When I got to the elementary school this morning, ready to do my Anasazi lesson, I learned that I was an hour early. Although I had been told to arrive around 8:30 to set up, no one knew what to do with me when I walked in the door. The event, which had representatives from nine different state or national parks, was being hosted in the gym – where there were no hookups for my computer. I had asked – and been told – that I would be able to do a Powerpoint presentation, so all my pictures were on my hard drive. Finally, one of the teachers told me I could use her classroom to set up – but once we got there, it turned out that her projector was burned out, so her most technology-friendly coworker had to rush around for a backup projector while I carried in my props and my weapons. We barely got everything working in time.
Eight groups rotated through the classroom. I spent about twenty minutes with each one. The first group was still practically asleep, so they were the quietest. The groups immediately before and after lunch were the most difficult – kids didn't pay attention because they were either thinking about food or wired from playing outside.
I made the mistake of assuming that fourth graders would be relatively mature for elementary school students, based on the few that I know who are, in fact, reasonable and capable of carrying a thought from one sentence to the next. Maybe my boss' kid is just amazing, or maybe the kids were just too excited to settle down – but these guys were so much more scatterbrained than I expected. For the most part, they sat quietly through the presentation – ignoring my attempts to engage them with questions and “What would you do?” scenarios. Jokes that worked with the Egyptian Museum school tours fell flat. It was quite disappointing. But OK, maybe pictures on a computer just aren't exciting. I thought the kids would at least perk up when we went outside to use atlatls! What could be cooler than throwing weapons around?
Alas, the atlatls struck out. There were a couple of reasons for this:
- My atlatls weren't quite sized for their hands. Some of the kids had trouble holding onto the handles because their fingers couldn't quite fully wrap around them, or they couldn't figure out how to hold the spear steady before they threw it.
- Fourth graders have lousy coordination. I would demonstrate how to hold the atlatl, and the kids would try to copy me – and fail miserably. Instead of pinching the spear with their index finger and thumb, and grasping the atlatl with their other fingers, they'd try to hold everything in their fist, and then wonder why the spear wasn't releasing. I would correctly position their fingers on the atlatl, but the minute I let go they'd revert to the incorrect form.
- A ranger from one of the national parks had also brought an atlatl, and the technique she taught them was very different (it was a two-handed approach that involved using your knuckles to hold the spear steady) but when the kids tried to apply this technique to my traditional atlatls, it didn't work, so they got even more frustrated.
- Fourth graders still haven't grasped the concept of taking turns and standing in line. Good grief.
It was exhausting.
But there were good moments, too. Some of the kids persevered and actually became pretty decent at throwing the atlatls. One little girl who figured it out started teaching her classmates, and it was really cute. A couple of the groups got really into flint-knapping so we had some good discussions about Native American weapons.
But I don't look forward to doing it all again tomorrow, especially when I learned that I'd be getting the same kids again the next day so I had to have a second lesson prepared. WHAT! The e-mail asking Anasazi to send a representative had made it sound like we'd be getting different groups of kids each day, so I'd only brought the atlatls. I had no idea what I could do to follow up. No wonder so many of the volunteers only came out for one day.
I wrapped up around two and threw all my stuff back in my car. Istead of brainstorming another lesson, which seemed boring, I drove off to Bryce Canyon and spent the afternoon hiking the Rim Trail and poking around the Visitor Center.
I saw lots of this...
I kicked myself out of the park at 6:00 because the last shuttle that brings visitors into the park from overflow parking in Ruby's Inn was leaving, and I didn't want to be stranded. I spent a decent chunk of time trying to find a Wi-Fi source, but none of the restaurants seemed to have any so I gave up and went back to Kodachrome for a frantic evening of trying to put together a lesson plan for the next day. Without Internet access, I couldn't download images and look up new information, so I was truly stuck. Finally, I threw up my hands and decided the kids would just have to do a project from the Junior Ranger handbook, because I had nothing.