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?

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