Many years ago I worked at a summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains called Skye Farm. I was a counselor, and one of the group-building activities we did there was called Quicksand River. It involved a group, in this case my cabin group, trying to cross a fictitious river of “quicksand lava” as I recall. We had to get the whole group across. We had three logs, which floated, and two 9-foot planks of wood (2-by-6’s, I think) which didn’t. The imaginary river we created with police tape was too wide for a simple bridge to work. We as the counselors, had to simply let the group try to figure out the solution for themselves, and we would have them start over if any fell in and died.
I have replayed this process with AVID classes over the years (when I used to teach AVID), and a few years back, I found a way to incorporate the survival game into a unit my 7th graders are doing about risk and exploration. We had discussed risk taking as a theme a variety of ways, and including a discussion of how grades tend to discourage risk taking at school. Why try something a little different if you can get an “A” by playing it safe?
Around the time of our risk unit, I had also been dealing with my students’ writing fatigue after the state testing. I don’t emphasize the test a lot, but after all the district assessments and the test itself, my students had not only grown tired of reading three articles and writing a synthesis essay about them, they’d grown tired of writing itself.
My students had forgotten that writing can be fun, forgotten that writing can be grounded in the real world, forgotten that they can take risks as writers. They had also talked about risk in class – but not actually taken any risks, even imaginary ones. Which is when I decided to find my inner camp counselor. What follows is my comic strip version of what I actually did with my classes – with the sci-fi settings added for effect. I have seldom had more fun writing a series.
I have since moved to the high school and my Quicksand River supplies got lost int he shuffle. But as I end the year with a survival unit – perhaps it’s time to go back to the lumberyard…