onsdag den 21. december 2011

Producing the commercials

For two Wednesdays, the pupils have been working on their marketing campaigns. For the majority, the pitches were accepted (see previous blog installlment), however, a couple of groups had to start from scratch.
As always with roleplaying, unforeseen situations have cropped up. In one particular case, two agencies decided that in order to win the competition for best economy, they would let the employees work for free.
This is actually what gamers would call an exploit - a misinterpretation of the game mechanics. However, we decided to deal with the situation diegetically; that is to say, inside the fiction.
Two teachers were dressed up as union people, and went to visit the agencies. They wanted to make sure that no-one was doing anything that was in conflict with their rules and regulations. When they heard that some of the employees were working for free, they threatened with law suits.
The agencies immediately reverted to paying their employees. My impression was that the pupils enjoyed that there was a response to their actions - in fact, pupils almost always enjoy interactivity, and being able to influence the storyline. It gives them a feeling of ownership.
Another thing that made the pupils positive towards this way of dealing with the lack of pay was that the two teachers who played the union people were heavily disguised. The kids found the masquerade completely hilarious, and they crowded around the perpetraitors to see what was going on.

Another event (which we had anticipated) was when one girl decided to quit her job. She was one of the few pupils who had been negative about the game right from the start (however, her attitude towards school in general is very negative). The rest of the group she was in were taking the game very seriously, and she decided she'd had enough.
However, a representative from the job centre immediately swept in and put her on income support. Obviously she had to prove that she was looking for a new job. When she didn't, she was put into trainging (course work in Maths). Shortly after that she had herself reinstated in her prevous job, but only after promising the agency to do better this time.

fredag den 2. december 2011

Teacher in Role

The method "teacher in role" was developed by Dorothy Heathcote and Gavin Bolton during the 80s, for drama pedagogical execises. However, it's an extremely potent tool for teaching with roleplaying too. 
To most younger kids, play acting and dressing up in costumes is both natural and fun. They enjoy the playful manner acting within a fiction. However, teenagers (and even some adults) are so busy distancing themselves from anything that might be considered 'childish' in any way, and this includes roleplay, as it reminds them of the make pretend games that little children play.
One way of putting them at ease is by letting the teacher set an example. The more at ease with roleplaying a character you seem, the better the kids feel about the situation. And they enjoy seeing their teacher out of his or her usual context. Don't worry about losing their respect: On the contrary, most pupils think you are cooler after having seen you with a wig on.

One thing I find particularly interesting about teacher in role is that it has the potential to short circuit the otherwise asymmetrical relationship of power between teacher and pupil. You can, for instance, play a very flaky character, and suddenly the pupils have to take resonsibility for the situation. This puts them in an interesting position, where they can practise making self reliant decisions in a safe environment.

Pitching to the companies

On the third Wednesday, we the teachers finally got to put on our costumes and fool around.
The different companies and their products were laid out as spred sheets, and the pupils were asked to get an overview of which ones to go for.
Before the lesson, we had prepared ourselves by making a prioritised list of which websites we liked the best. Thus, the pupils with the best website got to pick customers and assignments first, then the second best,and so on.
The first customer pitch was at 10.45, which gave the pupils two lessons to prepare the pitches. It was up to themselves whether they wanted to pitch one or two assignments.
The customer I played was a hippie from an NGO called Sex and Society. We wanted a campain which informed youngsters about the sexually transmitted disease clamydia. There wasn't a lot of money in the assignment, but the kids found it really fun. It was pitched by two advertisement agencies.
The first agency had done a really sloppy pitch. They had no budget, and couldn't give me a price. The pitch itself was entirely verbal. I ended up asking them to get back to me once they had a price.
The second agency had made drawings and suggestions for posters and flyers. They had a concept with a condom fighting a disgusting monster.
Even though the second bureau turned out to be more pricey, I liked their concept better, and so ended up giving them the assignment.

Around the school, other teachers were giving it as different customers: A manager for a goth band, the representative of a big soft drinks corporation, a salesman from a washing machine company, etc.

fredag den 18. november 2011

Creating Company Profiles

We've had our second day now, and for the first time, the pupils have tried acting as their characters.
Presently, it's not really a role-play - it's an educational game. The kids (being ordinary teenagers) don't feel comfortable role-playing, as it is too close to playing. However, I've noticed that we've done one thing right: There's a little something for everyone.
One girl said: "I don't care about the actual course. In fact, I think it's ridiculous, and I'm only doing it because I have to. But I keep thinking about the Award Show at the end, when we have to be dressed up in formal wear. I've never been to a galla before".
Whereas a boy said: "I can't come to the galla, as I'm going on a vacation with my family. But I'm going to line it all up for my team to win, and I'm going to drive them sooo hard!"
Another: "Wednesday is my favourite day of the whole week. It's just so much fun learning this way!"

So, different reactions to what we're doing. Not everyone likes it, but almost everyone, and everyone is active.
One pupil, who is famous for slacking if off, came over and asked me during the lessons: "Is it true that you can get fired?" I saw the fear in his eyes when I answered yes, and he quickly scampered off to make himself useful.

What happened last time:
The groups were presented with their first challenge. Using the very easy flash site Wix, they had to produce and present a website for their company. The website had to contain a name, logo, slogan, description of their profile (which had been subject to change up until that moment), cases, and each character's profile.
When the websites were presented, one of them was announced the winner, and was awarded a prize of 10.000 kr. The winning agency was the tiniest of them all: Street Stylers, which was run by a lesbian couple with a knack for street culture.

Next time, the different customers will be presented, and Street Stylers will get first pick, as they have the most appealing website.

tirsdag den 15. november 2011

The first day

On the first day, we teachers separated the pupils into the different agencies. We did this in such a way that there were pupils from both 7th, 8th and 9th grade in each agency. The 7th graders had never been taught about commercials before, but would be able to learn from the others, who had.
We made a big deal of giving each agency a specific profile and identity. Some examples:
Pluto: The small hippie bureau, who are specifically for customers who are interested in sustainable growth and green values.
Fedthasen & Søn: A company that believes in the slogan "Sex sells!" They will pander to the consumer's least admirable sides.
Satchel & Satchel: A streamlined megacorp that only serves the biggest and richest customers.
And so on... All in all, there were 9 agencies, each with 5-6 pupils.

The pupils were asked to distribute the following jobtypes between them: Boss, Art Director, Copywriter, and Accountant. We told them that they would all be working on the assignments, but that they would each have to be in charge at different points in the process.

Fortunately for us, it had turned up that the father of one of the pupils at our school was an art director. After the different agencies had been presented to the pupils, the art director made a presentation about commercials and what it's like working at a real advertising agency. The pupils were asked to take notes, and were told that these notes would be important for them in order to be able to play their parts in the role-play.

During the first day, the pupils were introduced to elementary expressions related to advertizing. They were also introduced to things like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the different categories of tv-commercials (aesthetical, humoristic, etc.), and many other things.

At the end of day one, the pupils were handed a character sheet, which they had to fill out at home. We encouraged them to wear clothes that would fit well with what their character would wear. 

The Idea

Nine advertising agencies are competing for customers. Each of them has to do a pitch in order to land their dream customer. When the pitches are done, they are presented to the customers (played by the teachers), who will then pick and choose the best ones. The agencies with the worst pitches will end up with boring customers that pay less money.
When the customers have signed contracts (agreeing on pay and services), they have to do the commercials. They can range from tv-commercials to ads in the local newspaper. However, the companies that do well might get paid extra money.
The whole course ends with a two-hour long award show, where all the different agencies compete.
There are two ways of winning the game: Either you can win the award show, or you can win on money earned (in relation to the amount your agency started out with).

The Course

At our school, Trekronergade Freinetskole, we have 3 years of experience with running educational roleplays. Every Wednesday, the four first lessons are spent on roleplaying campaigns that we teachers have thought out and planned carefully.
The idea for the current one came in May 2011 when I was looking through the official curriculum for 9th grade. I decided that commercials would be an interesting topic to work with, especially as it is something that appeals to a lot of youngsters, and the group of pupils that I had in mind were from 12-16.  
I presented my idea to my colleage, Lasse. I teach Danish, English, History, and Social Studies. Lasse teaches Maths, Physics, Chemistry, and Geography. We supplement each other well, and we decided right off that even though 'commercials' was going to be the main topic, we wanted to go cross curricular, and incorporate other subjects.