Teaching Pranks at the Public Library

Teaching Pranks at the Public Library

School Chart by Anda

Pranks and making go together like peanut butter and jelly. A well-conducted prank requires creativity and skill. At my public library job, I make sure the middle school students I talk with are fully-versed with the latest in prank artistry. In fact, I regularly invent new pranks so students can see the prank invention process up close.

For example, here is a new prank I recently invented.  I’ve conducted the prank as a thought experiment and I giggle each time I think of it. This prank, called The Popcorn Prank, might be a prank you’d like to organize in your own community.

Here is how this prank works. First, find yourself a student who is confident and outgoing. This student will be performing the prank — in cahoots with the student’s teacher — against the rest of an unsuspecting class.  You can perform this prank in any class, but computer class seems particularly well-suited for this prank.

The materials you’ll need for this prank are:

A laptop or desktop computer connected to a projector.

Computer speakers

PowerPoint (or OpenOffice/LibreOffice)

A camcorder

Video lighting

A wireless remote presentation device – with USB receiver.

(I recommend the Logitech Wireless Presenter R400, which sells for about $25 on eBay)

A lesson plan of any sort. The lesson only needs to progress through about six PowerPoint slides.

The prank begins by the teacher explaining to the class that he or she has been told by their doctor that they have to rest their vocal cords the following week. In order to do that, the teacher explains, a volunteer student will have to teach part of the class on Tues, or Wed or Thurs (etc) next week. The teacher then asks for a volunteer student to teach part of the class the following week. The unsuspecting students don’t realize that the prankster student has already made arrangements with the teacher to perform this prank. After a suitable amount of delay (a minute or two), the prankster students raises his or her hand and says, “I can help teach the class next week.”

On the day of the prank, the teacher announces that the prankster student will be teaching the first part of the lesson that day. The teacher hands the student the wireless remote for the PowerPoint presentation of that day’s lesson.  (For best effect, the teacher should be using the same wireless remote, and PowerPoint, in some of their own teaching.) The student, standing near his or her desk, then starts explaining the materials on the PowerPoint slides, advancing from slide to slide using the wireless remote. The prankster student needs to develop a skill at droning on and on, as if they were a boring college professor. Or they can sound like a regularly competent teacher. They should speak clearly, with confidence and conviction.  It’s fine for the prankster student to be walking around the classroom as they are teaching.

The unsuspecting class of students do not have a clue what will happen next. On the very next PowerPoint slide, a video starts playing of the same student, dressed in the same clothes with the same hairstyle, teaching the day’s lesson. In the flash of a second, the teaching has moved up onto the screen. The prankster student — now redundant — sits down and takes out a bucket of popcorn — the kind you see at movie theaters. The prankster student then starts eating the popcorn. The prankster student up on on the screen continues teaching the lesson for another minute or so.  Then the prankster student on screen looks straight at the prankster student eating popcorn and starts scolding him or her, saying: “Hey, you can’t eat popcorn in my class. (Pause for a few seonds) Put away that popcorn this very minute.” The unsuspecting class bursts out in laughter at the scene.

But this prank has one more surprise up its sleeve. The teacher in the class grabs a bucket of popcorn from some hidden location and starts munching on the popcorn. The prankster student on screen then turns to to the teacher (standing at the left side of the classroom or the right side of the classroom) and while wagging their index finger scolds: “And you can’t eat popcorn in my classroom either. Who do you think you are? That is highly disrespectful to be eating popcorn while I’m teaching.”  For added visual effect, the prankster student on screen can lean forward and turn their head sideways, as if they are leaning out of the screen to talk to the teacher.

Conducting a prank of this kind makes schooling more playful and engaging. It’s not possible to conduct pranks every week at school, but why not every once in a while? What are the educational benefits of the prank?  One benefit is that the prankster student gets some practice doing public speaking and dramatic performance. The prankster student can also learn about the process of shooting video and importing that video onto a PowerPoint slide. Note – the video on the PowerPoint slides should be set to play automatically when the slide appears on screen as the wireless remote might not have the controls to start the video playing.

Speaking of pranks, check out the amazing pranks conducted by math professor Matthew Weathers.

Halloween 2010

April Fools – Math Class Shadow

Three cheers for prankstering. As long as no one gets hurt or harmed, prankstering should become a lively part of all our lives. My goal? I want to invite a team of Finnish teachers to the United States so that they can learn best practices in prankstering as taught in our public libraries, colleges, makerspaces, and schools. We’ve got so much to teach them, don’t we?

How do you teach the artistry of pranks to young makers? Share your stories and pranks in the comments below.

(Phil Shapiro recently received his doctorate in making up fake doctorates. You can meet him this month, September, 2013, at the Silver Spring Mini Maker Faire, where he’ll be showing youth and adults the basics of SketchUp 3D drawing software, along with SketchUp expert Bonnie Roskes.  Bonnie has written more than 15 books about SketchUp, including books on how to use SketchUp with young children. Phil is very proud of the art museum he built in SketchUp. Send him email at pshapiro@his.com  Follow him on Twitter @philshapiro)

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Phil Shapiro is a maker and media maker in the Washingon DC area. He loves open sourcedigital storytelling and fixing up donated computers to deliver to people who need them. He can be reached at pshapiro@his.com and on Twitter @philshapiro.

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