Because planning a program doesn't just take 5 minutes

The Dunderheads

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary ThingsdunderheadsProgram Plan:

Start off with book discussion. If we run out of things to talk about, try the discussion questions.

Create our own Dunderheads heist story.  The scenario?  They are in the baseball playoffs.  Their team pitcher’s sister took his lucky glove and put it in her library display case, but the library won’t be open again before the game.  They’ll need to:

  1. Get to the library
  2. Break through the closed doors
  3. Get to the second floor children’s room without triggering the light sensors
  4. Break into the display case
  5. Get back down to the first floor without triggering the light sensors
  6. Get home from the library

We’ll break up into groups of 2 kids with their adults.  Each group will get one stage of the mission.  I’ll also have each of them choose a special power or skill that they need to use to complete the mission.  Some thoughts:

  • Jump really high
  • Champion rubber-band shooter
  • Burp the alphabet – forwards and backwards
  • Hop on one foot
  • Eat (almost) anything
  • Double-jointed fingers
  • Very accurate throwing arm
  • Photographic memory
  • Great cartoonist
  • Good at building / fixing things
  • Owns a giant pencil collection
  • Remembers the lyrics to every song you’ve ever heard
  • Able to sense how other people are feeling
  • Knows a lot of history trivia
  • Animals always trust you

Each group will get a large sheet of paper to write / draw their solution.  Then we’ll present them in order, telling our own heist story.

For the snack, have the kids build the tallest structure they can using pretzel sticks, marshmallows, and grapes.  Make them keep the base of the structure on their plate, both for general cleanliness and to give some limits on size.  I think I’m going to save this for the end; some of them may just eat them if they want to go home, but I’m afraid it will be distracting if I do it while we’re trying to have a discussion.

Possible selections for next two meetings (September/October): Squids will be Squids: Fresh Morals and Beastly Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Can You Survive the Titanic? An Interactive Survival Adventure by Allison Lassieur, The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, and EllRay Jakes is NOT a Chicken by Sally Warner.

What Happened:

dunderheads-snackSeven parent-son pairs attended.  I had the snack set out when they arrived, and they spent the first 5-10 minutes building and chatting.  It was harder than I thought it would be!  Maybe large marshmallows instead of minis next time?  We didn’t end up measuring, because no one really got higher than 1 or 2 pretzel lengths high.

I started the discussion by going around the room and letting each of the boys say something about the book.  They all liked it, and several mentioned favorite characters.  Many of the parents read it as well.  One of the dads said he liked the creativity, and another dad (who almost never talks) said that he liked how each of the kids had a skill that was crucial to the team’s success.  That led into a discussion of what talents the kids have.  They talked about being good at reading, math, building things with Legos, and fixing things.  We talked about how mean Miss Breakbone is, and whether a teacher could ever really get away with that.  I asked the boys what they would do if their teacher was that mean.  None mentioned telling their parents, so I asked how many would tell their parents, and then asked the parents what they would do if their kids reported a mean teacher.  We also talked a little bit about whether what the kids did was right (many, including parents, said yes) and then how you know when it is ok to break the rules.

After that, I introduced this scenario:

“Your baseball team, The Blunderheads, is in the playoffs.  Your pitcher’s little sister took his lucky glove and put it in her library display case, but the library won’t be open again before the game.  Your job is to create a team to rescue the glove. You may invent your team member’s special skill. If you can’t think of one, feel free to choose a slip from the basket for inspiration.”

We broke into three teams: one to get into the library, one to get to the second floor, and one to retrieve the glove.  None of them needed to use one of my suggestions for a team member’s skill – they all thought of their own.  Kids and parents worked together to come up with this story: The pitcher threw a ball through the window closest to the security system.  He then used his super-accurate throwing arm to throw balls that hit the correct code numbers to turn off the security system so the boys could enter the building.  A super climber used the elevator to get to the second floor.  While in the elevator, he climbed to the ceiling.  When the elevator opened on the second floor, he climbed out on the ceiling to the display case in order to avoid the motion sensors.  The third team member was a super persuader.  He went home, called the librarian, and asked her nicely to get the glove out of the display case.  She came over to the library, opened up the case, and delivered the glove to the team in time for the playoffs.

We finished up by voting on our selections for September and October.  I let each participant vote for two books, since it works out better for our planning to have the books chosen a little farther in advance.  This was another super-close vote, and once again the boys’ votes were almost evenly split.  I did have boys ask to check out the books that were not selected, as well as the sequel to The Dunderheads.  The final tally was:

  • The 13-Story Treehouse: 6 adults, 3 kids  (September winner)
  • Can You Survive the Titanic?3 adults, 3 kids
  • EllRay Jakes is NOT a Chicken:  2 adults, 4 kids
  • Squids will be Squids: 3 adults, 4 kids (October winner)


Possible questions for discussion:

I borrowed several of these questions from Commonsense Media.

  1. In this story, the kids all have to use their abilities to solve the problem.  What special abilities do you have?  When do you get to use them most?
  2. Miss Breakbone is really mean. What would you do if you had a teacher like that?
  3. Even though the teacher is horrible, what the kids do is also wrong.  Is it ever ok to break the rules (or even break the law)?  How do you decide when it’s right?
  4. The kids in this book all went by nicknames.  What would your nickname be if you could choose one? Why? What does it show about you?
  5. Think about your class last year.  What would your classroom nickname have been?
  6. The kids really needed to use teamwork to get the best of Miss Breakbone. Have you ever worked together with your friends or family to make something right?
  7. Look at how the illustrator drew Miss Breakbone.  What can you tell about her from the way she’s drawn?  What features give you the best idea of her character?

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