Friday Lesson: Observation and Curiosity

Courtesy of Micah Jacobson |

The root of so many content areas is simple observation. How can you teach people to notice more stuff around them? In good facilitation, we should be carefully observing groups. In good writing, we should be observing the technique of other writers we admire. In scientific pursuit, we should be carefully observing the evidence of experimentation.

This lesson works to help underscore the importance of observation.

Opening Activity: Pair Prayer

    Supplies: None
    Physical Set-Up: Partners
    Source: The Boomerang Project
    The words in italics and quotation marks are suggested directions for you to give your group.

“Today we are going to pay attention to each other in some very different ways!”

Have everyone find a partner. Have the partners face each other, standing a little less than one arm-length apart.

“You and your partner are about to try to score points. In order to begin, I have to teach you the ‘reverse prayer’ position. To do this, cross your arms in front and connect the backs of your open hands together. Now bring the tips of your fingers to your chin. When you are in this position, with the fingertips of both hands just barely touching your chin, then you are ready to go. When both partners are ready to go, then the game is on. If either of the players fingertips are no longer touching their chin, then the game is off. Practice for a moment moving from the ready to go position, to the off position. Okay, good.”

Give partners a moment to get situated and figure out the two fingertip positions.

“When both of you are ready to start, the game is on. Either partner can try to score a point by reaching out with both hands and touching the other partner on both shoulders. The partner that touches shoulders first scores one point. You can try to block an attack. This can be done by quickly moving your hands away from your chin to block your partner from touching your shoulders. Both players have to be in the ready-to-go position before either one is allowed to reach out for the shoulder touch. A partner could choose not to play by never touching fingertips to chin. But how much fun would that be?
Okay, let’s play. Everybody assume the reverse prayer position. On your mark, get set, GO!”

Activity Notes: It is interesting to watch students make choices about whether or not they are ready. How much confidence do they have in themselves? How would you play Pair Prayer if you were really confident in your abilities? How would you play if you were not confident in your abilities? It is also interesting to note their attitude about competition. Some players may try cooperating to score points together. Note that nothing in the rules prevents this cooperation, although it certainly changes the activity!

Self Test: What did you just notice in playing the activity?
On a blank piece of paper, write as many endings to the sentence “I noticed…” as you can.

Question: As a learner what things should I pay attention to?
• External Behavior
• Internal Feelings
• Conflicts

Activity 2: Fishbowl Robots

    Supplies: None
    Physical Set-Up: Open space
    Source: Journey Toward the Caring Classroom by Laurie Frank, Adventures in Peacemaking by William Kreidler and Lisa Furlong, Games (& other stuff) for Teachers by Chris Cavert and Laurie Frank, New Games for the Whole Family by Dale LeFevre, Power of One by Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez.

Divide the group in half. Explain that one group is going to play the activity and attempt to notice what is going on during it. The second group will observe the play and be prepared to record their observations.

Have the playing students get into groups of 3 and spread out evenly around the room.

“In your group of 3, determine who will be A, B, and C. Each of you will get a turn as Robot Master. As Robot Master, you will be able to move your 2 robots around for 1 minute. I will now demonstrate how you move your robots around. Who would like to volunteer to be my robot?”

Have the volunteer come to the front and help you demonstrate the commands.

“First, have your robot bring his or her arms and hands up into the bumper position to give them a little front-end protection. Now,
One tap on the top of the robot’s head moves it forward.
One tap in the middle of the robot’s back moves it backward.
One tap on the robot’s left shoulder turns it 90 degrees left.
One tap on the robot’s right shoulder turns it 90 degrees right.
Two taps on the robot’s head stops the robot.”

After stopping the volunteer robot, have students repeat the commands aloud with you. Have them repeat the commands to each other. Address any questions.

“Now that you understand the commands, person A will have the first chance to be Robot Master. Position your 2 robots however you want to start them. You have 1 minute to move your 2 robots around the room. Is everyone ready? Go.”

Repeat the process, giving B and C a turn at being Robot Master.

Have each person in the group get a blank piece of paper. Explain that each person must write at least 10 observations.

Compare the observations from the playing group with those of the observer group.

What were the similarities and differences in observations? Why were there some different observations?

Switch roles and have the observer group now play while the other group now observes.

Did you notice different things being in the other role?

Review with the group the behaviors, feelings, and potential conflicts they saw arise during the activity.

Activity Notes: This activity has the potential to reveal a lot about your students. An easy way to begin the conversation is simply to ask, “How was your turn at Robot Master like how you are as a human being?” Students often reveal a “dark” side of themselves by running their robots into walls, other people, or around in circles. What is it about control that seems to make us lose our sense of compassion? Resist the temptation to listen to those students who say that they were “just having fun.” How many times are injustices done in the name of “fun” or “amusement”?

This lesson is compliments of Micah Jacobson. To find more information and to contact the author, please visit:

Thanks for joining us in January, 2010 for Friday Lessons with Micah Jacobson. Micah is the author/coauthor of several books, including Open to Outcome with Mari Ruddy and Springboards with Mary Beth Campbell and Carolyn Hill.

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