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Bowling with foxes

Upon entering the gym, the transformation is apparent; at least I thought it was.

Bowling lanes are spread out, pins are standing in place, and bowling balls are resting peacefully on each lane. “Mr. Sollenberger, are we bowling?” Student after student asks. “Bowling, what would make you think that?” is my standard reply. Confused glances are traded back and forth until I announce that we are in fact bowling. Based on student reaction, bowling may be the most popular sport in America. Each year around this time I seriously consider purchasing Brunswick Company stock but then I remember that students become crazy apes when asked to dangle and believe that I am friends with wild birds. I begin to question the wisdom of using their enthusiasm to guide my investment decisions.

From my perspective the bowling unit ranks just above bus duty, but the kids love it and their enthusiasm is infectious so I get onboard quickly.

Each student has a different job at each lane to assure that the lane runs smoothly, we have pin re-setters, gutter ball retrievers, and coaches. These jobs are completed with such zest that I can’t help but picture the local bowling alley being swamped with applicants the following day. Upon meeting for the interview, management is disappointed to learn the applicants are all under the age of ten, and the applicants are shocked to learn machines set the pins. As my daydream progresses the students return to school and form an angry mob, demanding to know why I have them completing menial labor when machines are available. With a shutter, I’m brought back to my present class, the day dream was a bit too real, and furthered my dislike of the bowling unit.

There is one job which cannot be replaced by a machine. This most important job is that of the coach.

Depending on the grade level the roles of the coach differ, but their purpose can be neatly summarized as watching the bowler to make sure everything is done correctly. Their first point of emphasis, and our only point of concern for today, is examination of the bowlers fingers ensuring the correct fingers are in the correct holes. This is a difficult task because all kids have five fingers, but the bowling ball only has three holes, this causes finger envy, and the kids, overly concerned with fairness feel all the fingers should at least get a chance. To further complicate matters our bowling balls contain two sets of finger holes to accommodate various hand sizes, sparing you a math lesson, this means there are actually six finger holes in our bowling balls, again, sparing you any math, this leaves an extra hole.

To the students this is an invitation to use the other hand; some students look like they are trying to plug leaks in a dam, fingers are jammed in every which way. I haven’t seen it yet, but I would not be surprised to see a student get their toes involved.

I incorporate the fox technique to solve the finger puzzle. A fox is simply made by connecting your thumb, middle, and ring fingers, forming the mouth. The pointer finger and pinky finger stick up and form the ears (Mrs. Sollenberger is currently showing me an angry fox, which involves bending the ear fingers, as she cleans, while I piddle away an afternoon fretting about sentence structure). Nothing beats demonstrating this to first graders and watching them use one hand to move their fingers on the other hand into place, all the while they have a goofy grin on their faces as they try to comprehend what wizardry allows me to move my fingers in such ways. Once we have our finger fox, I explain that his mouth goes into the rabbit holes to catch the rabbit, while his ears stay outside in order to listen for danger.

My ability to combine ethology with bowling technique is sadly under-appreciated by the students but they like foxes and bowling so at least they are happy.

This is where a quality coach becomes important, and why I have too much idle time during the bowling unit. Early on, we end up with many deformed foxes with both ears on the same side; this mistake is amusing to the students but also quickly rectified. I have made myself obsolete, just like the pin re-setters with the introduction of machines. From this point forward, I simply remind my coaches to check the bowlers fox, but most remember on their own. What fun it is to watch students help one another. Some classes take this role seriously, and after a few turns everyone is holding the ball with prober technique. By giving the students a leadership role, they take ownership of their learning, and they can now also give advice to one another without being bossy, which is a delicate balance for elementary students. They take joy in one another’s success, and show concern for failure. If I’m lucky they are not only learning some bowling skills but they are developing some leadership skills and confidence as well.

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