I dread introducing mid-year projects to my class. By now, students are keenly aware of how much work goes into high-quality projects and resist jumping into a new team or envisioning the next public exhibition. How do we motivate students to begin a new project when they are already tired by the middle of the school year?
The biggest success I've had for project introduction day is having students play a physical game. Games are silly and fun, and when the laughter calms, we reflect on how the game serves as a metaphor for the group work ahead. After this conversation, students are generally more curious and open to the possibilities of starting fresh.
The following two games are my tried and true. Use them on project launch day, or even mid-project if students need a little booster. I always have an extensive safety talk with my high school students before we play these games, and they move slowly and cautiously while I supervise the activities. Please use your best judgement about whether these would be appropriate in your classroom for your unique group of students.
Game Prep for Team Projects: Group Escape
My goals for students (courtesy of Tim Dyke) are to:
- Realize that their creativity is enhanced by restrictions
- Create an environment that rewards taking risks
- Reiterate the importance of listening
Please put all of your bags against the wall, stack all of the chairs, and push the desks into one big desk in the corner of the room farthest away from the door. Next, everyone please get on top of the structure of connected desks. The floor is now made of lava, and your objective is to get everyone from your table clan across the room and out the door without touching the floor. The rules are that you must respect one another and no body parts can touch the floor. If you break any rule, the entire group starts again back on the structure. You may begin!
(For this first round students usually make a path out of the desks and chairs.)
Congratulations! Please reassemble the structure and get back on top of it. For this second round, the first-round rules still apply. Additionally, the structure is now welded together and cannot be broken apart, nor can anyone talk as you escape. You may begin!
(Usually, students grab books off a shelf or use book bags to make a path. Once, they ferried the entire class one by one on a skateboard!)
Congratulations! You've made it to the third round. Please return any items that you've used to where you found them and get back on top of the structure. For round three, the first- and second-round rules still apply. And this time, everything in the room is welded into place and cannot be moved. Also, you can only speak in the language that I give you. (Options: singing, humming, using basketball players' names or countries that end with the letter S, stomping, clapping, in Spanish, in Japanese, with tongue clicks, etc.) You may begin!
(Usually, for this round students use their outer clothes to make a path, but the process resembles a theatrical production with singing and dancing.)
- What did you notice about your creativity as a group when the game increased in restrictions?
- Did adding more restrictions lead to more creative solutions?
- What did you do as a team that made you more successful?
Here's a student reflection from Elena:
In the first round, it was everybody for themselves. We realized as a class that, with this method, we would not win the game. During the silent round, we had to trust each other to slow down and make a path that would allow everyone to get to the door. By the last round, our first priority was to make sure each and every one of us could cross the room without trouble. The game was definitely fun, but our class as a whole learned communication, patience, and how to work together effectively that day.
Game Prep for Partner Projects: Blind Dodgeball
My goal for students is learning how they need to communicate in a way that their partner can hear them, even when projects become hectic.
Pick a clear outdoor area and put down four sweatshirts to make a 25-square-foot box. Students introduce themselves to the partner they'll work with on the next project and play rock paper scissors to decide who will be blindfolded first (they usually tie a jacket around their heads, or I give them a bandana). Each team gets a soft ball. (Rolled up pairs of socks work well, or the gym teacher often shares her supplies.)
Your goals as a team are:
- Make your blindfolded partner feel as safe and supported as possible at all times.
- Get all of the other teams "out" by hitting either of their members with your ball.
Only your blindfolded partner may touch your ball. You many throw only your own ball, and aim low -- if you hit someone above the neck, you're automatically out.
Un-blindfolded partners may talk to their partner and gently guide their shoulder or arm. Then switch the blindfold to the second partner.
Un-blindfolded partners may touch their partner and gently guide their shoulder or arm but cannot talk. Then switch the blindfold to the second partner.
Un-blindfolded partners have to stand outside the boundaries and can talk only to their partner. Then switch the blindfold to the second partner.
- When you were blindfolded, what did your partner do to help you feel safe?
- When you were not blindfolded, what did you do to communicate clearly?
- How does this game serve as a metaphor for the kind of communication that you'll need for this next project?
Here's a student reflection from Kaya:
Not only was the game itself fun, giving us the ability to take a break from the ordinary classroom work, it also gave me a good [understanding] of how much teamwork the project was going to take. The game showed me that without teamwork, you would not succeed [because] when playing the game my partner and I did not communicate well enough and we lost.
What strategies do you use to launch projects?