Granted the saving of ailing chickens, rescuing of mini-zebras and deadly snake pits did not truly take place or exist, yet the 80 or so students from Portsmouth’s Dondero Elementary School learned a valuable trust-building activity and, best of all, how to work together as a team as they learned the ropes of maneuvering on ropes.
The daylong event, held at the University of New Hampshire’s Browne Center on Monday, had the students participating in the ropes course, both high and low, requiring them to use creative ways to complete such fun, yet safe, tasks as crossing make-believe snake pits.
The activities help develop leadership and listening skills as well as trust within a group. After each activity each class gathered to discuss their successes and challenges and how the skills they learned apply to the everyday classroom.
Teacher Mike Anderson is hoping the course helps his students learn to better cooperate and encourage students to take healthy risks. He also hopes students will be supportive of those classmates taking the risks. Anderson says the activities enhance the community-building he has already been teaching in his classroom this year.
For teacher Jenn Dunham’s class, this represented their second time visiting the Browne Center and the final one before many of them depart on a weekend-long camping trip to Franconia Notch, another adventure full of hiking, camping, and learning about the environment.
Four UNH students will lead Dunham’s fifth graders on their weekend expedition and prepared them by conducting an overnight campout at the Browne Center. The UNH students are part of an outdoor leadership course.
For that adventure and the one upcoming, the university provided all the supplies necessary, including tents, sleeping bags and food.
Students also learned about land navigation, land formation and other science-based hands-on subjects that ties in with their science curriculum and participated in the low ropes course.
“We really had fun together and made pretty good friends because we do more teamwork skills than like doing math or individual pages and we are doing activities and learning what capabilities people have and just learn more about them,” 10-year old Mike Brabazon said.
Upon arriving back at Dondero, Dunham said he noticed students were not so quick to point out each other’s mistakes and listened more effectively.
“It changed their opinions of each other. They learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses and started to appreciate each other a little more for who they are,” Dunham said.
“That (trip) allowed them as a class to have common experiences to share and reflect upon and celebrate and that is what being a team is about. … I see that carrying out into our learning community as well,” Dunham said.
For the last few years, students participated in a similar program at Adventurelore in Danville in the spring. Teachers are hoping that by moving the program to the fall they will be able to build class cohesion early in the year.
“We are hear so we can build our teamwork skills, so we can come together as a strong team, improve our communication skills, challenge ourselves and can learn to trust each other,” Dunham said.
Mike Anderson is an education consultant, award-winning teacher, and author of many books including What We Say and How We Say It Matter, The Well-Balanced Teacher, The First Six Weeks of School, The Research-Ready Classroom, and Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn. Learn more about Mike and his work or invite him to work with your school or district through his website: www.leadinggreatlearning.com. Connect with Mike on Twitter: @balancedteacher.