As we start our school year, I would like to encourage us to take a big deep breath. The year will be just fine. Many students will achieve what you have set out for them to achieve. You are a good teacher; trust yourself and your skills. Set aside the pushing forward of your curriculum for a moment and really get to know your students,. Take the time to develop and build relationships with them. I would like to offer some of my favorite resources for team building activities in the classroom to support this process
Top 3 Activities:
1. The Helium Stick… This activity is a simple one. You will need a long stick or two. (I like to use a tent poll.) Begin by explaining to students that the only goal of this activity is to have the poll reach the ground without having anyone let go of the poll. Have the students line up across from each other. Then have them hold the poll up by having it rest on one or two fingers of each of their hands. While students get setup for this you need to be holding the poll. Once students are ready, let go of the poll. The stick should start to rise immediately. The overall kinetic energy of the students makes the poll rise up. Students will need to communicate with each other and support each other to have the poll come down. I use a stop watch to time my students while doing this and share how they do. With each attempt they improve. Afterwards, we have a short discussion about what caused the greatest frustrations and what went really well. This one always gets good laughs as well produces great discussions.
2. Marshmallow Challenge… This activity is super powerful and one that I think should be done in all classes regardless of the age group. We have done a Twitter chat on this one and you can find the link here. There is also a TED talk that I show to my students on this activity that can also be found at that same link. Students are asked to build the tallest freestanding structure possible using only the supplies given. Supplies for this activity are severely limited. Each group of students, 4 or 5 of them, are given the following supplies: one yard of tape, one yard of string, 20 sticks of spaghetti, and one marshmallow. The rules state that it must be free standing and the whole marshmallow is placed on the top. Students have 18-20 minutes to complete this task with their group. I love how this one instantly forces kids to communicate and work together. I am able to survey the room and get a really good understanding of where they are all at. Who are my leaders? Who are my week links? Better yet, who are the ones that are going to be challenges to motivate throughout the year? After students do the activity, I have them watch the TED talk, again found here, and talk about the skills that were mentioned. My favorite of the mentioned ones is the power of learning through the rapid iterative process. Far to often, in school, we allow students to zero in on only the final target. Thinking that learning is the successful completion of an activity. The truth is that it is in the struggle of the activity that the learning happens. This TED talk does a wonderful job, all in 7 minutes, of showing this concept. After watching it, we share in a class discussion about the experience of completing this task. Makes for a great start of the school year activity that I do and that the kids still talk about.
3. Good Old Obstacle Course… After a day or two of the new school year, I take my students outside to the playground. There I invent a giant game of “Floor’s Lava”. As a class, they need to get everyone across to safety. In my version, the students lineup at a designated spot, and I allow only one person the ability to form a “pillar” in the “lava”. When other people are touching the pillar they can survive the lava. What they usually do is get everyone onto a middle point in the playground equipment. Then, the “pillar”” jumps on and moves to the other side and forms another “safe’ passage to the other side. This is all being timed of course. I love seeing the natural leaders come out on this one as well. The students work hard to come to a solution that will benefit their classmates. After it is all said and done, I talk with students about the value of teamwork and how they cared enough to move at a pace that would get the job done, while at the same time worked to be inclusive of everyone. Students soon realize that their class is filled with all sorts of talented individuals, who have their own strengths or talents as well as short-comings. It is through teamwork and leveraging the talents of the many that truly makes their class leave a legacy.
Bonus Tip: Over the years, I have collected many great books and websites that have helped me with team building. None have been as valuable, or as approachable as Wilderdom.com . Checkout this great online resource that is filled with great activities for your first five days or the perfect one day activity to spice up your classroom.
Connect and Share… Please share your thoughts and resources below for the first few weeks of school. I know there is a hashtag #firstfivedays or #firsts5days that can also help you find activities. Please share your start of the year below.