bilateral kellerberrin

April 29, 2005

Cunderdin High School Workshops Day 2

Filed under: education? — Lucas @ 3:46 pm

It seems like ages since I was last down at the Cunderdin DHS (District High School) boring Trevor’s intrepid gang of multimediainformationcommunicationtechnology students to tears with my pointless art activities. Yesterday was the return.

At the end of my show-and-tell session before the holidays, I asked them what sort of things they might be interested in doing with me for this month of workshops. A lot of them mentioned games. Since then I’ve been collecting shabby board games from wheatbelt op shops. I’ve accumulated quite a bundle by now…

So the new lesson plan was all about games: talking about ’em, analysing ’em, and making your own. I made up an activity, “the GAME GAME”, which had a set of fairly strict rules attached. Each group (of three or four students) would be given a set of objects (their “elements”) which they had to use in making their own game. These were ordinary things: a bell, some yellow string, three encyclopedias, a roll of garbage bags etc. Only these elements could be used in making up a game.

I’ve posted a copy of the RULES OF THE GAME GAME as well as a list of the ELEMENTS for each group on the blog, here.


How did it all go? Pretty well, I reckon. I’d forgotten how little 13 and 14 year olds can be. Not to mention how difficult to keep focussed – like that barrel-o-monkeys game – just when you have one balanced and on the way, another goes out of kilter. Lucky there’s only 11 of them.

I started out by asking the group what they could remember from the last time I had grippingly held their attention. To my surprise, they had retained quite a lot: I had given “a powerpoint”. And what had I shown in that powerpoint? Well, I’d made cushions for a lecture theatre, I’d eaten cornflakes, I’d made some sort of glass box for a peg in the dirt. I was impressed. And by the way, where is our bubblegum you promised us? That I couldn’t answer – I’d given the vile stuff to Trevor to pass on to them after school last term. Maybe he’d “forgotten”.


I had four board games to show them:

1.Girl Talk: this elicited groans of pain from the boys, some of whom then proceeded to obsessively read the text on it’s wheel of fortune-like spinning disk. It was widely agreed that it was a crap game, and we had a hard time trying to work out what was the “objective” or “aim of the game” (especially since there were no instructions supplied in my second hand box). See a picture here. But the spinning wheel was an interesting twist on the pre-teen staple spin the bottle, of which I guess this game is a marketed version.

2.PISA – The Leaning Tower Game: here, you have to place the little red tourist gnomes on particular levels of a plastic wobbly tower, as directed by the colour you roll up on a die. The player who causes the tower to tip, and the figurines to fall, has to keep those tourists. Whoever gets rid of all his/her tourists first is the winner. Criticism arose from the fact that this was “boring”, just a game for little kids. But I pointed out that as you get older, your hand gets shakier, so actually it would be quite challenging for grandpas to play. I’m not sure how convincing that was.

3.Reflection: a mirror stands upright in front of you, and you have to place two quasi triangular shapes against the mirror, to match a larger shape on a card you pull from a pile. This game fascinated Chris and I, because at first it seems impossible to make such a sophisticated shape from just these two bits. Surely there were some parts missing? But just when you think you should give up, the shape forms before your eyes, and you’ve solved it. But what cognitive process went on in your brain to reach the solution? Of the four games, this was the one which engaged the Cunderdin Kids the most, and even Trevor the teacher wanted to borrow it.

4.Park n Shop: Anne remembers playing this one as a kid. It’s a classic board game, where the printed carboard square represents land, city blocks, and “you” are a car travelling around the city trying to get your shopping done. Not a brilliant concept, but I had brought it along to demonstrate the fairly common premise: that games often use some sort of terrain or landscape as a “playing field” – even Grand Theft Auto, which is kinda more suited to the cracking pace set by these kids.


After our analytical disassembly of these board games, it was time to make our own. I explained the rules of the GAME GAME, and we went out on the oval, where Trevor reckoned they could make as much noise as they wanted without disturbing anyone. Then we came straight back inside to the library, cos it was too windy out there.

Three groups formed (I let them choose their own groups). The materials they were allocated (their “elements”) were:

Group X: garbage bags, encyclopedias, dice, hat.
Group Y: grandma shopping trolley, rope rings, cotton buds, red “g” clamps.
Group Z: newspaper, string and scissors, mirrors, bell.

Two of the groups jumped straight into it. They had about 45 minutes to come up with something, and then present it back to the group.


Group X worked well instinctually together. They began immediately turning their garbage bags into costumes, like sacks over their torsos, and the hat lent a sort of gangster feel to it which continued throughout their process. They developed a catwalk concept: quite quickly,, their “game” developed into a beauty contest: the premise was: who could look the sexiest while reading the encyclopedia. Judges would be chosen from the audience, based on who had the most clothes on of the particular colour that the dice rolled up. Score cards from 1-5 were made up for the judges to rate the contestants. Desks were pushed together and a rough catwalk set up in the middle of the library. Hilarious. This game was like a performance, with the audience co-opted as judges and a cheering crowd. I was conscripted as a commentator. Photos were taken of the three place-getters on a makeshift podium (finally the encyclopedias found a use!)

Group Y had almost too many “ideas-men” – each idea was superseded and merged with the next at breakneck speed, so it was difficult to chart exactly what was “the aim of the game” at any point in its development. As far as it was presented at the end, their game went something like this: one of the players drops the package of cotton buds on the floor, and picks them up, one by one, counting loudly while doing so. In the meantime, another player is attempting to throw all six rope rings into the open top of the shopping trolley. To make it more difficult, the trolley is leaning up against a bookshelf at a precarious angle – it tends to slide down the shelf and eventually drop, making a loud crack on the shelf below. When this happens, another player (a sort of helper) replaces the trolley to its original position. When the cotton bud counting player has counted to fifty buds, the game is up, and the ring thrower must stop, assuming s/he hasn’t managed to throw all six into the trolley by then. It was a race against time: one player picking up, the other throwing out. This game was quite musical, and rhythmic. I have oversimplified it, there were many other layers and stages to its progression, but there’s no way I could follow what they were. At one stage, I remember seeing one player holding the trolley over his head, and walking in loops around the room, while another player tried to throw the rings into it.

Group Z had more difficulty. At first I thought that I had given them a less inspiring set of elements, but I think actually, it’s possible that their group dynamic was at issue. No one in the group wanted to “go out on a limb” and start mucking around with their objects. Even though the bell made a nice crisp dinging sound, they didn’t really even try dinging it much, not even to irritate the rest of the class. Occasionally, cajoling by me, Trevor, or Anne, moved them into action: for instance the yellow string they had was wrapped around four armchairs, and began to encircle the room. The game almost turned into a sort of “escape from a spider’s web” challenge, based, apparently on the movie “entrapment”, but then enthusiasm for that fizzled out too, and the string was wound back up onto its roll. Anne had an interesting exchange with one student, making a kind of game-within-a-game of the mirrors and bell – the two mirrors moved around the bell: when the player sees two bells reflected in the mirror, s/he rings the bell twice; if the bell appears three times, then ring the bell three times etc. Beginning to create a kind of instructional musical score. But then inertia set in, and the idea bore no fruit (in terms of independent activity).

I was pretty happy with how things went. Two out three aint bad, as Meatloaf once said. And the “failure” of group Z to work together fruitfully was of interest in itself, although exactly how to analyse that is a bit of a mystery. It could be a case of choosing the group combinations ourselves next time…


next time: there was a small amount of feedback from a few students saying they would like to do something musical next time. Trevor was into that, so we agreed to work in that direction. Playful, game-like activities with materials which might not traditionally be used for music, resulting in some sort of “concert” at the end of the session…


On the way home from Cunderdin, we stopped at the Tammin op shop. Gwen was there, and she remembered me from when I’d come in for board games a few weeks earlier. This time it was musical objects I was after. I picked up no end of junk: toast racks, metal baking trays, a hair dryer, Anne found a potato chopper, etc etc. Gwen thinks I’m the bees knees – “how does he come up with it!?” is her catch cry. We also got some yummy looking pickles in a jar with a cloth cover, made by two “gay men” from the area – “not that that has anything to do with it, though. They are lovely guys, one is an artist, and the other is the cook”. I also picked up a book – “A Synthesis of Teaching Methods” – which is probably not going to be of much help, but it had some good pix. I’m pasting below a few from the book, in the absence of photos from the workshop, which I can’t make public until we organise permission slips from parents…

aesthetic appreciation


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