Each year, as teachers, we begin the school year with a new crop of students. Over the summer, we all thought long and hard about our classrooms. We carefully designed lessons, units, and grading policies to help cultivate this new crop. I would like to offer a kind suggestion to teachers everywhere, give both time and energy around building not only your classroom, but also the notion of building a team. Each year I take time to get to know the kids what they like, their talents and how they feel about this new school year. After that, I take a few days to work on teamwork. I want to make sure that each class bonds together, and learns how to overcome adversity as a team, as this will be critical in the coming months. These guys are going on a journey and I need to prepare them for what is ahead. The more they are a cohesive team, a family, a pack if you will, the stronger they become and the more you will accomplish with them.
I started this year off with three wonderful activities that I hope you try with your students. These could all be done at any time of the year and would produce excellent results. I first need to point out that these are not my ideas but things I found through my #PLN or Professional Learning Network on twitter. I will give credit where credit is due.
Found: Twitter on my #pln
Author: Heather Chambers
This particular team challenge would be good any time of year. Students create teams of 4-5 to build the tallest structure with the given materials. They are all given the same materials of course. Heather’s handouts shared via Google Docs.
- 20 sticks of spaghetti
- 1 marshmallow
- 1 yard string
- 1 yard tape
With these materials students had 15 minutes to build their structures. They must be free-standing and the marshmallow must be at the top of the structure. The students and I had so much fun working on this together. As a teacher I found this to be a great activity at the start of the year for me as well. I was able to learn so much about my students in just 15 minutes. I saw who my leaders are, by the end of the day I knew who were my inclusive kids, ones that might give up soon, and I really felt like I knew how I had to approach them as a group. I can’t say enough about this activity. Then we watched the TED talk about it and I discussed the power of learning from failure. We can’t fear it and we should learn from it as much as we can. FAIL = First Attempt in Learning!
Found: Twitter on my #pln
Author: B. Brazeau
This is one of those classic team building exercises that challenges groups make cohesive decisions. We started by watching this video that Mr. Brazeau put together from films with a plane crash. Then I passed out a list of ten people who survived the crash. Of these ten, only five could be saved. Teams had to discuss who would be left behind and whom would be saved. Each side, stay or leave, presented interesting dilemmas for the kids. Mr. Brazeua also shared his handouts via Google doc. This is another great activity that would be good any time of year. Just make sure you make them come to consensus as a group.
Helium Stick is another team building activity that is wonderful and cheap. All you need is a long pole, such as a tent pole. This lesson was found on Wilderfom’s games and activities section along with a ton of other great team building activities (another post for the future). The premise is simple, the team must lower the stick to the ground together. The rules are that they students must have the pole resting on their fingers. Resting is the key direction here, they mustn’t curl their fingers and hold the pole. In addition, they must also keep touching the pole at all times with their fingers. I begin by holding the pole for them and then releasing it. Bam, here is the moment of wonder, the students are met with disbelief as the pole rises up and up despite their overwhelming desire to bring it down.
Communication, team work and concentration is central to the students being able to control the stick. Someone starts calling out, 1,2,3 down and repeats this chant till the stick in hands are resting on the ground. It is a delight to see students work through this problem together. This activity I give the students three attempts. After each attempt they discuss and devise a way to improve their time. A good starting time is about 1:30 and my record is 2.8 seconds.
Things I’ve learned
One thing I learned this past year was the power of my Professional Learning Network on Twitter. I have learned so much from the people who share their good ideas and resources via twitter. I hope you all check it out and start building your #PLN today. A great way to start is to follow the above teachers, and if you like @mrmatera and we all can learn from one another. I have to give one more shout out as this whole post idea I got from Joy Kirr, @joykirr, who started a 1st5days live binder and hashtag #1st5days that are filled with ideas on how to start the school year off right.
I have always begun each year with activities to get to know students’ names, but a few years ago I started to think about building teams at the start of my year. Over my time teaching 3-8th graders, I have learned that this investment of time to develop the class’s teamwork paid dividends throughout the year. As teachers, we ask our students to push themselves, work together, take risks and they need to know that their teacher, and class are all in this together. This sense of community will unlock the potential of students on all levels. Think about investing some time this year in building your teams!