This school year, I've joined up with a friend of mine to team-teach 4th-grade catechism class at our Catholic church.
Before our first class, we obtained the year's textbook. It stinks. It's all disconnected bits of factoids, word search puzzles, match the word with the definition, dumbed-down, sanitized, dull dull dull. The layout looks like somebody's design program barfed on the page. Yes, our curriculum is the Everyday Math of religious ed. We've even got the dreaded "spiral" effect: as my friend discovered this week, "they've done the Beatitudes for the past 3 years, and they don't know anything about them!"
My friend and I agreed that we could get through the assigned content of a chapter in about 10 minutes, so that leaves us 45 minutes a week to do something else.
I decided that we should try to teach the kids some history in our remaining time. The first week, I presented a brief wrap-up of Vatican II, with the line-up of recent popes. I threw out what I thought was a softball question:
Me: "Who elects the Pope?"
Kid 1: "We do!"
Kid 2: "Priests! ... um, catechists!"
Kid 3 (confused): "I thought we elected Obama ...?"
Her friend: "No, he's the President!"
After some discussion, I explained that the Pope is elected by the Cardinals, who were appointed by previous Popes. The kids were surprised. One asked, "if the Pope appoints the Cardinals and the Cardinals elect the Pope, how did we get the first Pope?" (Excellent question, I thought.) My friend said, "Next week, we're electing a Pope!"
So, yesterday we held a Conclave. I was really hoping we could burn ballots and produce black and white smoke, but my friend talked me out of it (we waved black and white fabric instead.) I gave a brief talk about how the Conclave works, appointed the kids Cardinals, and passed out the first round of ballots (I Elect as Supreme Pontiff ____). Suddenly, the room came alive. The kids were competing to be the one to read out the ballot names or tabulate votes on the whiteboard. After four rounds of balloting, they elected a girl (a historic first.) Habemus Papam!
So, for all you teachers who read this blog, I am now getting some experience from your side of the desk. Wish me luck!