Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 2009: Casey Cebulski, City of Lakes AmeriCorps Member and Activity Planning Superstar


March 2009 America Learns Strateg of the Month 
 AmeriCorps Minnesota

Minneapolis Public Schools Special School District 1

When we read Casey Cebulski’s Cave Monster strategy, we were blown away by the thought behind it.

Casey CebulskiCheck this Out.
Casey is a City of Lakes AmeriCorps member.  He works with third and fourth graders at Andersen Elementary in Minneapolis, MN.

Several weeks ago, one of Casey’s students suggested that they play Hangman.  Harmless, right?

Well, maybe not.  What does Hangman represent?  “Basically,” Casey writes, “Hangman is a game that by losing, you portray a person hanging from a noose. That's how criminals [used to be] disposed of, as well as a way to end one's life.”  Do children, especially children growing up around violence, need to reinforce their learning with games that communicate hanging?

Now, whether or not you or your students have ever associated Hangman with any form of violence really isn’t the point here. 

What we absolutely LOVE is that Casey models a process of asking, “What could be the unintended consequences of playing this game?”  It’s about really looking through various lenses (from students’ academic goals, to the types of activities that engage one’s students, to students’ neighborhood environments), to determine what’s best for one’s students.  Once Casey has that answer, he acts.

In this case, Casey acted by creating an awesome Hangman adaptation called Cave Monster.  We hope you’ll have fun playing the game with your own students; but, even more, we hope you’ll bring some of Casey’s lesson planning prowess to your own tutoring or mentoring practice.

Additional Notes About Casey Before You Read “Cave Monster”

Casey’s thoughts about his AmeriCorps experience: 
  • “The biggest lesson I learned while being in AmeriCorps thus far is to always keep an open mind.  Not every student is going to learn and grow the same (it goes without saying), so you constantly have to be aware of who you're trying to help and make sure you're there for them.”
Lisa Lambert’s thoughts on Casey (Lisa is Casey’s supervisor.):
  • “His creativity has been a huge asset in his work, as he has developed many unique ways to engage students in their work and help them understand basic math and reading concepts.  His cave monster strategy is just one example of the way Casey creates appropriate, unique games and hands-on methods to engage the students he works with. Casey's students love the cave monster game so much that Casey is often able to use it as an educational reward during his tutoring sessions that reinforces the work his students have been doing with him and in class.”
Check out Casey’s art!

The Strategy

Cave Monster

Created by: Casey Cebulski, City of Lakes AmeriCorps (Minneapolis Public Schools) (America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topic: Spelling
Grade Levels Used With: Third and Fourth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group
Materials: - Paper and pencil
- Spelling word list(s)
- Grade/reading level books
- List of sight words

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: During a group reading session, a student suggested we play Hangman with the week's spelling words. Knowing the implications of what hangman represents, I felt that the game was too violent for the elementary school level. 

I came up with the scenario where the students are in a cave exploring. They have to guess letters to one of their weekly spelling words, or words they had trouble with while reading.  If they guessed wrong, they'd slowly wake up a monster living in a cave.  (After all, they ARE in the monster's home, bumping into them while they sleep. You know, it's rude.)  Should they get the full monster up, they'd be chased out of the cave and have to start over again.
Step 1: Draw an open cave. Nothing fancy, just get the overall outline.

Prepare a sheet of paper with the appropriate number of spaces drawn for the word or phrase to be guessed.

Step 2: Get your students ready by explaining that they are a team (or teams, depending on group size) exploring the cave.
Step 3: Ask your students to guess letters based on the number of spaces, but warn them that with every wrong letter guessed, a monster begins to wake up.

Every time a student guesses an incorrect letter, draw part of the monster’s body.  Start with the eyes, then the nose, ears, mouth, etc. (Get creative, try to have a design that would take quite a few guesses to finish.)

I also really expressed to the students the need to really look at which letters were already guessed, and to sound out the few letters that were already there.

Step 4: If the monster is completely drawn, the students are “chased” out of the cave.

The students then have to start over with that word or phrase.
Step 5: If the students get all the letters and finish the word, the monster goes back to bed. 

Start a new round of the game.
Step 6: The game was an immediate hit. 

Being an artist, it was easy for me to come up with various creatures to inhabit the cave.  I drew anything from SpongeBob (you don’t have to use a monster at all) to Darth Vader.  Don’t worry about your drawing skills, though.  The students will love the activity.

Ever since that day, my students ask ME to play the game.


Please share your own thoughts with us and with Casey by entering a comment below.


Anonymous said...

This is a great idea, and a potential complementary book to read with young kids before or after the game is "Go Away Big Green Monster!"

Anonymous said...

You go, Casey! Thanks for sharing this!

Peg Jensen said...

Very cool, Casey. I will use this with my students.

Anonymous said...

Casey, I really appreciate the work you did here. Thanks for sharing Cave Monster and the process you used to create it.

Anonymous said...

Good strategy. Will this w/ my staff and try this out with our students. Many of our students are no comers student and even though they are 6th, 7th and 8th graders, they are really at 3/4th grade level education, and spelling is a big issue to the them. Appreciate your sharing w/ us.