Monday, May 14, 2012

String is a wonderful thing

By the time you read this, I'll probably be on a plane heading to Winnipeg for the Manitoba Library Association's conference. What a whirlwind few weeks it's been! The hectic pace made me question my sanity in accepting an invitation to participate in a Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast on String Games this past Wednesday (May 9, 2012). However, I'm really glad I did. I think I will need to cross-post this on my Family Gaming Blog.

My friend Denise and I were asked to attend because a few weeks prior, we were guests on Paul Allison's webcast when he hosted the inspiring guy behind Minecraft Edu. Fred, the main speaker of the String Game webcast, heard the Minecraft issue and thought that the audience would be intrigued by his version of play.

Fred is an educator with an anthropologist background and he told us that string games are common throughout the world in many different areas with many unrelated cultures. He introduced solo string games to his Spanish-speaking Grade 3-4 students when he taught them computer keyboarding to help them with their dexterity when typing and to introduce the names for the different fingers. There are so many learning opportunities for string games that I never realized. Fred uses string to tell stories and encourages children to make their own string stories. Like Minecraft, some players become proficient early on and then they help others to learn, building a collaborative cooperative class. Fred's pinned some of the figures made and created string art. Math (shapes), social studies (artifacts, cultures that play these games), dance (groups making the same figures simultaneously in silence, a beautiful choreography), and many other subjects were mentioned as possible links. Other participants talked about the semi-related finger-knitting, extolling the virtues of bringing yarn to extra-long assemblies to calm the fidgety, bored kids.

There were some great quotes that Chad, a fellow participant, shared via Twitter. (I can't recall them all - they were things like "it's important to model failure" and "string games are 'digital' fun".) What I realized was how potent teaching string games would be to analyze your own teaching practice. Listening to Fred teach the group how to make a 3-pronged spear made me hyper-aware of how important detailed, clear instructions are, and the different learning styles at play. The first time I tried it, I failed. The second time, when Fred re-explained and added a few "notice this part here" tips, I did it! I cheered pretty loudly when I succeeded. My webcam wasn't working on Google +, so I convinced my daughter to take a photo of my accomplishment.

I made a 3-pronged spear! Here's proof!
A less complimentary shot of me, with my string jedi master Fred on-screen
Fred mentioned that there are several books and YouTube videos that explain, step by step, how to make different shapes. I think I need a person near me to give feedback (though the string collapsing in unrecognizable shapes is pretty immediate feedback too). I gave myself a goal - to teach the kids in my SK and Grade 7 classes how to make the 3-pronged spear and do it to music at a June assembly. I'm repeating it here so it'll be my contract to myself to try it out and report what results.

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