It might be surprising to hear, but a potato is a really great tool for generating creative discussions - specifically, a hot potato. The old fashioned game of tossing a hot potato until a timer goes off seems to translate well as a creative ice breaker for critiques, content review, and the production of ideas. The process is simple. The potato is tossed to a student, they address a topic or question, and then toss the potato to the next classmate who addresses the same question or builds off the previous response. When the timer goes off, the student holding the potato is out of the game. This process repeats until we have a single winner. The potato can be tossed at random, but a simple hand off to the next student works better. Shy students can't avoid a hand off and once the game begins even the shyest get caught up in playing. As their classmates all know who is shy, there's often a bit of comic drama when the potato reaches them. Thankfully, shy is not the same as being dumb. Most of the time the shy student will have a smart answer.
As there is a timer involved, most answers tend to be brief. To go deeper, my class and I generally review sets of answers after the timer goes off. I've played with different timers and different questions so the number of answers per timed round varies from 5 to 15. 15 can be a lot to cover, but if the students are taking notes - even those out of the game - we seem to be able to capture a lot of good and/or important ideas. Sometimes ideas repeat, and you'll find that some students will call out infractions. Happily and curiously, the person who makes the mistake of repeating an answer, or just gets accused, typically just accepts their fate. They typically offer a panicked laugh and stumble into making a new answer. As the teacher, I sometimes act as the referee and make a call. With everything being so fast paced, I've never had a big argument about this. As a teacher, I'm usually just tickled that most students are paying close attention to these quick answers. It puts me a good mood and a good place to address any small hic-cups. In the end its just game and the reward for winning, if any, is minor. Past rewards include first call on topics for papers or projects, choice of due dates on presentations, or forgiveness on being late to class.
To set up the session you can buy a hot potato or use your phone and any plush toy. There's a wind-up red one and a soft plushy one currently on Amazon (12/12/2017). The wind-up one has a nice soft tick and works well, but after a year of use I wore it out. The plush one I bought had such a loud tick that I found it to be pretty distracting. So loud that I was in a bit of a panic. I had scheduled a hot potato idea generating session the day after it arrived from Amazon. I wound up removing the timer from the plush potato and stuff my phone inside instead. I'd downloaded a simple free timer app for the phone, there's scores of these in the app store. Anything that ticks will work. What didn't work was my students tossing the potato around with my expensive phone inside! Needless to say, I took my phone out and ran the timer app separate from the potato. Gamewise, it worked although maybe slightly less dynamic than having the students hold the ticking potato while answering the question. Technically, any tossable item like a stuff animal or bean bag could work. A local football coach uses a football in team discussions of plays. The football players see a play on the board and discuss their roles and responsiblities.
The biggest hurdle I face is class size. This process works best with 5 - 12 players. A full class of 24 to 30 can be harder to manage. Playing as small teams sort of works. Tossing the potato randomly works if people are willing to reach out and challenge themselves if a throw is not directly at them. Most students initiutively want to play and want to catch the potato as part of the process, but still, random tosses leads to a lot of drops and decline in the fun of the game. Students seeing their peers hang back, especially the ones with physical prowess, not step up and catch the potato leads to some negative feelings.
The idea of using the hot potato game to facilitate creative discussion came to me after I realized I wanted my students to be able to think faster on their feet. I wanted my students to be able to quickly and freely be able to toss ideas out in a rapid fire pace. Gamification was wanted and I mentally went down my own list of simple games. Quiz show games and word puzzles might be plausible, but each required set-up time and pre-planning on my part. Duck, Duck, Goose struck me as fun, but mechanics of choosing a Goose and the act of running after and tagging a student seemed tricky. Hot Potato however did the trick. The timer creates a clear goal and the random nature of your time adds drama. Players hope for the person before them to lose as then they start fresh. If the person before them doesn't lose, a sudden wave of stress and release of stress occurs. In a game sense, every correct answer forms a mini narrative arc that gets looped until the timer goes off. Equally important in this same frame is the aspect of chance. The chance to have a little time to answer or a lot of time. Governed by the players before them and the time they take, this element of chance forms a huge
Monday, 25 September 2017