JMM Insights May 2014: Project Mah Jongg & Education

Posted on May 9, 2014 by

Since the successful opening of Project Mah Jongg, The Education and Programs Department has planned some wonderful programming for adults in connection with the exhibit.  We’re particularly excited for our Mother’s Day Mah Jongg Madness event this Sunday and our upcoming “The Art of Mah Jongg” talk with Robert Mintz, chief curator at The Walters Art Gallery on Sunday June 8th.
In addition to our Sunday programs we have been delighted to welcome a charming stream of mah jongg mavens to the Museum. These groups of ladies are coming down to the JMM during our early morning opening hours; often armed with their  own mahj sets and accoutrements for play (if you’re looking for a few mah jongg themed items yourself, don’t worry, our museum shop has got you covered!).  It seems that the ladies are making the JMM a destination for the day (something we highly recommend).  The first order of the day, of course, is visiting our special exhibit Project Mah Jongg; then it’s a leisurely browse through the Museum shop and a visit to the neighborhood for lunch only to head back to the lobby for some intense game play, and then finish up the day taking advantage of the synagogue tours – a full day indeed!

Talmudic Academy 2014

Talmudic Academy 2014

While these lovely ladies are a natural audience for all things mah jongg, the challenge of the exhibit for our department was how to present Project Mah Jongg to school groups? Learning to play mah jongg can be challenging and we couldn’t actually teach a group of students how to play the game in twenty minutes. Mah jongg takes practice to really understand the strategies and even just learning the different symbols on the tiles takes time. We knew we needed to develop an experiential learning opportunity – a way for students to engage and apply academic understandings through hands-on experience, while simultaneously learning new information about the world around them.

Younger students learning at play.

Younger students learning at play.

For inspiration, we turned to the mah jongg handbook. We started by looking for key words that described the game, keeping in mind that students from third to twelfth grade would need to understand.  Success! First we had to familiarize students with the building blocks of the game: the tiles! So we concentrated on the basic symbols – bams, craks, dots and jokers.  Then we tackled math concepts: doubles, triples, quads and quints, consecutive, sequence – a perfect way to fuse classroom learning with the basics of how to win at mah jongg.  From there we developed a hands-on experience where the students could actually play a modified version of the game and apply simple math strategies.  Younger students were given Mah Jongg Mats where players take turns picking tiles, working to complete their mats using the new math concepts that were introduced earlier.  Older students were given a modified card for mah jongg play and used rules similar to the card game “rummy,” using the mah jongg tiles to mimic the different types of hands for play on the “card.” In this way we elevated game playing into an exercise in set theory and critical thinking skills.

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Project Mah Jongg really pushed us to think creatively with our educational activities and we were nervous – would the students understand?  Would they be engaged and enjoy playing the modified version of the game?  Well, we are excited to report that the students and their teachers have all commented how much fun Mah Jongg is!  Both versions of the game are proving to be popular – most students really seem to enjoy playing with their friends. All of our teacher evaluations have indicated a positive feedback for the exhibits and the engaging learning activities connected to our exhibits.  The teachers for both the younger and older grades have even inquired as to where they can obtain sets to bring back to the classroom!

ileneA blog post by Ilene Dackman-Alon, Education Director. To read more posts from Ilene, click here.

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