The Power of Fun

Post date: Sep 7, 2018 1:53:54 PM

I think my favorite of Mickey's 10 Commandments is "For every ounce of treatment, add a ton of fun." As I pointed out in my end of the the reflections I lost a lot of that last year. I was so focused on getting my kids to perform up to my vision that I kind of forgot what my vision really is. What I really want kids to leave my class with is an appreciation of history - the deep understanding will come in time. Fun is a way to bring that appreciation.

Today we did my barbarian ordeals lab. I honestly do not remember the origin of this activity - only that I made it over 10 years ago. It was one of the first "fun" activities I made for 7th grade. The goal of the activity is to get students to truly appreciate the importance of a legal system based on laws like the Romans had. At their age they really can't even comprehend another system existing. I explain that all cultures have had to figure out who was telling the truth.

The lab begins simply with a reading.

Barbarian Laws

There's nothing flashy about it. It is a reading about barbarian ordeals and how they work. It is fairly high-interest as it talks about wonderful things like boiling people's arms and throwing them into rivers to see if they float. Immediately, without discussion, they complete a 10 question "quiz" about the material.

Barbarian Law Quiz

A few of the questions are absurd but most are straight up comprehension questions from the passage. It ends with: "True or False: Mr. Roughton is the amazing."

The reading and quiz take about 10 minutes - then the fun begins!

I show a short video clip about ordeals from History Channels The Dark Ages and then talk about how the ordeals worked. The clip is only about a minute long and is definitely not necessary. I do like the visual it provides but I did the lab for years without it just fine. I announce it is time the grade the quiz. I read question 1 aloud and leave it hanging with that oh-so-powerful teacher skill of raising my voice slightly at the end so they know I want them to volunteer to answer. I choose a student who I know will be comfortable in front of the class, they answer confidently, and then I get pensive. I ponder with a nice "Hmmm..." then sheepishly wonder aloud " can I know if he's telling the truth with this answer..." Then it hits me! "Ah! We'll appeal to the gods!" I call the student up to the front and announce their ordeal.

Here's a list I've built up over the years:

-Stand holding a book in each hand

-Speak the alphabet backwards

-Push ups

-Balance a pencil

-Stand without blinking

-Balance a book on your head


-Spin around then walk down the aisle without touching another desk

-Count by X to 100

-With eyes closed name 15 people in the classroom

-Tear paper in half with one hand

-Fold a paper in half 7 times

-Hum a song with nose plugged (impossible!)

-bottle flip x times

If they complete it successfully whatever answer they said becomes the right answer (even if it is technically wrong.) Alternately, if they are not successful their answer is wrong. It doesn't take long for the sense of injustice to kick in. "But A is right Mr. Roughton, it says it right here!" "But the gods clearly have shown us A is wrong. That's why he failed the ordeal."

This continues and, invariably, more and more hands go up. Kids want to try to pass the ordeal. Some get wise and they'll purposefully pick a wrong answer and try to fail the ordeal on purpose. I'm fine with that. It helps teach the absurdity of the system.

The capper is the final question. If the volunteer says "True" (which they usually do) I make it seem like the gods have given me an incredibly arduous ordeal for them. I say "You will have 2 minutes, and only 2 minutes, to blink at least one time. You may blink more but if you can blink at least one time in 2 minutes we'll know the gods have determined that I am amazing." If they false I say they cannot blink for 2 minutes. In each case, hilarity ensues. We close with a brief discussion of why the Roman system of courts and judges was superior.

The whole thing takes 30 minutes. I could easily cut it down to 20 if I needed to do something else. In that time students are reading a fairly complex text, answering text based questions and experiencing the value of a Roman system of laws. None of those things are easy and none of them are necessarily fun. By adding this small touch of fun to the end it completely flips the lesson and makes it one of the highlights of the year. The students have a blast. I have a blast. They truly come away understanding the value of a system of laws (which, in our modern culture is a miracle.)

Once again, it looks like those Disney Imagineers are on to something...