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Insights from the Intersection of Childhood and Education

Thursday, March 22, 2018

21st Century Ways to Convince Pharaoh to Let the Jewish People Go

After reviewing the story of Passover, our Kindergarten teachers decided to give the discussion of the Ten Plagues a little 21st century twist, and posed the following question to the children:

"What could Moses and the Jewish people have done or said to Pharaoh to convince him to let them go free, only using the power of persuasion, and without the punishments of the ten plagues?"

Understanding that this question is rather deep and challenging, the teacher offered the following simpler question:

“What if the teacher decided that we stop going to the playground every day. What would you tell the teacher to change her mind?”

Elad: “We need to make our muscles stronger.”

Annette: “It helps our legs.”

Louie: “We need to let out all our power.”

The teacher paused for a minute and asked the children to think about the fact that we have circle time after the playground, and how are we expected to behave during this time. Might playground time help us?

The children commented that...

“...this will help us focus”
“...we can learn better”
“...we will not want to play anymore”

The teacher expressed her approval and moved on to the main objective, suggesting that the class act out this scenario: the teacher would pretend to be Pharaoh, and the children would be the Jewish people trying to convince Pharaoh to let them go. The children were very excited and accepted the invitation to act out the story.

Vinnie: “We will not listen to you any more and run away.”

Teacher: “I am the king, and you must follow my orders!”

Maddie: “Do you remember the golden rule, Pharaoh?”

Teacher: “Of course I do, I made it, and it is says that you need to obey my rules.”

The teacher paused and reminded the children that as slaves the Jewish people did not have the leverage to make ‘threats,’ or ‘speak rudely,’ and that more importantly, in the 21st century we use words and try to have a positive exchange of ideas. We also need to listen to others, and we need to make a persuasive argument and convince the other person. Moreover, we also need to ask ourselves:

“What would Pharaoh gain/ benefit from letting the Jewish people go?”

After a quiet moment, a few hands went up, and the dialogue/dramatization continued.

Louie: “We will pay you money, Pharaoh.”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “I like that, but this is not enough.”

Raanan: ”What if we made you a promise to finish building the whole city, would you then let us go?”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “This is starting to sound like something I can work with. Good thinking, slaves!”

Then the teacher said: “It is very important for me as the king to hear from every single person on the rug in order to be convinced,” and pointed to a boy who seemed to be wearing a shirt with a guitar on it.

Vinnie: “This is not a guitar on my shirt, it is a flag and this shirt is from the auto show.”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “Auto show……. What is that?”

Sylas: “Auto is a car”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “I still do not completely understand?"

Ari: “A car is something you go in and drive and go places.”

Teacher: “Aw…. that sounds like my horse and carriage.”

Elad: “But it is much faster.”

Chloe: “We can get you a big one, too.”

Stuart: “How about a golden one?”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “This is sounding much better all the time. I still would like to hear from other people.”

Tanvi: ”We can also cook some yummy foods for you. I can make you Indian food.”

Annette: “How about Chinese food?”

Maddie: “Tacos are good, too!”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “I love all these ideas and I think if you give me: money, finish building my city, a golden car and some good food, I will let you go!"

The children cheered and expressed how proud they were of their ability to convince the king only with four things to send the slaves to freedom.

Teacher's reflection:

This story opened the door for us as educators to really stretch the children’s minds, ability to think critically, and negotiate in order to get something they wanted. These life skills are critical to build a strong and solid foundation for our students to become people who think outside the box, citizens of the world who care and keep in mind that other people just like them have the right to have opinions and defend themselves and their ideas. Our hope is that students will grow up and possess skills such as empathy and openness to other cultures and people who think, look and sound differently than them.

The Global Citizen Check-In

Mr. Millner considers himself as way more than the 5th/6th Language Arts teacher (He's also our basketball coach and 7th/8th grade gym teacher but that's beside the point of this blog post.).

Teaching life skills

"We also get to teach students life skills, such as being able to function properly, or being able to talk to one another," he says. "Teachers used to be the gatekeepers of knowledge, but these days children can find knowledge in their pocket, and so our task becomes to teach them what to do with that knowledge."

"Learning to annotate and being able to defend arguments with facts are my main academic goals for them, but even there I believe in practicing what I preach. Our class has no text book. Rather, I bring my own annotated version of the novel we're currently reading and that tells me that chapter 5 is a good one to talk about similes. And of course I show the kids my annotated pages."

But in order to reach any of these goals, students need good executive functioning skills, such as bringing pencil and book to class so they can actually annotate. He's been working on quantifying some of what he teaches, and so he recently had his students complete a survey to evaluate themselves as global citizens.

Why have them evaluate themselves? 

"From morning till night," says Mr. Millner, "someone is telling a kid what to do, and so they tune out. Therefore I’m not telling them what to do. I'm not filling out their survey. If they fill it out themselves, they are more invested in the results and especially in the goals they set for themselves. In addition, self reflection is a skill in and of itself. I want the kid to realize for himself that he would be more prepared in class if he brought his pencil, and he is more likely to actually do it if he set that goal himself."

The kids evaluated themselves on these questions:

Afterwards Mr. Millner met with students one on one to get a sense of why they rated themselves the way they did, but also to talk about two goals they wanted to set for themselves to improve in these areas and to discuss strategies to achieve those goals. They will have a check-in meeting at the end of the school year.

"These meetings gave me a deeper appreciation of them as well," Mr. Millner found. "There was one student, for example, who I thought deserved fives, but he told me, 'nobody is perfect,' and gave himself fours. Obviously this child holds himself to a high standard!" While Mr. Millner was sometimes surprised by their goals, none of the students had problems picking goals.

When discussing these executive functioning skills, Mr. Millner shares his adult perspective with his students. "The other day I misplaced my building key card," he said. "It stressed me out the whole day until I found it sitting on my desk where I must have left it the day before rather than putting it in the pocket where I usually keep it. I hope that hearing about these everyday adult challenges helps the kids internalize how important these daily skills are and how much they affect our success in life, but also that it is an ongoing struggle, and that, as one of my students said, nobody is perfect, not even adults."