01 / 05
Lesson Plan: Chichen Itza (Team Sports)

Blog Post | Leisure

Lesson Plan: Chichen Itza (Team Sports)

In this lesson, students will learn about Chichen Itza—a sprawling ruined city in the Yucatán Peninsula in modern Mexico—and the important role team sports have played in culture and politics throughout human history.

You can find a PDF of this lesson plan here.

Lesson Overview

Featured article: Centers Progress, Pt. 6: Chichen Itza (Team Sports) by Chelsea Follett

In this article, Follett writes, “The development of team sports was a significant cultural achievement. Sports have transformed the way that people spend their leisure time by being one of the most universally loved forms of entertainment. To many people, team sports fulfill deeper psychological functions, such as providing an additional sense of meaning in their lives.”

In this lesson, you will learn about Chichen Itza—a sprawling ruined city in the Yucatán Peninsula in modern Mexico—and the oldest continuously played ball sport in the world variously called Pok-A-Tok, Ulama, or simply, the Ball Game.


Watch this video about the revival of a version of the Mesoamerican Ball Game. After watching, in partners, small groups, or as a whole class, answer these questions:

  • What are some unique aspects of this ball game?
  • Why isn’t this game more widely played now? Which huge change occurred in Mesoamerica that outlawed this game several centuries ago?
  • What are these players’ larger goals for the revival of the game? In other words, what legacy do they want to pass on to their descendants and to Mexican culture?

What do you know about Chichen Itza? Watch this video to build background knowledge about this UNESCO World Heritage site.

After watching, in partners, small groups, or as a whole class, answer these questions:

  • What is the significance of the four sets of 91 steps leading to the top of the pyramid and the additional step on the pyramid’s top?
  • What happens at the stone step pyramid Kukulkan on the spring and autumn equinoxes?
  • What do the construction and placement of monumental architecture at Chichen Itza tell us about the sophistication of Mayan civilization?

Questions for reading, writing, and discussion

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

  • Follett writes, “Sports are among humanity’s oldest innovations.” Why do people play sports? What social and/or cultural functions do team sports like the Mesoamerican Ball Game have in society?
  • Which three achievements make the Maya stand apart from all other pre-Columbian civilizations?
  • What extant evidence do we have of Toltec influence on Mayan culture?
  • What role did human sacrifice have in Mayan society?
  • Describe the economy of Chichen Itza. What was the basis of the economy?
  • What role did the Mesoamerican Ball Game have in the life of Mayan city-states like Chichen Itza?

Extension Activity/Homework

Play the Mesoamerican Ball Game

Watch this video on how to play the Mesoamerican Ball Game, also known as Pok-A-Tok. After watching, play the game!

  • Go to a basketball court with your classmates. Bring a foam ball, two hula hoops, and several cones (optional).
  • Use the cones to mark the boundary of your ball court. If there are already markings, you can use those instead.
  • Secure the hula hoops at either end of the court at about head height. The hoop’s opening should be vertical (not horizontal like a basketball hoop).
  • Form two teams of 4–6 players. Teams face each other.
  • The referee says, “Pok-A-Tok,” and the game begins.


  • The ball is hit into the field of play.
  • Players can pass the ball to each other using only their elbows, knees, and hips; hands, heads, and feet are not allowed.
  • A point is scored when the opposing team fails to return the ball before it bounces a second time or when the ball reaches the opposing end zone.
  • The game finishes when a player from one team gets the ball through the hoop at the opposite end of the court or when time runs out (together, you may decide the length of each game).

Profile a Pre-Columbian Civilization

Create a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation about one pre-Columbian American civilization. Choose one of the following:

  • Olmec
  • Maya
  • Aztec
  • Inca
  • Mississippian
  • Pueblo

Before making your presentation, do research using reliable sources and take notes in the chart below. You must use your own words.

SlideThe ____ Civilization
One-paragraph summary about the civilization
Population, social structure (classes)
Powerholders, governmental structure, role of military
Interactions with the environment
Resource use, geographical location and extant
Religion(s), artifacts, writing systems, pastimes
Economic system, trading partners
Architecture, canals, irrigation, roads
Works Cited
Cite sources using APA format

When you’ve gathered the necessary information, create your presentation using the categories above. Your presentation must have at least eight slides, and they must include visuals such as maps, photos, graphs, or artwork. Be as detailed and creative as you like.

Write an Essay on Sports and War

In the article, Follett writes:

The Ball Game occasionally served as a substitute for war, with rival political leaders in the later Aztec civilization purportedly agreeing to confront each other on a ball court rather than on a battlefield. In fact, some psychologists believe that sports today help human beings to channel their competitive and aggressive impulses away from violence, and that athletic competitions are intertwined with the decline of overt conflict between states.

What do you think? Do you think the decline in interstate warfare over the past 75 years is partly the result of the increase in the popularity of sports? Why or why not? Write an essay in which you take a stand on this question. Support your thesis with evidence (you may use this article, also linked above). In your essay, be sure to present and refute at least one counterargument.

Axios | Labor & Employment

Average Worker Now Logs off at 4 p.m. On Fridays

“Quitting time has been shifting earlier throughout the week, and it’s especially early on Friday, according to an analysis of sign-off times from some 75,000 workers at 816 companies by the workplace analytics firm ActivTrak.

Friday sign-off times have moved up from around 5 p.m. at the start of 2021 to around 4 p.m. now. Monday-Thursday sign-offs have also shifted earlier, to around 5 p.m. on average.”

From Axios.

News.com.au | Tourism & Leisure

World’s Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the Seas Sets Sail

“The world’s largest cruise ship, Icon of the Seas, has officially set sail on its maiden voyage, with passengers sharing what life is really like on board the 365 metre vessel.

Icon of the Seas left the Port of Miami, Florida, on Saturday for its first seven-night island-hopping trip that will feature a series of idyllic locations in the Caribbean.

The ship, which is five times larger than the Titanic and longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, has a double occupancy capacity of 5610 guests – though it could accommodate up to 7600 if every possible bed was booked – and 2350 crew.”

From News.com.au.

Blog Post | Culture & Tolerance

New Years Resolutions of Yore: Vices That Became Virtues

Virtues we strive to embrace were once vices we swore to eschew.

A version of this article was originally published at Pessimists Archive on 12/31/2023.

In centuries past, things considered virtuous today; readingcyclingradio listening and chess playing were deemed unhealthy vices.

Amusingly this means some New Years resolutions set today are inversions of resolutions set in prior centuries. Where we may aspire to read and cycle more in 2023, people in 1923 may well have pledged to do them less.

As a new year beckons we explored secular sins that eventually became virtues:


As books became cheaper and more abundant, concerns about reading “too much‘’ became a heated public debate – while the religious worried about the bible competing for attention, others worried about “information overload.

Novel reading was thought to inspire women to seek risk and novelty, while inspiring violent criminal acts by children. Other complaints included the prevalence of people staring down at books on public transport:

Where today we feel guilt for playing on our smartphones in the bedroom – after we wake and before we sleep – reading books in bed was once treated as similarly compulsive, incompatible with a good night’s sleep and possibly damaging to your eyes (in a dimly lit room).

Bicycle Riding

Bicycle riding was a newly popular form of transportation in the late 19th century, thanks to the safety bicycle: cheaper and more practical iteration with inflatable tires for a smooth ride. As the bicycle rolled across the world, critics followed, calling it dangerous because it startled horses and unbecoming for women, who had to wear traditionally male attire to ride (bloomers”).

While some physicians argued cycling was healthy others linked it to insanity, deformities of the spine, face and even a cause for appendicitis. One insurance company even refused to insure avid bicycle riders, while one army recruitment office rejected applicants who were avid cyclists because it was assumed they had a weakened “bicycle heart.


The rise of the radio was a bigger deal than most realize – arguably bigger than television – which was seen as an evolution of radio. Radio’s growth in society was inevitably followed by handwringing and speculation about its possible downsides: dead birds, bad weather, poor grades and sleep deprivation were just some of the unfounded concerns.

Games (Crosswords)

Today word games are widely considered good for our brains, crosswords have survived the transition from print to digital and new word games continue the emerge – like Wordle – which was acquired by The New York Times.

Ironically The New York Times – now famous for its crossword – would refuse to publish the puzzles for many years, deeming them unworthy of a serious publication. Why? Because they were considered unintellectual and associated with distraction, earning bans by at least one professor and a judge.

Games (Chess)

In 1858 Paul Morphy became widely considered the world Chess champion, as a result national interest in the game boomed, leading to Scientific American weighing in on the matter opining: “Chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time.”

Paul Morphy’s mental health would rapidly decline in the proceeding years, Chess was blamed by some for the deterioration, when other champions met similar fates there was speculation Chess might have a negative impact on players more generally.