cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Friday, August 22, 2014

WEEK 1 - PROJECT 'MAD MEN' -- Classroom Rules PSA Skits

Leonard Bernstein once said, "To achieve great things, two things are needed — a plan and not quite enough time." I decided to put that principle to the test this first week at my new school by assigning a project on Day 1 that thew together strangers with an absurd but achievable goal: given a particular classroom rule or guideline, create a Public Service Announcement  (i.e., a 30-second "TV commercial" in the form of a skit) whose purpose was to motivate viewers to follow the rules/guidelines for the good of the group.

I created a set-up, instructions, and a rubric for the group project. And my students did not disappoint.

The idea was to get students to think about the consequences of their actions and choices, but their ideas for implementation exceeded even my wildest dreams. Most skits followed a "slice of life" strategy, but the ones that really blew us all away were the ones that parodied existing campaigns.

Two brilliant PSAs started from already-iconic Geico insurance commercials, but the one that left me with tears running down my cheeks was a take-off on Sarah McLachlan's ASPCA spots. The song, "In the arms of the angels..." began playing, and student "Sarah" appears onstage making the exact same kind of appeal she makes in those ads. They had the tone, cadence, and music exactly right, and they clearly understood the emotionally manipulative rhetorical strategy — the seemingly endless list of forms of ignorance designed to eventually provoke self-recognition in almost everyone. Their "mathematical justification" was as follows: the narrator enters and says, "In the past year alone, texting in class tragically cost 5 of Doctor X's students their lives. Remember, think twice before texting in class — there may be fatal consequences for your grade, and for you!

It was pure and inspired genius.

I also loved the spot-on impressions of my teacher persona. One student gave a pitch-perfect parody of my "Function Basics" talk that made me both cringe and laugh my ass off simultaneously.

The best thing about this assignment was that it really pushed the voice of authority downward, into the student community itself. Whatever they made of the experience, they owned it.

I am going to try and remember this for later in the semester, when we've become too routinized.

This is definitely going to be an ongoing part of my repertoire of Day 1 activities. I got through what I neded to,  then gave them the rest of the abbreviated period to collaborate. The time pressure was a thing of art.

It was perfectly imperfect — exactly the way first days ought to be.


Here is the link to a generified Word document that you can customize for your own class:

PROJECT MAD MEN- classroom rules PSA generic.doc

And here are the three sample 30-second PSAs I showed my classes to give them ideas:

'You Lost Your Life!' – game show hosted by the Crash Test Dummies (Since Vince & Larry, the Crash Test Dummies, were introduced to the American public in 1985, safety belt usage has increased from 14% to 79%, saving an estimated 85,000 lives, and $3.2 billion in costs to society)
What could you buy with the money you save?' - throwing things over a cliff (You could purchase TVs, bicycles, and computers with the money most families spend on wasted electricity)
'Five Seconds' – at highway speeds, the average text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds (Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field)


  1. Would you be willing to share your instructions and rubric for the assignment? This sounds really hilarious. Did this all fit into your day #1 period? How many minutes do you have? Thanks for sharing!

    1. Most of these were truly hilarious. We had only 30-45 minute periods on Day #1, so I race through my syllabus rules, handed our topics, and gave them the rest of the period (15-20 minutes) to brainstorm and trade contact info for their out-of-class collaborations. This worked perfectly, because it made productive use of the non-syllabus time and gave them a deadline to meet. Hope that is helpful. Thanks for commenting!

      - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

    2. Forgot to mention that I've added a link to a generified overview document (in Word) as well as links to the three YouTube videos of the three sample PSAs I showed them as examples.

    3. Thank you!! I have 90 minutes for each period so this will fill some of Day 1 nicely!