Classroom Strategies

Saving Sam! — A Team Building Activity

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
-Steve Jobs

Confession: I struggle to teach teamwork well.

Teamwork is one of those things that are essential for students to learn, especially in science. I could blame it on never having PD or solid instruction on how to teach teamwork, but I don’t think that’s it. I always hope someone else would teach it and my students would walk in being awesome team players. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

In the last few years, I’ve worked on facilitating team building activities in class, and include the crucial debrief process after we’re done. Below, I share my favorite team building activity, which is great for both kids and adults!

Saving Sam

Every year, I look forward to Saving Sam! It’s a collaborative challenge activity where participants have to work together to get a gummy worm into a gummy lifesaver, only using 1 paperclip per person.

Students collaborating to Save Sam!

Here are the Slides I use with my students–it’s all set up to push out via Pear Deck! I love using Pear Deck with my students, because it keeps my students engaged. Students who wouldn’t normally speak up in class are willing to participate on the interactive slides.

Students work in groups of 4. Each group needs 1 gummy lifesaver, 1 gummy worm, a small paper or plastic cup (dixie cup size), and 4 paper clips.

Gummy worms, gummy life savers, and paper cups can be reused for each class period, paper clips get bent and need to be replaced. No, you may not eat your gummy worms and lifesavers–refer to the lab safety rules!

Teamwork discussion

Together, we start by discussing teamwork, watching short video clips, and analyzing how teamwork was used in each.

Then, students make a 3 column T chart (or is it a TT chart?), to list what good teamwork looks, sounds, and feels like. I usually have students make quick posters on 11×17 paper, though it can also be done digitally (template). It’s fun to watch students work in teams to make these, because they need teamwork to accomplish it!

Saving Sam: The story

First I need to captivate my students. As I tell the story, they’re imagining my human friend named Sam, and are quite shocked when I pull out a gummy worm. Here is my dramatic version of Sam’s story:

“Have I told y’all about my friend Sam? No? Ok, well, they are one awesome person. Sam loves spending their weekends out on the ocean in their boat. They loves hanging out with their friends, and they’re a big fan of boating safety.

“However, last weekend, they went out on their boat alone, and Sam wearing their life jacket when suddenly a large wave came up and capsized their boat! Sam hung onto the top, and their lifesaving device was trapped under their boat. They are still waiting for someone to come save them!

“This (holding up a gummy worm) is Sam. And you all need to figure out how to save Sam! (Pause for laughs and confused looks.) The thing you need to know is that Sam is highly allergic to humans, so we can’t touch them, their boat, or their lifesaver with our hands. Instead, we use these special tools (hold up a paper clip) to save them (some kids will ask how we can possibly setup the activity…they can touch to set it up!). And remember, my friend Sam has feelings, so please don’t drop them or skewer them! Good luck!”

Usually, it takes groups 5-10 minutes to Save Sam. If there is a group of 3, I’ll give one member 2 paper clips.

Remember the debrief!

After all groups have successfully saved Sam, we debrief by talking about how their teamwork looked, sounded, and felt like. Students also identify areas they want to work on. It’s an excellent reflective process, and an integral launching point for more discussions about teamwork, especially as it relates to science labs and activities.

I’m always looking for more team building activities. What are some of your favorite team building exercises?

Classroom Strategies, GSuite

Getting to Know You Survey

Back to school is always an exciting time! I love preparing my classroom for my new students, thinking about how to best meet their needs, and anticipating the fun we’re going to have. I loosely plan out what skills I want to hit, but I don’t lesson plan until I actually meet my kids!

In my first year of teaching, I had the (mis)guidance of the teacher I was taking over for. They instructed me to talk about the syllabus on the first day of school, teach lab safety on the second day, then jump right into content on the third day. Even though I planned out fun first-two-weeks activities in my credential/masters program and talked extensively about building relationships, I assumed this strong-willed teacher knew what was best. So, I did what they told me.

Boy, was I wrong. While I did end up getting to know my students eventually, the class cohesiveness wasn’t there from the start and behavior was sometimes a struggle.

The one thing I did do well was a getting to know you survey (on paper). I used that information to learn about my students’ backgrounds, and incorporate their interests into some of our examples from class.

Fast forward to the present: My biggest strength and emphasis as a teacher are building relationships, and making sure each and every student feels welcome in our class. It’s not always easy, and there are plenty of ups, downs, and mistakes–and also many moments of joy!

I have transitioned my Getting to Know You Survey (make a copy!) to Google Forms. Data collection is easier–and, I don’t have to decode handwriting.

This is the perfect first assignment on the Google Classroom set-up day. Students join the class, then immediately complete their first assignment.

The questions range from simple, such as birthday and interests, to more thought-provoking, such as “when I get mad, I …” I like having a mix, and seeing how my students choose to answer. For example, when I ask “What is something you are really good at?” not only am I asking for their strengths, but also I am checking for self confidence; when a student writes “nothing,” then I know I will need to intentionally search for areas of strength to share with them.

A hidden teacher agenda item in this activity: I can see who is able to focus on an independent and silent task for 10 minutes, and who needs constant refocusing.

After my students fill out the survey in class, I go through the response spreadsheet and highlight interesting and concerning responses. I make a note to follow up with students, bring up their interests in conversation, and share commonalities.

The getting to know you survey is one of the best parts of my first few weeks of school!

What types of questions do you ask in your getting to know you survey? Please share your favorites in the comments below!

Books

Fueled by Coffee and Love: The Refill

I am so pleased to announce that Fueled by Coffee and Love: The Refill was published on Thursday, July 26, 2018! It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve learned so much in this process. This book is a true work of heart.

The journey started in February 2017, and Fueled by Coffee and Love was published in July 2017 (read more here). After publication, I heard from quite a few teachers who missed out on the first call for submissions, and that propelled me to start a volume 2.

Challenges and Successes

The biggest challenges with volume 2 was getting this project rolling. There was a lot of initial excitement for the project, however the follow-through was disappointingly slower than I anticipated. I opened the submissions in September 2017, but didn’t end up closing them until April 2018–I kept extending the deadline, hoping for more stories. Honestly, I was overly excited in getting rolling on the next book, and didn’t dedicate enough time to enjoying the success of the first publication.

With The Refill, I felt like I was a stronger leader. I understood the bigger picture of what needed to get done, and was able to better lead our authors and editors. In the editing process, I was more concise with expectations, including a formalized submissions template and more robust editing guidelines. This greatly helped when I compiled all the stories, and we (Aubrey, Marilyn, Cristy, and I) completed final edits.

We did three rounds of editing: primary editors (looked for writing conventions and story focus), secondary editors (clear focus), and me (all of the above). It helped to have many eyes on each story. Thank you editors!

My Story

Some people have asked me if I’m going to submit a story to the book. The short answer is, “I don’t know.” Deep down, I know this book IS my story. I struggle with feeling like I have something to share in the education world, with so many Big Names and Pontificators out there; when I dig deeper, I see that there are so many other teachers in the same boat who feel the same way, and I want to elevate their stories. Putting my heart and soul into this book feels like I am sharing a part of me.

Both books have been self-published through Create Space, Kindle Direct Publishing, and Smashwords. I have used Ray Charbonneau (www.y42k.com) to format the book and get it set up on the online publishing sites. That has been a huge help to me! Since it’s self-published, I know I don’t have nearly as large of a platform as other publishers, and I’m ok with that. I love our authors and I love being directly involved in every step of the process (except the parts Ray does, of course).

So much joy!

Our good friend & author Natasha Rachell with her copy of FBCAL: The Refill!

It is a huge honor create a platform for teachers to share their stories! My goal is to shine a positive light on the successes and challenges we face in education, each and every day–I can confidently say that I have achieved this goal. Anything I can to do spread their stories, I will pour my heart and soul into making it happen!

I do not keep any of the profits for myself. I donate all proceeds to classrooms and education, mainly through Donors Choose.

One of the best parts of this project has been seeing copies of the book in my friends’ hands! I’ve shared quite a few on the @FBCALbook on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Each time I see one posted, I do a little happy dance!

Get Involved!

  1. Buy your copy of Fueled by Coffee and Love: The Refill (and Fueled by Coffee and Love) — remember, all proceeds support classrooms!
  2. Follow & share with #FBCALbook on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for highlights and news!
  3. Sign up to write and/or edit for future volumes by joining the interest list.

Thank you all for supporting these books and my vision of sharing teachers’ stories!