November 8, 2013

Javascript Randomizer: Let the Fates Decide!

Yesterday, I wrote about a randomizer I use for blog commenting assignments in my class; today, I want to write about a different randomizer that I use: The Fates. The very first year I taught my Myth-Folklore class (over ten years ago!), I created a little javascript randomizer for students who were not sure what topic to choose each week, and I called it "The Fates." As I've written before, I believe choice is an incredibly important part of any class, so in the Myth-Folklore class, students choose one of two reading topics each week... or they can let the Fates decide. This week, for example, the topic was English Fairy Tales or Child's Ballads. I have a presentation page which provides some helpful information about the topics, and on each page there is also a little javascript that is labeled "Let the Fates decide!" You can see it in action here: English Fairy Tales or Child's Ballads.

I really wasn't sure what the students would make of that, but over the years I have seen students invoke this every week in their starting blog post for the week. "This week," someone might write, "I did not know what to choose, so I let the Fates decide." Or, "The Fates told me four times in a row to read the fairy tales!" It is both fun and funny I think, something both light-hearted and useful. Some students never consult the Fates, of course, but plenty of students do, even if just for amusement.

I hasten to add that I was scrupulously honest in writing the script. Even in weeks where I know one of the topics is an underdog (as ballads are the underdog this week), I wrote the script so that neither option is favored one over the other; it really is a 50-50 chance, like flipping a coin. Here is the script:

By labeling this the "fates," of course, I am trying to make a point relative to the class. Chance was an incredibly important part of divination practices in the ancient world. We believe in the statistical power of random, but in the ancient world, many people considered coincidences of any kind to be the work of the gods. Ancient divination is a topic that I am very interested in myself, so one of these days (argh... when?) I should write up a resource to share with my students, since I imagine they would find it intriguing too. In the meantime, though, they can let the Fates keep on deciding for them!

The painting below shows Tobias and the Parcae (i.e., the Fates). The artist is one of my favorites, Jacek Malczewski.

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