Replacing One Cable with Another

As Neil Postman writes in Amusing Ourselves to Death, children are becoming more and more the products of fragmented bits of information loosely strung together in an entertaining fashion. With a now-popular Game Show Network, the idea is perpetuated that learning can be demonstrated through the responses given to simple questions in a rapid-fire situation.

Having found that a complete revision of my high school students' learning styles would be a futile endeavor, I discovered a new use for a familiar piece of software. I have used Microsoft Office's PowerPoint program to create many presentations, from the life and story of Thomas Crapper to understanding MLA Electronic Source Bibliographical Form. As I pondered engaging classroom ideas for a class so entranced by television and entertainment, I realized a cable not fed by broadcasting corporations could serve my students well the s-video cable.

I knew that I could make learning entertaining for my students by merely projecting what was on the computer to another screen - one that, in their experience, required only a passive relationship with its content: the television. Little did they know that they would soon be enthralled in what was about to appear. The title stretched across the screen, "Who Wants to be a Confectionaire?" Somehow, the title, an obvious desperate attempt to mimic the more popular and more lucrative game show hosted by Regis Philbin, did not turn the students off. In fact, the title itself became a topic of vocabulary enrichment for those who had never heard of "confection." The graphics, which only resembled the popular game show's graphics in similar colors and font, were enough to tap into the students' schemata and to convey the message that what they were about to encounter would be fun. Of course, the sub-title carried my name as the host, but students again seemed amused with my efforts.

As the game proceeded, all students were given the opportunity to write four authors' names (which appeared on the second slide in the presentation) in chronological order by birthdate and place their answers in a bucket within a given forty-five seconds to be eligible as contestants. I drew their names from the bucket and checked to see if their lists were in the correct order as they looked at the correct answers on the screen (displayed on a copied slide with names re-arranged), and eventually, the student with the first correct response found was given the opportunity to play the game. Although I was worried that the other students would sabotage the game, the students became aware that they might at any time be the friend "phoned" by the contestant or a member of the audience survey, so they remained attentive and eager to help their classmate with the English class-related questions. One of the features of the Powerpoint program that lent itself well to the construction of such a game was the easy duplication of slides and changing of font in a single answer to easily reveal the answer to the question found on the preceding slide.

When the Confectionaire game found success and left me lacking only a dollar or two in my confectionery investments, I soon realized the endless possibilities of the program to relay important English class curriculum by mimicking other popular game shows. My next inspiration was a game show with which many of the students were surprisingly unacquainted: Password. Suddenly, a game relying upon small envelopes containing single words was transformed into - Classword. Here all students faced a television screen, where the key vocabulary terms were revealed (each on an individual Powerpoint slide), except to the two "contestants" who had to guess the password. Minor modifications were made of course, but again, the s-video provided far more entertainment and engagement than any number of C-Span commentaries I had encouraged the students to watch.

In short, the use of the s-video cable in my classroom seemed metaphorically like an umbilical cord for these students, connecting the somewhat complex computer to the more easily accessible television. They found themselves not only developing a new fondness for learning but also developing new interests for other ways to learn from the same venue. Some, who had been previously reluctant to touch a computer, developed a new interest in computers. The television has become a prominent source of their academic development, and the s-video cable is an avenue that can turn even the least technology-savvy teacher into an instant game show producer and mind feeder.

Email: Tom Fuhrman