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The Last Five Minutes of My Class Period

February 1, 2014

The students were on their feet, screaming.  “Calm down, calm down,” I said. “I’ve got to be able to hear the final decision.”

It was Jay’s turn.  His team was in second place and only a long-shot gamble would win it on this last day of competition.  He gazed down at his desk, drumming his fingers as he pondered it over, and then stood up and shouted the oh-too-familiar term known to all of my former students:image

Panta!  I want to bet it all!”  Panta is the Koine Greek word for everything, and each student knew what had just transpired; he was going all or nothing with his team’s points.  They had been mired in second place all month and loved the risk.  Jay’s fellow Omega Rho teammates erupted in cheers, then fell into a quick silence.  They knew what was coming next.

I cleared my throat in a melodramatic fashion and raised my finger to the ceiling.  “You have made your choice, sir, knowing the risk.  If you get this wrong your team is eliminated from the victory.  Get it correct, and you will not only have earned that coveted free pass, you will have qualified for a Salsarita’s pig-out party to celebrate your achievement of first place.  Now here is the question…”

Before I continue with the story, perhaps I’d better explain what is going on…

Almost fifteen years ago I incorporated a second layer of teaching into each one of my classrooms, whether New Testament, Koine Greek, Psychology, Leadership, or Eschatology.  This secondary principle of education is part of my kinetic college approach to the classroom.

We divide my classrooms up into collegiate-like teams.  I call them societies.

My seven classes of competition are:

Alpha Theta

Beta Gamma

Epsilon Delta

Omega Rho

Phi Beta

Pi Kappa

Zeta Chi

These teams compete each month of the school year for the prize of winning a free pass on a test the following month.  Plus an in-class party while the other classes take the test.

And, oh, how they fight for that test exemption.

At the moment I won’t bore you with my philosophy for using this approach other than to say I have seen amazing results in new-found leadership, energy in learning and especially teamwork among otherwise distant classmates.  Through the years the teams have competed in numerous challenges in order to earn the points to get that prize.

We have had impromptu speech contests, head-to-head quiz shows with electronic technology, and tower building competitions in the gym. We’ve had poster contests and in-school Christmas tree decoration challenges.

And on one glorious day in North Carolina years back, I actually got permission both from the school and a local hilly subdivision for a soap-box derby competition.  Student ‘drivers’ arrived in football helmets and “racing gloves” that matched their scarves.  The whole school took half a day’s break to watch Epsilon Delta’s red-and-white dynamo complete with painted flames take on the likes of Zeta Chi’s tug boat wooden construction. Pi Kappa didn’t win the overall trophy but definitely won the aesthetic competition with a low-slung design that sported baby-buggy wheels on the front and ten-speed tires on the back.   Phi Beta made an engineering mistake with one of their entries when they made it out of cardboard.  No, I am not kidding.  It literally fell apart at the starting line, much to the delight of the spectators.  Someone filmed the whole event and I would love to get a copy, if any of the Faith Christian School staff reads this.

In the classroom, however, the spark of competition ignites the energies of the students especially in the last five minutes of class, where we have a game that combines the day’s teaching with trivia dredged up from science,  foodstuffs and a lot of old Warner Brothers cartoons.

“What is the theme of Acts?” I would shout.

“The formation of the church!”  barked back the designated contestant.

“What is soteriology?”

“The doctrine of salvation!”

“Is Iron Man found in DC or Marvel Comics?”

“Errr… Marvel!”

I can recall vividly one Thursday afternoon when the place was going wild.  I was laughing along with a particularly boisterous class in a classroom filled with  shouting and the sharing of high-fives with each other.  Zeta Chi was on a roll.  “No retreat no surrender!” shouted Bennett, waving his arms.  “Everybody bet panta and let’s win this thing!”

Jonathan was literally standing on his chair.  Pete did the same.  Even quiet little Candace was whooping it up.

“You’ve correctly answered the question on eschatology,” I called above the din. “but now you must answer this question about Bugs Bunny.”  My next PowerPoint slide showed the whole gang – Elmer Fudd, Tweety, Sylvester, Daffy Duck, Bugs himself, and even PePe LePew.

“I can do this,” screamed Bryan.  “Bring it on!”

That’s when the principal walked in.  It was a spot-check evaluation.

He was staring at PePe LePew.  The room grew silent and everyone stared at him.  I swallowed, oh, about three times.

He laughed aloud and waved his hand.  “Keep going!  I love it!”  The class cheered and we kept going,  to his great enjoyment.  I heaved a Sigh of Relief.

Now, back to Jay and his question…

The tension in the air was thicker than the cafeteria bean-soup smell.

I looked next to me and saw Rachel covering her face with her hands.  She looked up – I am not making this up – and wiped away a tear.  “I don’t know if I can take this stress,” she said.  Then she looked at Jay and pointed. “Do it.”

He nodded.

“Your question, sir, for the win,” I said with deep gravity, “In what chapter of Revelation would you find the Two Witnesses?”

Jay squinted and frowned.  The room was absolutely silent.

Then his eyes lit up and he slapped his open palm against the white board.  “Chapter eleven!”

“You are correct, sir!” I shouted.

Pandemonium. The Super Bowl crowds couldn’t match the emotion.

Few things get better than this, brother.

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