Chaotic 5th graders

The Oyama Senmaida staff have all been telling me how random the 5th grade classes can be when they come to plant rice. I didn’t quite believe them. But today I saw it for myself.

Ninety Tokyo-based 5th graders turned up on a field trip to plant rice.

Hara-san, Kawasaki-san and I prepared two paddies for them. We used bamboo poles marked every 15 cm. Following those guides, each student would plant 20-25 seedlings.

This is how you plant rice:

  1. Pull off a small bunch of stalks from the mat of seedlings.
  2. Plant it into the mud in front of one of the marks on the pole.
  3. Repeat until everyone’s filled the row and there’s one bunch every 15 cm.
  4. Move the pole forward using 30 cm pieces of bamboo as guides.
  5. Everyone takes a careful step forward towards the pole.
  6. Repeat from #1

But that is not how it actually went. There were kids who didn’t want to get wet or were concerned about the tadpoles. Some were very careful to pull off exactly 5 stalks and then very confused if they had 2 left over, or a just bunch of roots. Some stepped over the bamboo pole instead of moving along behind it, which stirred up the mud and left nothing to push the roots into. One girl went back and filled in the gaps but not in a straight line.

One kid really didn’t want to step forward in the mud. After a while he simply planted his rice all in front of him, completely ignoring the pole and everyone else.

When I saw problems, I explained in very simple Japanese what they needed to do but mostly I was met with blank stares. Maybe it was too simple. Anyway, I wasn’t able to rein in the craziness.

So I learned a new word today, konton 混沌 which means chaos (not to be confused with kantan 簡単 which means easy). Not quite the Japanese lesson I was expecting but it’s useful.

I wonder if the orientation session could be adjusted for deeper comprehension. By the time the classes arrived today, they had been on a bus stuck in traffic for probably 2 hours. Their attention was distracted by needing a toilet, seeing the cat, changing into “marine shoes.”

While there’s nothing wrong with holding up the rice and telling the students what to do, maybe a hands-on demonstration involving the kids would be beneficial. Everyone gets a chance to pull off 5 stalks and take a practice step or two with the bamboo pole.

It’s not my program and I’m not going to make waves by suggesting changes. I’d most likely be met with a blank stare as I tried to find the Japanese to explain the pedagogical foundation of my ideas.

I’ll follow along and carry things. That’s enough for now.

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Mediatinker, Kristen McQuillin, is an American-born resident of Japan since 1998. This blog chronicles her life, projects, thoughts, and small adventures.