Games can be effective learning tools that increase motivation and student engagement. Therefore, as a culminating activity from advisory, every student at Lorna Byrne Middle School in Cave Junction participate in a GEAR UP Carnival featuring a wide range of games with a college or career focus.
The games are creative variations of classic carnival games (with prizes, naturally). For example, "Fishing for Scholarships" has students attempting to toss ping pong balls into fish bowls, each labeled with one way students can increase their chances of earning scholarships.
Adults and high school seniors run the games, and most importantly, talk with middle school students about the key learning involved in the game. For example, on the “Knockdown Barriers to College” game, the leader asks a student how to eliminate a barrier to college such as “no funds” before they get the chance to win a prize by knocking down three milk bottles with a ball.
"The GEAR UP Carnival was a huge success! Our students not only had a great deal of fun, they had key concepts we had taught earlier reinforced." Jann Taylor
Reinforcement of a concept followed by a fun activity is the key. Before the carnival takes place, students learn college and career readiness concepts through engaging activities in their advisory classes. "The pre-teaching is essential because the carnival is really the application of their knowledge," said Susie Snelling, GEAR UP school liaision. "Without the pre-teaching it would not be as effective; it would be just a fun activity."
The GEAR UP Carnival will be an annual tradition at the middle school. "Each grade level had 45 minutes to spend at the Carnival and the moans of dismay when the time was up was a good indicator of the high level of engagement of the students," said Jann Taylor, the GEAR UP coordinator in Illinois Valley. "I have been approached by countless students this year asking if we will do the carnival again; another indicator of the success of the project."