I don’t remember how I made decisions when I was a fifth grader. Maybe it was by picking a number between 1 and 10, or by doing eeny-meeny-miney-mo. It seems like fifth graders these days in our school seem to be pretty good at using rock-paper-scissors. I’ve seen it in action when deciding who goes first in math games and when choosing what to play at recess, and today I saw it used to make another big decision related to seating.
In our classroom we have mainly tables. And often, they choose where they sit at those tables for the week. So last Friday before we left for the weekend, I had them put their nametag at the spot where they thought they could be the best learner. I mentioned before that we have mostly tables, which is true, but we also have desks. 2 of them. And they are in high-demand. So one of the desks–the one right in front of my desk and next to the ActivBoard–is a popular spot for kids who might need a “private office” or who just likes to be alone while they work, since it’s pretty much on the other side of the room from everyone else. Well, that desk had 4 people’s nametags on it this morning. Which meant 4 people wanted to sit there. In 1 desk. With 1 chair. Obviously that wasn’t going to work.
So rather than just pick someone to have that seat–which definitely would have been easier–I told them that they needed to find a fair and respectful way to decide who was going to have that spot this week. And what happened next was really great. No one yelled. No one cried (you just never know with 5th grade girls!). No one pouted. But everyone played Rock-Paper-Scissors. Yep, they rock-paper-scissor’d to decide whose it was going to be! They even decided to split in half and go two-on-two, then have one “battle” at the end (best two-out-of-three) for a final decision. And so fair and square, they decided that R was going to sit there. And T and K and A were all happy with the choice. I think they even talked about giving another one of them the chance to sit there next week.
“Oh, come on,” you’re thinking. “Big deal, it’s rock-paper-scissors. And a story about a desk. Big deal.” But I argue that it is a big deal. I think it’s a big deal that my students have strategies. That they know what to do when faced with tough decisions. Yes, in this case it’s just about figuring out where they will do their work, but they knew what to do. They didn’t just sit there and stare at each other. They didn’t scream, yell or fight. They didn’t let one person decide for them and be a bully. They worked together and made a plan. They tried something and it worked. And since it works for the little things like this in life, they’ll continue to use that strategy for bigger situations. And no, they probably won’t be using rock-paper-scissors for all of their major life decisions as they grow up, but they will know how to get started. They will remember those rock-paper-scissor lessons from childhood and hopefully use them for college-marriage-career choices in the future. That’s a big deal. 🙂