As teachers, there's always the desire to go out of your way to help students with their learning. However, what if this is harming their ability in the whole learning process? The increasing lack of ability for kids to problem solve is concerning on many levels. The standard solution of google, it has helped reduce people's ability to think and respond! ‘eLearning’ has a lot to answer for in terms of building incompetence into kids, where they're encouraged to seek solutions to their problems from the Internet. Instant access to the answer to almost everything has created new problems in that kids who are reliant on instant results, can't cope in situations that require a more complex and challenging approach.
Recently, I had a group of students out on a hike into the Budawang Wilderness. This pristine and amazingly rugged part of Morton National Park is a challenging, yet invigorating experience. Prior to the trip, we set the scene for the students. It was their expedition and they were in charge. We would only intervene if there were a safety issue that arose, otherwise every decision was up to them. They were briefed on directions, leadership and group management and given a map and compass.
Moments after the end of the brief, the questions started flying “How far is it?”
“What time are we going to get there?”
We both gave the same response. “You've been given all the information you need. Work it out yourself!”
It quickly became obvious that none of them had ever experienced this before. They were expecting to be taken on a trip, rather than being challenged by the experience. The temptation of teachers (often born out of frustration) is to take over and do it for them, or show them, as it's an easy way out. Yet if you do that, you never put the kids outside their comfort zone. You never push them to take any initiative or responsibility and they never actually learn anything.
So we waited for them to work it out, which took some time, then we were off and along the track. The questions about how far we'd gone, how long left and can I eat this muesli bar, continued and were met every time with the same response, “It's your trip. Work it out yourself.”
Whilst the questions are annoying, once they realise you're not going to provide them with any answers, they eventually stop asking, until they want reassurance that they're on the right path, or they're tired and then like flies to a dead horse, they ask again and again and again, which I refuse to answer unless there is a safety issue.
We eventually made it to camp, probably two hours later than if one of us had been ‘running’ the trip, but what educational value would that have provided? If we just ‘ran’ trips, we would just reinforce the notion that everything can and will be answered and done instantly with no effort on the part of the student. From an educational point of view, this is a complete waste of time and allows for no development of resilience nor initiative in kids, which ultimately will cost them dearly when faced with any sort of challenge later in life.
When leading trips, this has always been my guiding principle. Set the group up once and let them work the rest out for themselves. They must do everything out there in the field for themselves. What time we start, what time we break, pace of the group, setting up camp, dinner time, wake up, pack up, departure and navigation. Everything about the trip needs to be put on the students to think about and take appropriate action to complete.
At the end of the day, you never learn to drive sitting in the passenger seat, so set the group up, then put the responsibility on the group to take ownership and run the trip themselves. It might be tough. They might winged and complain about it, but it lets them develop real problem solving skills and teaches them some valuable lessons that they will never learn anywhere else.
Next time you're out with a group, don't take charge and do everything for them. Brief the group, then sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Often in life, we find ourselves in situations where you get asked something by a friend and in hindsight you probably should've said no. I found myself in one such situation a few years ago. I was doing some volunteer work in my hometown of Tamworth when one of the committee members who owns a chicken farm, asked me if I'd like to come and help move some chickens. ‘How hard could that be?’ I thought. Move a few chickens from one shed to another, easy! At the time, I'd been doing a few casual jobs, as well as the volunteer work so a few more dollars and the offer of pizza for dinner was a tempting offer I didn't want to knock back.
“Sure, be happy to help out!” I replied, not knowing what exactly I was getting myself into. But hey, let’s not forget the aforementioned pizza! That evening I drove out to the property, which was about 20 minutes out of town. Now it's funny what goes through your mind when you're not sure what you're getting yourself into. I had visions of picking up nice soft little chickens and placing them in little tubs and carrying them a short distance into another shed. I’m not entirely sure why I thought that, but that was my impression of the job. Sadly, this was not the case…
On arrival, I saw a scruffy looking crew of chicken movers and I immediately felt overdressed in my jeans and T-Shirt. I did wear old jeans, just not old enough. My induction was swift and to the point. Grab six chickens with each hand and load them in the crate.
“Ok… How many are there?” I asked
“5000!” was the reply.
“Oh crap,” I thought as I walked into the shed to see thousands of chickens before me. Well it was too late to turn this down and this was certainly a new challenge for me! So I jumped right in and started grabbing chickens by the legs. The whole thing was really well co-ordinated. There were the catchers, who would catch the chickens and then hand them on to the collectors. The collectors would ‘collect’ the six chickens in each hand, then carry them over and load them into the crates. The crates would then be loaded and stacked onto the back of a truck.
This was hard work! It was summer and the evening air was hot. Add to this, the dust in the shed that'd been kicked up by the commotion, the smell, the noise, the pecking, the scratching and the chicken poo all made this the weirdest and hardest night of physical work is ever done. Everyone kept changing roles of catching, collecting and loading crates. After a couple of hours of work, the job was completed. The shed was empty and the huge truck was fully laden with 5000 enormously noisy chickens. My work here was done! Well… not quite. Now it was time to unload them all.
We drove the truck to the other side of the farm to another shed where we proceeded to unload the crates, stack them onto trollies and then take all the chickens out. Crate after crate I lifted, getting covered with more and more chicken crap. Another couple of hours later, the truck was empty and I was trashed.
I was so tired I'd forgotten about the pizza! But when it arrived, I sparked back to life! It was so worth it. Although I couldn't even look at the chicken pizza without cringing, I hungrily munched several pieces. Looking down, my hands were scratched to pieces, my clothes covered in blood and chicken crap and I couldn't even begin to describe the smell.
I needed to get home for a shower! Just as I was leaving, my friend said, “Thanks for helping out tonight. That's a good start. We've only got another 15,000 to move. So, same time tomorrow?”
Exhausted, I stared back blankly… and with a smile replied, “Sure, same time tomorrow!”
Until last week, I’d only ever run an activity where students built something and then by the end of the session, they dismantled it. Most of this was for initiative activities such as raft building where part of the exercise was to create a working raft from scratch and cross a river with it by working as a team. Usually everyone involved ended up drenched. However, last week the activity was mountain biking and since the campus didn’t have any mountain bike tracks on it at all, we had to start from scratch.
This was both a fun activity, but also a great learning experience for me seeing the different team dynamics as the students designed and built something from scratch that’s going to be a permanent fixture of the campus! We started off in the classroom where the boys worked out all the key features they wanted for the track! There were obstacles, drop downs, water features, berms and even criss-crossing of the track back onto itself. This last feature I had to overrule mainly for common sense reasons, as some of the boys and the thought of risk management are quite mutually exclusive. With a few different design ideas in mind, we headed out. It wasn’t long before the boys attacked the course with various tools, scratching out the basic shape with rakes and shovels, then angling each twist and turn to make sure enough speed could be gained to be able to clear objects or power through the berms. There were already a couple of massive trees scattered about, so they were easy spots for various rollovers.
A Rollover In Progress
I’d imagined that at the start of the day, we would have had an hour in and I would have had a group of boys leaning on shovels complaining about how boring this was and they just wanted to ride their bikes. Instead, I had some of them not even wanting to stop for lunch, as they continued to pour endless amounts of energy into building the track.
What I loved about this was the fact that they’d taken complete ownership of the build. The teamwork was natural and completely unforced, which can often be the case in initiative games. The other instructor and I ended up just being there for safety and to move large objects with the tractor. It was the boys’ mountain biking track, not ours, which made a massive difference and after six hours of endless toil, they had a rideable course with two rollovers, a few muddy berms and a winding boardwalk with step ups and drop downs! With their tools finally down, the boys jumped on their bikes and one after another, rode around and around and around the course. Cautiously, at first, they checked out each part, however, as they became more confident, they cleared each rollover faster and enthusiastically ripped around the corners with style.
As the light faded, we managed to tear the boys away from the track. The only discussion over dinner was about how they were going to extend the track even further and make it even better. What was so wonderful about this, as opposed to any other building activity I’ve ever done, was the fact that the boys were so passionate about it. What they were building wasn’t just going to be torn to pieces at the end of the day. It was and is going to last well beyond their time at camp and this seemed to instill a deep pride in them for what they were doing! All in all, it was a wonderful day, which started out with an idea and ended up with a cohesive team and one awesome mountain bike track!
Recently, I visited the USS Midway, a long-serving American aircraft carrier, now museum which sits in San Diego Bay. Built in 1943 at a cost of $90 Million, this ship with its crew of 4,500 was in active duty until 1992, with its last engagement being the main carrier for the battle group in the first Gulf War. This a truly remarkable museum and for a school group, is the best way to explore modern naval history. From WWII to Vietnam and the Gulf, the Midway played a pivotal role in gaining air and sea superiority for the allied forces.
Approaching the Midway, I stood in awe of its enormity! It looks big from a distance, but close up, you really appreciate the sheer size and dominating presence of this amazing vessel. With a Tom Cruise look-alike at the entrance playing the soundtrack to Top Gun, that's about the only awful and touristy thing about the place. The rest is an amazing historic journey back to the last century and a glimpse into what life was and is like serving in the Navy.
The tour of the ship is divided up into three sections. The first is the hanger deck where they used to store the planes, but now has a number of historic aircraft and flight simulators. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try them out, but well worth budgeting for your trip as the kids will nag you for it when you get there. Better to pre-empt this and be the most amazing teacher for organising it for them!
USS Midway Runway
Below this deck is the main galley, sailors mess and medical areas, which give you an idea of the sheer size of the task of keeping everyone fed and healthy. There's a post office, laundry, general store, chemist, surgery and dental clinic, as well! Everything you need for extended deployments at sea. The most interesting part of this was the Marine’s guard station which led to the nuclear missiles’ storage below. An unambiguous warning sign outside, informed that the marines were authorised to use deadly force if any sailor attempted to gain access.
Awesome Collection Of Aircraft
The runway deck, however, is the highlight of the tour. The deck is enormous, as you would expect when planes have to take off and land on it. There are all sorts of different aircraft up on deck from training and surveillance planes to the very impressive war planes such as the FA18, the Tom Cat and many others. There are a number of helicopters too, including the Huey that was extensively used in the Vietnam war and immortalised in the movie Apocalypse Now. Each of the aircraft is well-kept and has dummy armaments on each to gain a full picture of what these planes were capable.
Flight Control Tower
There's a number of education sessions very worthwhile to take the kids. Under the shade of a small marquee, former naval officers explain the take-off and landing experiences they and others had whilst serving on the ship, as well as other aspects of life and work on board the Midway. These are great informative sessions and well worth going beforehand to listen, if you want to develop a worksheet. Having said that, the officers were so interesting, the natural curiosity of the kids might be enough to get them engaged.
USS Midway Bridge
Just below the flight deck, you descend to the pilots ready rooms, where mission briefings are held. What struck me, was the number of different rooms there were down there, all adorned with emblems of the various squads that had served aboard the ship. The final part of the carrier is the operations tower. This is where the flight control room is, as well as the bridge. This is a guided tour and limited to groups of 20 at a time, so be sure to divide your class and staff up accordingly. This was a very good tour, again conducted by former sailors and officers who had served on board.
Pilot Ready Rooms
This is an amazing day out for a school group. The variety of things to see, the history and the firsthand accounts of life on board the ship is sensational! Although a big trek to do this from Australia, for any US school groups heading to the area, this is an absolute must!
USS Midway At Sunset