Independence and interdependence seem to be at the center of life in middle school. Kids are figuring out who they are and how to grow up (sometimes much too fast). They are often all to ready to declare independence when it comes to “rights” or “privileges”. Oftentimes, they struggle with the responsibility part of the equation, though.
As a middle school teacher, I can’t wait for them to figure all of this out before they get to the recognition that we are all interdependent. Because so much of my class is built around student interaction, I want students to recognize their interdependence from the statr. To make sure that happens, I give them the opportunity to discover it during the first week. I give them a somewhat challenging task to accomplish as a group and then I give each group member a limitation that makes the task even more challenging. The limitations ensure that the task can only be accomplished if they work together.
A group of four students are given a set of five envelopes. Each student gets one envelope and the fifth envelop belongs to the “table”. Working together, the group must build five equal-sized squares using the pieces found in the envelopes. No group member may ask another group member for a piece. (Members may give a piece to another member).
The task is taken from A Handbook of Structured Experiences for Human Relations Training. You can download the files for the square pieces here
I want students to experience the need for interdependence and to recognize that each person has strengths and weaknesses. Each member of the group is given a role that he or she must play as they complete the task.
The group member with the “See No Evil” card, must complete the task while blindfolded. The group member with the “Speak No Evil” card must complete the task without speaking. The group member with the “Look Ma, No Hands” card must complete the task without using his or her hands. The group member with the “Mean Girls” card does not appear to have a limitation. However, he or she must take on a “mean girls” persona, using only put downs in his or her communication.
The Ground rules
Groups may begin working on the task when I say “go”. Oh, one more thing. The task is a race. The group to complete the task first is the winner.
After a team has won, everyone looks to see how they did it. Then we talk about what happened. I usually begin by talking to the winning team about their process. What did they do that helped? Then I ask other groups what they found helpful. It becomes really clear that they had to work together, to fill in the gaps for each other, in order to succeed. From there, we talk about what didn’t work. At this point, the impact of the negative talk always comes out. We wrap up the activity by talking about the implications for our work as a community. We document this in a circle map on “Good group work”. (I explain circle maps here. )