If I had to name one classroom activity that used to make my adrenaline levels skyrocket, it would be Around the World.
Here’s how it works. One student begins the game by standing next to the desk of a classmate who will be the first challenger. The two competitors face the teacher, who has a stack of flash cards with simple math equations on them. The teacher quickly pulls out a card and holds it up in front of the competing pair. The student who does the mental math and shouts out the correct answer first moves to the next desk, taking on a new challenger. The objective is to travel “around the world,” beating every classmate with quick-draw math skillz.
I’m not gonna lie — back in my day, I was kind of a big deal at this game, drawing grumbles from the other kids when it was their turn to challenge me. I don’t think I exactly looked forward to competing, since the threat of losing in front of everyone made me anxious. I remember my heart racing with each new round, feeling pressure to perform and relief when the game finally ended.
Today I had the same sensations when I played Around the World against my fourth grade classmates, using multiplication flash cards. My opponent, who had beaten several other kids before arriving at my desk, groaned when he got to me and said something like, “I’m soooo dead.” Turns out, he was right: I ended his winning streak by shouting “21!” as soon as 3 x 7 came up. Yeah, smart guy, what now?
4 x 9. 8 x 2. 7 x 6. The cards kept coming, and I kept traveling. My mind would freeze for a second and go blank before retrieving the answer, but I still managed to beat seven challengers. Then I got to Jessie. She yelled out the answer to 5 x 6 before I even saw the whole card. I sat down, as amused as the rest of my classmates at my defeat, and watched Jessie sweep the rest of the room.
Part of me was glad that I could enjoy playing Around the World for the first time without taking it so seriously. Another part of me, however, the part that needs to dominate even at a friendly Game Night, wanted to win. I was tempted to step up to the little math champion and say, “All right, Miss Smartypants, you win for today, but care to challenge me to a spelling bee tomorrow?”
Yeah, I didn’t think so.