Pint-sized pirates invade elemtar-arrrgh-ry school
September 27, 2011
By Mark Iacampo
HOHENFELS, Germany -- "Gather on the quarter deck! Form into boarding parties! Get ready to disembark! We're off to seek treasure, mates!"
While not the most common instructions received in 2nd grade, Kathryn Iacampo's class answered with a hearty "Aye, aye, Captain," as they headed off down the "gangway" to Hohenfels Elementary School's Information Center for the first activity on Pirate Day.
"School can become so routine sometimes," said Iacampo. "With all the distractions available to kids today, how can the public education system compete with all the bells and whistles of the latest video games? Pirates!"
Inspired by and coinciding with the Sept. 19 celebration of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, the parodic holiday popularized by columnist Dave Barry in 2002, Iacampo said she started pirate day nine years ago while teaching at Atsugi Air Base in Japan.
"Anything new or novel gets the children's attention," Iacampo said. "The whole idea of dressing up gets the kids excited, engaged, and it's something different in their school day. They link those good feelings to the academic concepts they're learning which in turn helps them learn faster and retain the knowledge longer."
Clad in headscarves and eye patches, the children followed clues that had them using the library's shelving system to track down a treasure of faux jewels hidden in a book.
"We got the students into the library practicing what could be a really dry skill, but now it was a search for treasure, and they practiced it over and over as they tracked down these clues," explained Iacampo. "So later in the year, when we return to the library for a research project, we can keep practicing and adding on to the shelving skills necessary to find the books they're looking for."
Children also constructed paper parrots, transforming rectangles and squares into a multi-colored hand puppet.
"The parrot was my favorite," said Secilia McCraney. "I learned if you take a rectangle and cut it, you make two triangles!"
Other projects included charting positions on a treasure map, and designing their own pirate flag.
"The treasure map's about using location words -- left, right, above and below - and directionality, the points of a compass," said Iacampo. "With the flag, it's a form of communication. They learn about the symbolism behind the skull and crossbones, the hour glass. So now when we come back and talk about the flag of the United States, we'll talk about the symbolism; what do the stars mean, what do the stripes stand for?"
Iacampo said that having pirate day near the beginning of the year allows her to introduce concepts that they will return to throughout the year, and by referencing pirate day, she can reengage the children all over again.
"They remember pirate day all year," she laughed. "They remember the activities. I have former students who see me celebrating pirate day with the current class and they'll say, 'Oh, I remember pirate day," and they'll talk to me about map skills, for example, and say 'that was my favorite.' It really sticks with them because it's unique."
Even lunch provided an opportunity for learning, as the term "scurvy dog" brought about a discussion of healthy fruits needed on board a ship to battle the vitamin C deficiency that leads to scurvy.
But a crew that is worked too hard might mutiny, so Iacampo provided a bit of shore leave.
"We were the first class to get to play on the new pirate-ship playground installed over the summer," she said.