Friday, June 09, 2006

Rock Paper Scissors

So it seems I am ahead of the curve. A federal judge in Florida recently got mad at the parties in a lawsuit over their inability to resolve some discovery matters, so he ordered them to play rock, paper, scissors to settle their dispute. And now the story is all over the internet. Robert Ambrogi reports on the matter here and here (both posts include the language of the judge's order). Professor Eugene Volokh weighed in about it on the Volokh Conspiracy. And just now I opened my MSN web browser, and there it was, right on my MSN home page: a link to an article called "Judge orders 'rock paper scissors' to settle dispute."

Volokh's post is a good one (no surprise there), as are Ambrogi's. The story obviously tickles our funny bone because RPS is a silly way to to resolve a legal dispute. But as I said, I was apparently ahead of the curve and ahead of my time, because for the past 2 years I have used rock, paper, scissors tournaments in one of my seminars.

In my National Security Law seminar, the students have to present their research papers in class. It's a good way for them to hone their public speaking skills, and I think the presentations are one of the best parts of the course. But some of the students are nervous about their presentations, especially since I grade them on it. So to diffuse the tension, I make the students slated for the day's presentations engage in an RPS tournament. The winner gets to choose the order of the presentations that day. If there are only 2 presentations then it's easy--it's a best of three series. But if there are 3 presentations scheduled, then we are in double-elimination tournament territory. Before you know it, students are arguing over the game's technical rules and the mechanics of double elimination, and everybody is loosened up a bit. Then, when the presentations start, people are more relaxed.

But what I like the most about this approach is that the students who aren't wild about the approach (and there are a few) are absolutely insistent that if they had to do it, then everyone else has to, too. They get quite passionate about it, and it's fun to watch.

Adding an element like this to the class made the seminar more memorable, more enjoyable for students, and therefore better. And apparently rock, paper, scissors is a critical skill for lawyers these days, so that's a big plus too.

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