Thursday, April 18, 2013

Suspicions Confirmed! - Microsociety Week 1

On Tuesday, as the new term rubbed the sleep from its eyes, stretched its sleep-addled limbs and picked up almost exactly where it had left off two and a bit weeks earlier, my class set out on a journey under the guidance of My Voice London; a journey into the world of Microsociety where, in the words of My Voice, "Pupils create their own society and set up the institutions required by that society - government, a civil service, an economy, businesses, and a legal system."

The first of twelve sessions introduces the children to the concept of scarcity, something which, in my class at least, is understood but the global impact of which is not really grasped.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's not grasped at all.  Through the medium of an imaginary world called Justenuf, the children consider how resources are best shared and the different ways in which this can be done.  Cue a wealth of the kind of responses that the children know that they know that the teacher wants them to say. 

All very much as expected ... to now.

What followed I personally could have scripted knowing the children as well as I do.  It was slightly depressing, in many ways, but utterly intriguing in so many others.

There is a well-established Christian Aid Trading Game that My Voice London have adapted for a younger audience; a game which I had previously played as part of my pre-departure training for a VSO placement.  The premise is simple: each group is given a varied selection of resources and set the task of producing perfectly proportioned products in order to earn points: A 10cm diameter circle scores 10 points, a 10cm square, 5.  The team with the most points, wins.  Simple.

But ...

The resources that each group starts the game with are wildly different: some groups (A + B) have all the tools needed to make the products but no raw materials, while others have the raw materials but not the tools (E + F).  Another group have a bit of everything (C + D).  The idea is that "trade" happens between those who have the raw materials and those that have the tools for manufacture.  Each group is also given a small number of counters worth a fixed amount (5 points).

As I said, the idea is that, recognising the imbalance, "trade" happens.

My current class are an intriguing group of children who had a pretty torrid time last year with no stability at all, and have only recently begun to resemble the Year 5 classes that I usually have at the start of the year.  If you had asked me to predict what would happen over the course of this game, you would have found little difference between my prediction and the outcome.

Groups A and B realised that they had no resources and, for the most part, sat at their tables saying, "We haven't got any paper.  We can't do it.  It's not fair."  One child in one of the groups suggested trading with one of the other tables but her team mates told her that then they'd lose the resources they had.  Eventually both groups arrived at the conclusion that by handing in their counters they could score points without manufacturing anything at all, and so they did!  25 points to both teams.

Groups E and F both set about the manufacturing of the products with gusto, but without any means of measuring or indeed cutting, they both resorted to tearing and folding their paper in increasingly varied and haphazard ways.  Individuals did their own thing without consulting any of their group members and eventually ran out of resources.  Both teams handed their counters in and so scored at least some points. 5 points apiece.

Groups C and D had enough resources and tools to not need to rely on anyone else.  That said, their fortunes varied massively.  Group D were unable to measure or cut accurately and so didn't manage to make any 'saleable' products.  One of their number did try to borrow some of the manufacturing tools from Group A but the latter did not consider trading.  Group D ended up handing in their counters to save their blushes. Group C, on the other hand, not only managed to manufacture products that were precise enough to score points, but also handed in their counters and, therefore, won. Group D: 10 points; Group C: 30 points)

The conclusion of any Microsociety session consists of a team-based, in role debrief and feedback, followed by a more generic debrief, out of role.  There was a great deal of discussion about the unfairness of the distribution of resources, tools and 'money' and it was during this part of the session that the concept of trading reared its ugly capitalist head!  Interestingly, the two children who had suggested trading didn't, at any point, raise this during the debrief.  In discussion with my colleague who was doing the same in the other Year 5 class, the concept of trade had come up during the Q and A session before the game began; a question that was asked by probably the most able child in the year group.  Trade had happened in their class.

I have to say, from my point of view, sitting back and watching the children play this game, observing them doing what they do, listening to the conversations they were having and their very self-centred approaches was utterly fascinating.  I wish, in some ways, I'd done it at the beginning of the year but, then again, they are a very immature group and I don't think they would have gained much from it.

It will be very interesting indeed to see how their approaches to life and one another, as well as the way they interact with the world around them changes as we proceed through the project.  Session 1 one was amazing; I can't wait to see how the rest pan out.

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