This year I decided to really challenge myself and my students during our school’s Earth Week activities. I decided to run every class on the Friday of that week with no technology.
No lights. No computer. No projector. No phones. And, particularly challenging for my hot corner of the world, no air conditioning.
I called it, for alliteration purposes, No Footprint Friday.
I had to do some advance planning to ensure that on that particular day, all of my blocks would be at the same point in our unit. Then, I developed a tech-free lesson plan for the day.
My classes were just finishing up our exploration of World War 1. I found a story on the internet entitled If WW1 Was a Bar Fight. It is pretty well known in Social Studies circles – here is a link to a bunch of different versions and sources if you want to check it out.
The story is the retelling of the participants, circumstances and some key events of the First World War, told using the metaphor of a bar fight. Rather than beginning with the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia in 1914, the metaphor instead begins with Serbia spilling a beer on Austria.
On our No Footprint Friday, we sat in my darkened room and I read the story aloud to the students. Then, I followed the reading with some questions:
- What country was the writer from? Why do you think that?
- What do you call this sort of thing?
- What is correct about this metaphor?
- What is not correct about this metaphor?
- Was anything left out?
Following our discussion, I instructed the students to write their own historical & metaphorical story. They could choose any event or personalities we studied throughout the year. The only stipulation was that they had to compare their story, in a whimsical way, to something else.
Some students struggled with the concept of metaphor. For instance, one team of boys compared the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy with a pizza delivery gone wrong. Another group took the Rosa Parks bus incident and restaged it exactly, but in an airplane (the airline they chose was United, so that was funny). Another issue with the project was copying. Way too many groups copied the original bar fight concept and changed the setting from a bar to, for instance, a house party. Others took the war/bar fight concept and changed the war from WW1 to the US Civil War. So, take the time to really discuss the concept of metaphors to ensure student understanding. And, challenge them to come up with something original!
Other, Non Academic, Outcomes
My classroom got hot. It wasn’t too bad in the morning, but by noon it was getting uncomfortable in there. Also, I forgot to warn my colleagues about my no tech day and other activities around the school had a negative impact on the students and my expectations. For instance, the PE department was holding their Mile Run activity and many students arrived at my class already dying from the heat. But, for most students, it was a reminder that they live in an air conditioned bubble. Students at my school travel from an air conditioned house, via an air conditioned car, to an air conditioned school. They spend so little time in the real environment that most of them regularly wear sweaters.
I got some unwelcome visitors. In order to keep my room as cool as possible, I kept the door and all my windows open for the day. The breeze was helpful, but the open windows resulted in other things entering the room besides cool air. Mosquitos crept in throughout the day. By the afternoon, my desk area was swarming with the pests. And, at one point, a very large butterfly floated into my room. By large, I mean LARGE. It was not your cute little Monarch. The wings were dark and leathery in appearance, giving this creature a bat-like feel. There were many screams when that arrived. Luckily, it didn’t stay long. It floated in on one side of the room and exited using the windows on the other side.
Hard habits to break. Another challenge was cell phone usage – for me and the students. Breaking the phone habit is tough. I rely on it as a timepiece and communication tool. On normal days, I regularly look at it for pacing purposes. And, every time I got a message that particular day (or felt one of those “phantom” buzzes) I would reach into my pocket for the phone.
One other outcome was the lack of communication with my peers. My school faculty and admin regular share reminders and important notes via What’s App. Although I didn’t miss anything important that day, not being in the loop might have been an issue if something critical had occurred.
Nevertheless, it was a great experience and I recommend everyone try it at least once. It is a good reminder of how big a role technology plays in our daily classroom activities and how reliant we are on our electrical powered comforts.
As usual, please do not hesitate to send any questions or feedback my way!