Meditations on a Cogen (No. 18) • Thursday, March 3, 2022

During the 2021-22 school year, I’m having weekly co-generative dialogues (or cogens) with my students. In an effort to help me process these talks and document progress, I summarize and write reflections after each cogen. This is the 18th post in the series.

A new tradition
We’re coming off mid-winter break and at some point during the last two weeks, I found inspiration — I forget from where — for a new tradition at the cogen. It’s pretty simple: I want to start each session with everyone answering the question, What’s something you have done for someone else in the last week? It’s a way of starting every cogen with generosity and kindness and also helps me get to know the students better.

Everyone shows up again today with no in-person reminders. I’m not surprised; this cohort has been so consistent these last several weeks. They’re great. I ask everyone how they’re feeling and then introduce our new tradition. We all go around and share our acts of generosity. The standout: earlier today, someone gave a friend a snack because they were hungry.

Finalizing Plans
I long to touch on several issues with the team today (seating arrangements, journal 2 reflections, problem presenters), but I have to push them aside and prioritize our board game. Our planning is basically complete, and we were originally scheduled to play tomorrow and Monday, but we decided to wait one more week. There are details that need to be ironed out. I’ve been super flexible on timing — there’s no need to rush.

The first item up for discussion is the gameboard. The student who was responsible for creating it emailed it to me earlier this week. I present it to the rest of the cogen. Everyone loves it.

The student-created gameboard

I show them a die that players will roll to move along the board. We agree that the center space should be a “challenge problem” and decide that it will be a Level 4. We have an interesting debate over which direction players will move and whether it matters. Can players change direction after passing through the center? This gets messy and we determine a uniform direction for all players. We figure that we will remove the word “space” should be removed in favor of an empty black space (if a player lands on it, they get no problem to answer and, hence, can earn no points on that round). A student proposes an “entry” square to the immediate left of the board where players will start play. Chess and checkers pieces are to be used for players’ game pieces.

If a player gets a problem wrong on their turn, the other players will have the opportunity to “steal” — to answer the problem correctly and earn the points. There’s going to be 3-4 teams per table, so how will the “stealing team” be determined? I’m baffled, as I usually am when it comes to simple things, when a student says, “Let them roll the die for it. Highest number wins.” It’s perfect. Because of this, we decide that the problem cards (that I’ll be creating this week) should be printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper. This way, all teams can see and work on the problem at the same time. This will not only keep everyone engaged even when it’s not their turn, but speed up gameplay during stealing because stealing teams will have their answer ready.

We do a mini walkthrough of the game and feel good about it. I remind the students that I will be creating the answer key for the problems. They offer some pointers on its structure that will allow for easy checking as players call them over. I take note. At the end of our meeting, someone volunteers to create a couple of slides with game rules and instructions. The cogen students will use them to introduce the game to the class.

There’s nothing left to do now but play! We’ll use next week’s cogen to recreate the gameboards on four large chart papers that will be placed at the center of each table and make any other final touches. I forget to ask the group about a name for the game — but we decide that next week, too. I promise to have the problem cards and answer key ready for them to review. I tell the crew that it’s been so much fun planning the game with them that even though we haven’t even played yet, I see myself using it again next year. We’ve put a ton of thought and effort into it. Why not reuse it? One student remarks that I ask next year’s cogen to modify the game for their class — to make it even better. It’s a brilliant idea.

We depart, eager to play.

This is sixth week for the current cohort. We’ve been talking about their replacements for a few weeks now — including at the start of today’s session. All of them have identified at least one potential successor, but most of their choices have expressed little interest in joining the cogen or need to be convinced. I’ve been pretty good at helping students network cogen replacements this year, but I’ve been so absorbed with planning our game these last few weeks that I haven’t done any advocacy work for the next cohort. That needs to change next week. Time to recruit!


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