Week 2 – Sixth Grader Chaos

In this week of work, we were reminded how different schools are different and how the attitudes of teachers reflect the behavior of students.

Our school group was much larger and from a more urban part of Ohio than the previous week’s group. Where we had fewer than 50 students, we now had about 270. Camp cannot handle 270 people at one time, so the week was split into two parts. On Monday morning, the first group of 130 arrived, participated in the activities, and left Wednesday afternoon. The second group, about 140, arrived Wednesday morning and departed Friday afternoon. In addition to the activities and lessons that we would be doing with the students, we had to have the students take surveys for a study on Outdoor Education in conjunction with the college of the same town. When not trying to give the survey to 270 sixth graders, I am very interested in the study – examining how OE helps develop “non-cognitive” skills like emotional and social skills. With just that information there, it should be fairly evident that our week here at Camp was a little hectic.

Monday afternoon, I got to lead a nature hike focusing on Geology and Rotten Log Ecology. I took my group (tribes were about 12-14 throughout the week) down to our rocky beach on the lake for the whole of the hike. With all of the rocks around, it makes for a great geology lesson, and a forest leads up to the beach where I was able to find rotten logs. Additionally, the abundance of rocks can provide for literally hours of diversion, if necessary, as there is nothing kids love more than throwing rocks. Luckily, we also came across all kinds of cool stuff on the beach for additional distraction, including, but not limited to, animal foot prints, fishing line with hooks, shells, animal skull remains (free, pointy teeth were a huge hit with the boys), and a plastic baby head. So cool. We also played a bunch of team building games. The funny thing about sixth graders is that boys and girls still have cooties, depending on which sex you are, so no matter how many times I said that “this is a WHOLE TRIBE activity”, it quickly became a boys versus girls activity. Consequently, the girls won every time.
After dinner, where we learned that “no food waste” and “quite” were nearly foreign concepts to this school group, I got to lead a night hike, which went pretty well, despite the lack of night imposed by the weekend’s time change. We played games to learn how different adaptations by nocturnal animals help them in the dark (deers’ ears, bats’ echolocation, all animals creeping on their toes). I shined my light in one of their eyes, while they covered the other, so they could learn why pirates wore patches (not because a seagull pooped in their eye). And we used wintergreen mint lifesavers, which spark when you bite them, to learn about Triboluminescence (luminescence caused by the striking of two objects against eachother), so it was much like last week’s night hike.
A snack and a story in the dining hall capped off the evening and then we retired to our cabins for bed. Here, I got my second yet another lesson in how loud and constant of voice, and slow of action, sixth graders can be. During their stay at Camp, everyone must take at least one shower and must brush their teeth at night and in the morning. So, before bed, we all go as a cabin to the bathrooms to accomplish these tasks. When I got to the bathrooms my cabin was to used, I discovered that one of them had no lights (it later turned out that some kid had probably pushed the test/reset button on the power outlet, which apparently controls power to the entire bathroom), so we had two showers, two sinks, and two toilets to get well over a dozen sixth graders ready for bed. It should not be a challenge, but not surprisingly, it is. They, or at least enough of them, do not understand the concepts of quick showers and indoor voices, either. Before bed, it is custom to tell them a story with the lights out in hope that they will fall asleep before you are done telling it so they will not stay up talking to one another. I have gotten a lot of mileage out of my dad’s favorite story about a pirate with a peg leg, a hook for a hand, and a patch over an eye so far, but might have to find a way to draw it out longer.

The next morning, I had the same challenges with the bathroom, but was thankfully able to correct these with the latter group thanks to more practice and a better threat of reminding them that the people that live above the bathrooms we would be using cook our food. All day, I got to teach about GeoDomes and Survival in the wilderness. For GeoDomes, we mostly teach lashings and do a very quick construction of a dome, using logs and ropes, which can support the entire tribe’s weight, if they are able to do the lashings right quickly. We also remind them about some principles of geometry, specifically triangles, why domes are strong, and about Richard Buckminster Fuller, who invented the Geodesic Dome. It’s a whirlwind of a class. For Survival, we teach them about important things to have with them to help them survive, and important things to think about – the “five threes”. Three seconds: don’t panic; three minutes/hours: don’t get hypothermia or heat stroke; three days: don’t get dehydrated; three weeks: don’t get starved; three months: don’t get lonely. We also teach them to build a one match fire and a shelter. Tuesday evening, we had a campfire performance that I got to help with, which is always a great time, then I peacefully got to have the night off to sleep by myself (the only night for that that week).

Wednesday was truly crazy. The kids we already had, had to get up, pack and move their things, have two classes, take their survey, and then leave after lunch. Meanwhile, the new kids arrived, in the middle of the morning, had to take their survey and be occupied until enough instructors were free to take over and start their classes, which went until dinner and another night hike. It was an intense day (and week). In the morning, I taught another class of survival and a session for creative writing about nature, and then in the afternoon I got to do more survival and GeoDomes, lots of practice for those two classes this week.
We had thought that the first group from this school was challenging for us, but the second group just blew us away. The amount of time it took them to quiet down when we needed their attention was unacceptable for people of any age. Here at Camp, we use the “Quiet Coyote” (stick up your pointer and pinky fingers and touch your middle and ring finger to the pad of your thumb) to tell kids when it is time to shut their mouths and listen, and they would largely ignore it for easily 20 seconds. Once they were finally quiet, they would appear to listen for 30 seconds, then quickly to slowly return to talking among themselves in escalating volume. It was very frustrating. [To be fair, this school is the result of a recent rezoning of districts, so it is the combination of four schools, to put it simply, which can cause a lot of stress on students, teachers, and administrators.] On my night hike, I could barely do the activities I wanted to because they were so busy talking to each other in the group.
Then bedtime was a whole different game. I had a few interesting cases in my cabin, as I am sure every cabin did, who like being sixth grade boys, which should say enough. Thankfully, the light issue had been fixed, so I had twice as many bathroom pieces as last time and I fully prepared the kids to be quite with the threat I mentioned before. However, it still took an unreasonably long period of time to get ready in the cabin, accomplished in the bathroom and then quiet for bed. Lots of knocking on walls, making fart noises, pretending to chainsaw cars, and doing whatever else they felt would earn attention and laughs from the others around them. All of it just annoyed me, the cabin-supervising stick-in-the-mud.

On Thursday, I began to feel like I could almost see the end of the week. I had more Survival and GeoDomes in the morning, but got to work on the ropes course in the afternoon! Funny story – I haven’t been “officially trained” to work the ropes course, but whatever, how hard can it be? We’re just making sure that the lives of these children are safe when they’re 30-50’ in the air, suspended by half-inch wires, leads, harnesses, and carabineers. (By the way, just learned how weird looking a word “carabineer” is… never seen it spelled before.) Luckily, I was working with two very experienced ropes course instructors, who were happy to help me along, after regularly seeing insufficiently trained instructors, and I was able to be a decent help on the primary platform, welcoming the kids up from the ground and clipping them into their first wires. You get a lot of different levels of comfort with sixth graders coming up to a high ropes course. Some are super excited, and when they get up top, they want to do everything. Others are excited and talk really big on the ground, but get rather freaked out when they arrive up top. Some are freaked out on the ground, but once they get up realize that it is awesome and do way more than they expected, saying how scared they are the whole time. Some “know” they are terrified of heights, or of falling, and push themselves until they start to cry, they are so freaked out. That afternoon I saw some really awesome things, and some kind of disappointing things. With the second group we brought up, a lot of kids caught the scared of heights bug at the same time. The experienced instructors said they have seen this spread like wildfire through a group before, so it isn’t that surprising. I would assume that once they see that it is ok to say it is not for them, more of them are willing to say that. At least half a dozen kids got up from that second group, and even made it all of the way across an element, but then came back to the primary platform and descended. The best part of that second group, though, was this one girl who sat on our platform, terrified to go on one element for a long time. Then, she took a different element, then three more, and made it all of the way to the zip line to go down. That was awesome. Also, a different girl helped her two friends (who were both crying) make it back across an element they had all made it across once, so that they could go back down the ladder. I was very impressed with her support (after she had been very difficult on the night hike).
That evening, I did not have to help with the campfire and enjoyed a much needed shower, then returned to run my cabin again. This time, I came prepared with a much longer story, one of the prized camp stories which goes on for 20-40 minutes and ends in an incredibly disappointing pun. I talked them all to sleep. It was great.

Friday morning, I had another GeoDomes class to teach and another one of those nature journaling classes, gave my tribe their surveys, and said goodbye to all 140 kids after lunch. Phew. Phewwwww… Ahhhhhhhhhh. We cleaned up cabins and the dining hall, had our staff meeting, then cleaned up the staff house (which had not been cleaned in any way since the beginning of the week) and were done. As a staff, we went over to The Lodge (bar/restaurant a three minute walk from camp) to unwind after the week, it was great – really tasty pulled pork sandwich.

Saturday morning, I went grocery shopping and made some mad-delicious whole wheat, yeast-risen pancakes with bananas, blueberries, and apples, and another guy made bagels for late breakfast. So good! The rest of the day was quite lazy, with all of us in recovery mode from a hard week. For dinner, we went to a diner in a nearby town, which was also a large quantity of delicious food.

On Sunday, we started getting ready for our next group, seventh graders from a private school to do an adventure week full of canoeing, mountain biking, orienteering, and bouldering! We’re all super pumped for it. I will be helping teach mountain biking for most of it, so in the morning I explored the trail that we will be biking with the guy I will be teaching with. In the afternoon, we all went to canoe the river that the kids will be taking throughout the week. It was a great day. Cold, but really fun and active in a non-stressful manner

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