Let’s take a walk down memory lane to begin today’s entry… You are in your fourth grade classroom, working to finish a vocabulary test. If only you had studied your words a bit longer. What does feasible mean, you wonder. As soon as you hand in your piece of yellow, lined paper, the teacher utters those magic words, and excitement erupts from you and your classmates as though it is the end of the school day. “Okay girls and boys, everyone put your head down on your desk because it’s time to play Heads Up, Seven Up,” she says with a smile. You then quickly fold your arms and slam them down onto your desk in the form of a nest. You then place your head into your arm nest and wait for the teacher to tap the heads of seven students. Please be me, you desperately hope. Then your heart is gripped by the dark hands of sadness as you realize that you weren’t chosen. Oh well, you think, at least you have a chance to be chosen by one of the “it” students. You quickly put your thumb up, as your hand rests on the edge of your desk. While you try hard to be good and obey the rules of the game, you can’t help but peek a bit. You stealthily move your head off the edge of your desk, just a bit so that you can glance at the shoes of the “it” students. Then, you feel that feeling you’ve been waiting all game to feel. Someone taps your thumb. A giddiness washes over you like that time you chose the blue finger puppet monster at the dentist’s office. You wait for the teacher to give the next cue. “Heads up, seven up.” You then stand up, scanning the seven people standing at the front of the room. Which one tapped me, you wonder. Then you remember that you had seen white sneakers near your desk right before you were tapped. You stare at the line of shoes. But everyone’s wearing white sneakers, you soon realize. Oh well. It’s your turn to guess. Steven, you say. Wrong. It was Nick. Does it really matter though. You just got to play a really sweet game instead of having to complete more worksheets. Everyone’s a winner, you think to yourself as the lunch bell rings.
Ahh, the good ol’ days of elementary school and “Heads Up, Seven Up.” Who didn’t like that game. It was so fun. It’s one of the most treasured memories from my years at the Hanover Street School. I don’t remember what I learned in those five years, but I do remember the experiences. I recall the field trips and the fun games we played. As a teacher, I am constantly trying to devise new, innovative ways to engage my students in the learning process. How can I find a fun way to help them learn new information? How can I make learning interesting and exciting for my students? On Tuesday afternoon, as I made my way home, I thought long and hard about those two questions. How could I help my students remember the three components of digital citizenship that we covered in class over the past two weeks? Could we play a game? Jeopardy? Perhaps, but my students love to move around and be active. What game would combine jeopardy with a sport like baseball. Then it hit me like a ton of Acme bricks. And that is how Holt Ball was born. Like “Heads Up, Seven Up,” it’s a simple game. Two teams of students work to answer review questions correctly. If the team that is up to bat answers 75% of their questions correctly, they move onto a round of live Holt Ball. Baseball rules apply to live Holt Ball rounds. During the question rounds, an out is awarded to the team if the student does not answer his or her question correctly on their own, without help. They may take an out and seek help from their team members. Points are awarded for correct answers without help as well as runs scored during Holt Ball rounds.
We played Holt Ball in class on Wednesday. After explaining the rules, choosing teams, and having the students choose their team names, the fun began. The students had a blast. It allowed them to have fun, be active, and review the concepts of digital citizenship that they were assessed on in class today. It allowed me to clarify any confusion that existed. I helped those students who struggled to answer their question correctly by explaining the concept in a way they hadn’t thought about before. This interactive and exciting game got my students moving, talking, playing, and reviewing concepts for today’s big assessment.
Going into Wednesday’s game of Holt Ball, I was a bit worried that the rules would be too confusing or that they just wouldn’t want to be up and active. I was nervous to try this activity. What if it failed? What if the students didn’t like it? What if they did like it? What if it worked? Like I tell my students, “If you say you can, then you will succeed, and if you say can’t, then you won’t be successful.” I took my own advice and decided to give it a try. Failure is part of the learning process, and so, if it did fail, much learning could come from the experience.
Fast forward to today’s assessment. Every student exceeded the three objectives being assessed. They didn’t just know the information, they were able to apply it with gusto. Even those students who struggle with assessments demonstrated a strong understanding of the concepts covered. I was blown away. What happened today? Was it playing Holt Ball yesterday? Did that game pack more power than I thought? Was it more than just an enjoyable game? Was Holt Ball what helped my students master the content covered? Or was it something else? Did they enjoy this unit on digital citizenship, and so, therefore the material was stickier than other concepts from units that weren’t as engaging? Or was it something else entirely? I’m going with Holt Ball. Yeah, it had to be the review game that pushed them all over the edge of understanding.
Taking risks and trying new activities or lessons in the classroom allows me to find new and exciting ways to engage my students in the process of learning. If I hadn’t tried playing Holt Ball in my class yesterday, would my students have performed as well as they had on today’s assessment? I’ll never know, but the scientist in me thinks that perhaps they may not have done as well on today’s test if we hadn’t had fun playing an amazing game named after its creator. As teachers, we need to continuously be thinking, reflecting, and learning so that we can find new and innovative ways to build excitement in the classroom. By playing Holt Ball with my students yesterday, I provided them with an experience that they will most likely carry with them for years to come, as I did with Heads Up, Seven Up.