Here’s what was on the screen:
Battle of New Orleans took place on January 15, 1815.
Americans under Andrew Jackson defeat the British after about an hour of fighting.
In Ghent, Belgium, American and British diplomats sign a peace treaty.
The Treaty of Ghent – Ending the War of 1812 – December 24, 1814.
The students copy it down while I discuss what happened.
Then I wait.
Inevitably, a student raises his/her hand and asks, “Why did the battle take place after the peace treaty was signed?”
That’s when the fun begins.
I say, “What?”
The student repeats the question.
I pretend I don’t understand.
Then another student tries to clarify. “See the dates? They’re different.”
I stare at the screen in my most confused look.
Now the students really start getting into it. It appears as if Mr. Rangel has made a mistake. Even the students who don’t normally get involved are paying attention. This is a big event. The teacher messed up. He’s stressing out, because the students found an error in his lesson.
I make a feeble attempt at explaining that the dates are correct. It doesn’t work.
They continue to try and get me to see what I’m missing.
Then I say, “Ohhhh.”
The kids laugh.
Then I give them the I-still-don’t-get-it look.
They start shouting and pointing out of frustration. A student actually gets up and touches the dates on the screen to show me exactly what I need to see.
It’s so cool.
Then I say, “Ohhh. You’re asking why did the battle take place if the treaty has already been signed.”
They collectively shout, “Yes!”
I wait for the noise to die down.
Then I tell them in a calm voice. “The peace treaty was signed in Ghent, Belgium. That’s way over in Europe. To get a message from Europe to America takes about a month by boat.”
Then it hits them. Mr. Rangel was just playing dumb. He fooled us.
Then you see the smiles and you hear the laughter.
Once it gets quiet again, I tell them. “You must always remember ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Rangel never makes mistakes.”
Then they smile.
It’s a great moment.
Playing dumb can get your whole class engaged in a lesson.