - there are good secrets (like what your mom bought your sister for her birthday), but there are also bad secrets - like gossip. We talked about holding secrets, trust, and the idea that telling a secret can place a burden on who you tell. 

5. Composer - Vivaldi's Four Seasons - especially "Spring"
"Spring" from Four Seasons is one of my very favorites. I wish it really was spring around here ... You can hear a You Tube here.  Listening carefully, we talked about how you can really hear the birds chirping away and what  a good job Vivaldi does to capture this with strings.

6. Picture Study - Monet's Poppy Field
We've talked about Monet before, and this time we discussed how most great artists were not encouraged to be artists by their parents. And most of them become famous once they are dead. Monet's father was a grocer, and did not want Monet to paint, however Monet became one of the first artists to paint outdoors, and was part of the famous impressionist group.


And that's a wrap! Block 3 is off to a great start!
Have a great week!

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