Ethnographic Description 2

On October 31, 2011 the PDI Studio 5 class, along with Professor Ron Eglash, traveled to the Arc Community Charter School in Troy, NY to observe 5th and 6th grade students in a classroom setting.  Half of the PDI students, including myself, went to the 5th grade classroom while the other half went to the 6th grade classroom. This classroom was taught by what appeared to be a Caucasian female, along with a Caucasian male teaching assistant. Twenty one (21) students who I am assuming were of African American, Hispanic and Caucasian decent comprised the class, with the majority of the kids being African American. The students were required to wear a uniform; an Arc Community Charter School issued shirt, black pants, and shoes of their choosing. The children were seated in small rows of about 3 people, all facing the front of the classroom. At the front of the room was a large whiteboard, in front of which the teacher was standing. The students were writing down vocabulary words when we arrived that were collected by the teacher before the children were allowed to interact with us. On one side of the room was a small rug to sit on, which is where my group did their project with the students for a time until we relocated to the desks for convenience purposes, and on the other side of the room there was a Smart Board that the teacher used for various lessons.

The prototype that we brought to the school was a board game called “Alien Frontier.” The game included the board, which was a map of the northeast U.S. with a honeycomb pattern overlay with each hexagon as a potential space to move on, game pieces to indicate teams on the board, question cards that were to be answered, egg/monster cards that were the reward for a correct answer to a question card, and a Traveler’s Journal that was used as a resource to aid in answering the questions. Each of 4 groups of students, ranging from 4-5 kids, was each divided up into 2 or 3 teams. Each team was given a game piece, different colored glass stones, which were placed on the starting spot. Each team would then roll the dice and the number rolled indicated the number of spaces they were allowed to move. The players could move to any of the spots directly touching the hexagonal spot they were on, but they were not allowed to move backwards to a spot they had been earlier in that turn. Scattered throughout the board were spots marked with “x”, one “x” in each state. On top of the “x” was a number, 1, 2, 3 or 4, indicating the number of eggs that could be collected in the state. The teams had to take turns to move throughout the board, based on their dice rolls, making their way to any of the “x”, and land exactly on the “x”.  Once this was done they were allowed to pick the top card from the deck of question cards. Each card corresponded to a state on the map, so once a question was used, the number on that state’s “x” would be decreased by 1. If the team landed on an “x” that had a 0 on it, they would not be able to answer a question. Once the team obtained a question card, they had to answer it. If they did not know the answer off-hand, they could use the Travel’s Journal to look up the answer. If they got the answer correct, they obtained an egg/monster card from the deck. If they got it incorrect, they did not earn anything. The question cards were then placed in a discard pile and the next team would take their turn. At the end of the game, the team with the most egg/monster cards wins. With this device the children will learn about strategizing, by planning out the best way to move about the board. They will also learn about researching, use of indices, and map skills by using the Traveler’s Journal to look up answers. Finally, they will learn about U.S. history, geography, government and economics by researching and answering the questions throughout the game.

The first group of students was comprised of what appeared to be 1 African American male and 3 African American females. They were divided into 2 teams, with 2 girls on one team and 1 boy and 1 girl on the other. This group got really intense about the competition and was really set on beating the other team. However, the boy/girl team had differing opinions on helping the other team figure out how to use the Travel’s Journal. The girl wanted to help out the other team and show them the best way to utilize the journal, despite wanting to beat them at the game. The boy, however, didn’t want to help the other team at all and actually wanted to steal the question from them to help his team get more ahead. At this point, the boy and the girl started fighting, the girl called the boy selfish, and the boy left and wouldn’t play anymore. Our game was not the cause of this conflict, there had been preexisting tensions; however, the students differing opinions on the approach to the game only made those tensions worse. However, after the boy was allowed some time to cool off and spoke with one of the teachers, he returned to the game, played, and really enjoyed himself. Both teams utilized the journal a lot. They would make an initial guess, usually a completely blind guess, and then use the journal to try to look up the answer, or check they answer if they thought they knew it. Additionally, the girls in the group thought that some of the monsters were ugly, but they enjoyed looking at them none the less. Overall, this group said they really enjoyed the game. They liked the questions that were asked, the monsters, the level of difficultly, and the competition between teams. They mentioned that a board on which they could place the monsters they earned would be nice and that some of the questions could even be more challenging. Lastly, they said they would change the name of the game to “Egg Hunt” or “Travel Around the World.”

The second group that played our game consisted of, what I thought to be, 3 African American males, 1 African American female, and 1 Hispanic female. This group was divided up into 2 teams with 1 African American male, 1 African American female and 1 Hispanic female on one team and 2 African American males on the other team. This team tended to get distracted, especially with the dice. They liked to roll it amongst themselves to see who would roll the highest number. Similar to the other team, they really enjoyed looking at all the monsters and even picked up the egg/monster desk just to look through it. This team needed more hints to guide them along when it came to answering question and utilizing the Traveler’s Journal. They didn’t seem to understand how to, or just didn’t want to, look up the answer to the questions. On the other hand, when they knew the answer to a question without having to look it up, they got extremely excited. One of the boys had issues sharing responsibility and wanted to do everything during the game, including rolling the dice, moving the pieces, picking the cards, answering the questions, and holding onto the monster cards that were earned. Additionally, the teams as a whole had problems waiting their turn and wanted to rush ahead by themselves. The biggest problem for this team was figuring out how to exactly land on an “x” spot. Due to the honey comb pattern, players can move in a circle around the “x” spot until it is time for them to land directly on the “x” spot. However, neither team in this group understood that and kept on over shooting the “x” spots. Once it was explained to them, they utilized this strategy, despite not getting it on their own like group 1. This group also said they liked the game as a whole, especially the monster cards.

The third group that played our game was made up of what I thought to be 2 African American females, 2 African American males and 1 Caucasian male. They were divided into 3 teams, 1 African American male and 1 Caucasian male on one team, 1 African American male and 1 African American female on another team, and 1 African American female alone on the third team. Initially, the males in the group said that aliens were boring and meant for 6 year old kids, so they weren’t sure if they would like the game. They said they wanted something about wresting or dance parties. The male/female team did a really good job with sharing throughout the game. They boy would roll the dice, the girl would move their game piece around the board, and both of them would work to answer the questions. The girl and girl/boy team really liked the game and got excited when they were able to collect the egg/monster cards. The team of 2 boys was extremely distracted and wanted to draw. They also said that they didn’t want to answer questions and were intentionally going to lose by avoiding the “x” spots. We learned that with 3 teams it took a lot longer to move around the board and answer questions. This allowed time for the already distracted kids to get disengaged even more. Similar to group 2, this group also struggled with strategy of landing exactly on an “x” but once it was explained to them, they caught on quickly.

The final group that we worked with was made up of 2 African American males, 2 African American females, and 1 Caucasian male. They were divided into 2 teams, the first team with 1 Caucasian male, 1 African American male and 1 African American female and the second team with 1 African American male and 1 African American female. The teams in this group tended to make an initial guesses at the questions they were being asked and then checked their answer using the journal. However, at one point we ran into an issue with some facts being in different sections than the kids thought they would be. We also have to be careful of the vocabulary that is used, or provide an appendix of definitions, because one of the students asked what “boarder” meant. In general, the students really enjoyed the game and didn’t want to stop playing it once time was called. They said they liked the questions that were asked and the monsters. They thought the monsters were both cute and ugly and looked through the entire deck, picking out their favorites. They said they thought it would be fun if they could use the monsters to battle at some point during the game as well. Finally, the Caucasian boy got extremely excited about the Charizard Pokémon card picture that he found in the journal. Pokémon cards were used to explain supply and demand in the economics section of the journal. Due to the fact that this boy had such a strong interest in Pokémon, he went right to the section and started reading it to figure out what the Charizard card was being used for. He liked it so much that he asked to keep the journal and we honored his request.

Overall, the students seemed to really enjoy the game. They learned a lot about researching information and utilizing indices by using the journal. They also learned about strategy by figuring out the best way to move about the game board. Finally, they learned facts and information about U.S. history, geography, government and economics by answering the questions. To make the game better we need to provide a second journal, make the flow of the game a bit better or give the team that is not answering a question something to do, and make the monsters do something at the end of the game, giving the students some incentive to win them besides just beating the other team. Furthermore, we may want to consider changing the name of the game.