The Team Challenges Tour Bus...
rolls into my little corner of blog-world.
A while back, I discovered her blog, and from there, her new book, Team Challenges: Group Activities to Build Cooperation, Communication, and Creativity.
Oh, how I wish I'd had this book three years ago, when I ran an after-school program called "Pasta Challenge;" each week, the kids tried to build the bridge that would hold the most pennies, the tallest tower that would support a cup filled with 100 pennies, and so on. I thought it would be easy to find ideas for such challenges on the internet. It wasn't.
This year, I've been using the book with my after-school robotics kids, as a way to start each session. We've done three team challenges so far:
First, I had them build a bridge that could span 18 inches using only index cards and round stickers. That one was fun, and although I had imagined a solution or two in my head, it was interesting to see that each group really did come up with their own idea. The next day, I passed the idea along to our homeroom teachers, who reported that the kids asked to do more activities like that one in the future.
The next team challenge I tried was to build a chain of paper clips as long as possible in a short period of time. The catch? One hand had to be held behind your back at all times, and no one was allowed to talk. I think this was the best activity so far in terms of promoting cooperation. I learned that for a lot of kids - probably for people of all ages - talking can actually get in the way of cooperating!
Finally, this past week I gave each group 10 straws, 5 paperclips, and four minutes to build a free-standing structure as tall as possible. At the end of four minutes, none of the 4 groups had a free-standing structure for me to measure. I extended the time by one minute. Things weren't much better after the additional minute, but I held them to it. One group did get a fairly tall structure to stand up long enough to be measured - it was about 40 cm high - and I declared them the winners. Nevertheless, an alternate title for this post could be, "In which Ms. Frizzle discovers that her robotics students do not know basic principles of engineering..." such as having three (or more) points on the ground for stability. It was fun to watch, and again, each group took the materials in a completely different direction.
I think I will repeat this same challenge again next week to see what they learned from the previous week's challenge. Also, they are at the troubleshooting stage in building their robot - build, test, adjust, test, adjust, test, adjust some more - and they might be able to transfer that kind of thinking between the team challenge and the robot-building.
What I like about the author and the book is that they promote flexibility on the part of the coach or teacher; how many books of activities have you seen that include a section dedicated to suggesting substitutions for materials? I have made many small modifications to the challenges as I have used them, to make them work better in my specific situation.
I also like the range of activities included. The book starts out with verbal games that can be done sitting down with no materials and very short time-limit building challenges. Later, it moves on to more complicated building challenges that take more space and have longer time limits. I find the shorter, simpler challenges appropriate for robotics opening activities and for homeroom, but the longer, more complicated challenges would be perfect for summer camps or for clubs like "Pasta Challenge" where the challenge is the whole point.
Finally, I love the sheer number of ideas included in the book; there is no way we are ever going to "use up" this book.
I wish I had some photos to post, but I haven't quite mastered the art of setting up the challenges, watching the kids do them, and taking pictures.... plus - and here's a huge hint for coaches and teachers who find themselves with little prep time for their club - I use the time that the kids are working on the challenge as a few extra minutes to get things organized and ready for robotics, to take attendance, get out the computers, etc.
Anyway, if you want pictures, Kris regularly posts pictures of her readers' solutions to various challenges on her blog. I think it was a picture of Cheerios supporting an apple that first got me excited about her work (and look at the tower of packing peanuts in the following post...).
If all of that is not enough to convince you, she's also giving away free copies of her e-book, Ten Minute Tasks, for the duration of the book tour. Just head over to the blog and request a copy.