Planning and Dice

I am a planner. Seriously. If you've seen my calendar page you'll see I'm often planned out at least a month in advance and regularly plan my entire semester. I plan things at home just as much. It's a fault but one that usually ends up working out well for me.

Today, I couldn't plan. It was our first day in person with students in over a year. We had a 90-minute period with a small cohort of kids from our homerooms. In the last week we've had tons of changes in schedules for students and no real direction on what that 90 minutes was to entail. I tried to plan ahead by meeting with some colleagues and brainstorming ideas. What we learned most in that session was that we had significantly more unknowns than knowns.

I decided, against every fiber of my being, that I just wouldn't plan ahead. I'd wait for more clarification and then plan things. Well, I made it all the way to this morning and still had the questions. I realized I didn't have a plan and kids were coming in just a few hours. I knew I wanted to get them talking as interaction has been severely lacking in our online classes. I thought about preparing some discussion questions but I didn't want it to feel formulaic and forced. So, I thought about some of the conversation games I've played with my elective kids in the past. I thought of "Umm..." where students are given a random topic and must talk about it for 30 seconds without saying "um." It's fun but really feeds off a crowd which a class of 4 students just wouldn't provide.

I liked the random topic idea though. I thought of using my Story Cubes (dice with random images on them) as conversation starters. The problem is that I had no way to display them for the group. I could tell the kids what images came up but that didn't seem very fun. Plus, I wanted them to be able to see them throughout the conversation. I looked online for a digital version and found an app. It wouldn't run on my Chromebook for some reason (of course...) and I couldn't figure out how to get my phone screen to display on my projector (of course...) I did, however, learn that the knock-off term was Story Dice. I searched for Story Dice Generator and bingo!

Enter the Story Dice Generator!

My kids came in, and as expected, it was awkwardly quiet. 4 kids is just not enough energy, even when they are kids who know each other (which, thankfully mine did.) So, bring on the dice! I told the kids I wanted to start our session just by talking since we hadn't been able to do that in so long. I rolled the dice and explained I just wanted them to talk about anything that came to mind with any of the dice. I started off to get things rolling and we were off.

80 minutes later the bell rang and one kid asked, "what was that?" I said, "The bell to end class." Another said, "no way, already?" The five of us had just talked for 80 minutes straight! No texts. No screens (well, outside of the dice on the projector.) Not even any board games. Just talking. We talked about couches (our first roll), hamburgers, pets, birds drowning, restaurant tours, anime, and false teeth among many other things. I rolled the dice only once when things slowed down a bit. That was it. I certainly hadn't planned to spend the whole period talking but I couldn't imagine a more important thing to do after 1 year of separation. Was it academic? No. It was more important than that. This was a lesson in the importance of being human and sharing with others. It was truly incredible.

The awkwardness is gone and I have no doubt that even with just 4 kids we'll be able to accomplish some great things in our limited sessions remaining this year. For me personally I'm recharged. I hadn't realized how much I missed interacting with my students. This was like a shot of adrenaline straight into my heart. This will get me to June and to think it might not have happened if I had followed my usual path and planned every moment of our class!

There are plenty of other great ways to use Story Cubes / Dice as well. I've used them in elective for creative writing prompts. I've also used them in Social Studies for forced connections to terms or people. (How is a samurai like a mailman? Well, they both deliver something - one mail, one death!) They are a fun way to add randomness to any activity and I highly recommend picking up a set or having the website above ready to use.

Notably, this is the second time this year that last second planning has led to something awesome and unexpected. Earlier this year I wanted to find a way for my students to share their raps about government without having to unmute (since I knew most wouldn't) leading me to find a wonderfully hilarious text-to-speech reader that I have since used multiple times.

Maybe there is something to that necessity is the mother of invention thing after all...