Founder hopes game 'egg-spands' tolerance, learning

Flathead Valley resident Erich Jonas has spun a stone egg across a flat board into a cultural-exchange activity played in 14 nations.

In the 15 years since inventing the "Original Egg Game," Jonas has learned some valuable lessons. He learned another one recently at his interactive presentation at Flathead Valley Community College:

Don't schedule a lecture any evening during finals week.

Only one student, Glenn Fortner, found his way to the community room along with one woman, Val Edwards, multicultural services coordinator Mick Stemborski, two photographers and a reporter.

"I had 80 people turn up for a presentation in Browning," Jonas said. "You just never know."

Although the audience was small, he jumped gamely into his presentation with egg-thusiasm that has not waned since his egg of an idea dropped on a bar room table in 1987. Jonas said he spun an egg-shaped rock he carried in his pocket on the top of the round bar table.

"We started bumping the table back and forth then we discovered we could pick up the table and swing it back and forth," he said. "I was a student studying engineering and anthropology at Vanderbilt University at the time."

It occurred to Jonas that he and his friends had discovered a new game.

As he spun the concept in his mind, he saw greater implications of the spinning egg as a metaphor for the spinning Earth, a concrete expression of abstract physics concepts and a communication bridge between cultural divides.

All from an egg-shaped rock and round, flat board?

"I'll admit it was kind of a hare-brained idea," Jonas said. "But we did discover something entirely new."

Now, with the game played in 14 nations and 3,000 classrooms, his concept sounds more inspired than hare-brained. It turns out that spinning a rock on a board actually does transcend languages and cultures and helps students grasp core scientific concepts.

Jonas did not find success overnight. He found instead a lot of frustration during his early years.

"At that point, I was marketing to the toy and game industries," he said. "I established 30 wholesalers but really, nothing was happening."

According to Jonas, the major toy companies — Hasbro, Wham-O and Mattel — saw the potential. But all passed on picking up his game, teaching Jonas another of those large lessons.

"It's not a game if you have no winners and losers — they said it's an activity," he said. "Our whole society is based on that concept."

He learned the lesson but was not discouraged.

Jonas began taking his game to Montessori School conferences. The interactive nature of the game formed a perfect fit with the educational practices and ovoid theories of founder Maria Montessori.

"The educational community instantly welcomed me," he said. "In five years, we were in 500 Montessori Schools."

Jonas made another breakthrough by attending the National Science Teachers Association. These educators quickly saw the possibilities of teaching principles such as friction, gravity, kinetic energy and centrifugal force with this fun, physical game.

Last year, Newton Learning purchased multiple games for use at 50 summer science camps.

"They use the egg game to teach physics — there's a big need for these kinds of hands-on methods," he said. "I have a whole curriculum online."

The Original Egg Game requires no shared language so it even works well with special needs children such as those with autism. In Lagunitas, Calif., Jonas said a group of six children with learning disabilities set a world record by keeping an egg spinning for four hours.

His game has entertained and educated children in the Flathead Valley. Jonas recently put on presentations in schools in West Glacier, Swan River and Discovery Day Care.

He capitalizes on the close resemblance of his spinning egg-shaped rock to our oblate sphere planet. Jonas asks simple questions that may not have occurred even to adults, such as which way does the Earth spin? Counter-clockwise.

"I share a lot of Earth awareness," he said. "I can teach kids new things. I've been at the science fair at West Valley the last few years. It's lots of fun."

Adults at the Flathead Valley Community College presentation got focused and loosened up spinning the 30-million-year-old limestone eggs containing late Mesozoic sea creatures from 240 million years ago.

"They're mined in Balochistan (Pakistan)," Jonas said. "They turn the eggs out of rock in Karachi in Pakistan."

Spinning the egg frees the mind or engages the mind in its many metaphors. Everyone may find a different concept whirling in what Jonas has coined a game of "egg-sploration."

Groups of people become one, keeping multiple eggs spinning on one board or tossing them from board to board. Jonas finds this process critical.

"We have many big challenges ahead of us — integrating ideas, peoples and cultures," he said.

In the past 10 months, he said he has expanded his concept to give educators a hands-on-tool to foster communication in culturally rich environments where students speak multiple languages. He points to research that has found up to 90 percent of communication is nonverbal.

"In inner-city schools in Boston, there are five primary languages," Jonas said. "Science is a common language. You don't have to speak the same languages. You can understand scientific principles."

He takes particular joy in helping these areas after spending his youth in Boston during the turmoil of busing to desegregate schools in the early '70s. Jonas recalls the rocks thrown at his bus as he was taken from an affluent area to an all-black school.

"The seeds were planted in me to do this," he said. "Instead of throwing stones, we're spinning them in cooperation."

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