I walked into a classroom today and found the students, during instructional time, immersed in a game of catch. It brought back a flood of memories from my own youth. I recalled quite vividly the day I decided to engage a friend of mine in a game of classroom catch. The game was quite simple. I had a tennis ball and was seated on one side of a "U" shaped arrangement of about twenty-five desks. My friend was seated facing me on the other side of the "U," on the opposite side of the classroom. The 6th grade rebbe was teaching us Gemara and would turn every so often to write on the blackboard. As soon as he did so, the one with the ball launched it across the room quickly and accurately enough to allow for a good catch and for the ball's quick disappearance inside the other's desk.
The game was rather enjoyable both for the players and for the twenty-three spectators who were cheering us on. Fun, that is, until I lost. An errant throw on my part bounced off my friend's hand and hit the classroom wall just as the rebbe was turning around. In an instant the game was over as was my welcome in the class until my not-so-amused parents wrote a not-so-pleased note assuring the rebbe that I understood just how bad of an idea my little game had been.
Despite the flashbacks, I'm glad to report that today's game of classroom catch was a bit different. In fact, in a dramatic reversal from the way in which our game was played, this game of classroom catch only happened when the teacher was facing the students and it stopped when she turned to write on the board. The game, which I have now seen in two different MHA classrooms, is a technique used to keep students on task and actively involved in the lesson: the teacher asks a question, hands fly up and one lucky student gets a ball thrown their way. She catches it (or tries to, at least), smiles triumphantly, answers confidently, and then sends the ball whizzing back to the teacher.
After seeing this game of classroom catch in action today, I wondered what would have happened if my 6th grade rebbe had played catch with us. Perhaps I never would have resorted to a game of my own. Perhaps...