Who says that the "June slide" must occur? Just as much learning and discovering was filling my library on the second last day of school, thanks to the efforts of teacher extraordinaire Julie Johnson. Julie is a special education teacher at Goodfellow Public School with the Simcoe District School Board. We attempted a little experiment this year with our school's Nintendo Wii systems. We wanted to see if we could help some of our male students that struggled with appropriate social behaviour by playing video games together. The hope was that the students would internalize positive social traits that they honed while playing in the comfortable and enjoyable game environment and be able to apply them to situations in the school yard and with other students. The two groups met each other several months ago and participated in a Tribes (c) activity to help build community. We then spent the intervening months with our separate school clubs, gaming, encouraging, and modeling. We weren't able to synch the Wiis so that we could directly play each other, so instead we hooked up via Skype and recorded our times. Our five boys faced their five boys and we played. There was lots of cheering and at the end, when the competitors turned to the webcam to look at their fellow player, positive comments were exchanged (like "good game" and "congratulations").
I wish I could report that my school's Wii Social Skills Club was a magic bullet (or Bullet Bill, for those who know the Mario Kart game) and that all my students' social awkwardness disappeared after playing together. I had to talk to one boy who knocked away the hand of another boy who was only trying to pat him on the back to say "good job". I had to remind one of my other players that he could not threaten another player to withdraw his friendship because he was in the way. However, I think it was an excellent step in the right direction. The students were a bit shy when conversing with the kids from the other school, but they did offer kind words and praise. The students really enjoyed being part of the club; they felt honoured and special.
I want to thank all the folks over at Goodfellow P.S., especially Julie, for organizing our first-ever tournament and I look forward to working with her more on projects like this in the future. I also want to thank my teaching partner in my own school, Renee Keberer, for joining me on this crazy journey. Renee has been promoted to a central position in our board, so she and I will no longer be in the same building. Naturally, this is very bittersweet news for me. It's so important to have like-minded teachers around you to be willing to try out innovative and possibly bizarre ideas in the name of helping students. I hope all of you have a Renee in your school.