Middle School Students Learn Teamwork Skills, Bond with Teachers, and Play on 2-Day Wilderness South Fork Trip

Posted September 21, 2006 by Robyn Suddeth

compIMGP0121.JPGSomeone told me a while ago about a great idea for school river trips: Give each student a necklace with one bead to start out with. Each guide then has their own stash of beads on them, and whenever a student does something helpful, or shows enthusiasm, a guide can reward them with a bead. The idea is that by the end of the trip, each student will leave with a unique bead necklace all their own that symbolizes their contribution to the trip.

compIMGP0170.JPGI wasn’t sure, however, how well this would actually all play out in real life. I mean, kids are much more up with current trends than I am. It could be that bead necklaces are, like, totally last year. Or the kids think the beads are ugly, or aren’t interested in necklaces, and the whole thing falls apart.

But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try out a good idea, especially since All Outdoors just recently finished putting together a formalized program for middle schools, named, (in a stroke of genious by Gregg Armstrong), the All Outdoors Floating Classroom.

This last trip with San Dominico from Marin was the perfect time to test out some of our team building ideas for our new outdoor education program. And much to my pleasant surprise, those ideas and the trip itself were a total success. compIMGP0137.JPGFrom the very beginning, the kids were totally enthusiastic and motivated, taking their bead necklaces with pride and starting right away being as helpful as possible as they could in order to earn those first beads. (Guides with the most colorful, prettiest beads were especially keen on the whole idea within a few hours.)

Even the Cookie Challenge went off without a hitch. Usually when you line people up and tell themcompIMGP0153.JPG to stick a cookie slathered in jelly on their forehead, they rightfully look at you like you may be just a little bit crazy. But these kids immediately rose to the challenge, some even repeatedly sticking cookies to their forehead until they successfully got it into their mouth.

The afternoon of the first day consisted of a few crazycompIMGP0222.JPG hours with half the kids in inflatable kayaks. (Imagine four kayaks wrapped all within a few minutes of each other, guides yelling from a nearby eddy or shore with instructions of how to get off the rock.) The students, of course, all thought it was just the funniest thing ever, sitting on a boulder in the middle of a rapid. “OK Sally, yeah…that’s funny. But really now, you should move to the front of the boat. OK, well… take your time.”

compP9150731.JPGAt camp we had a few arts and crafts going while some motivated students helped with dinner in order to grow their collection of beads. Before leaving for some more Class III, kids learned about local native Americans by playing a memorization game made up by guide Brad Riley, and worked together as a team to make it through the “Spider Web.”

All in all a very fun trip… Almost every student on the trip was a willing and excited participant in every part of the trip– on the river and off. We would have group discussions after each activity to discuss what was learned, and hands were always raised with thoughtful things to say. So rewarding! I can’t wait to put some of those newly-tested ideas to use on our Floating Classroom trips next year.


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