When I was walking through the woods during our Outdoor Ed trip, I could hear the indistinct shouts that Middle Schoolers make when they are outside and allowed to use "outside voices". I was heading towards the climbing wall, a triangular pyramid 25 feet in the air. This climbing wall was one of the many activities available for our Middle School students at Outdoor Education at the foot of the Rocky Mountain National forest. Students also had the opportunity to do other activities, including archery, mountain formation, and team building activities.
When I got a little closer to the climbing wall, I could begin to make out a student about half way up the most difficult side with students seated on the ground, clad in harnesses and helmets waiting their turn while shouting encouragements and offering their hands to hold. The student climbing the hard side was clearly a climber and knew what he was doing. Rather than trying to pull himself up with his hands, which becomes exhausting, he was looking for solid footholds and pushing up with his stronger leg muscles. The student entered the chimney by using his back and legs to shimmy up until the next solid hold presented itself.
I moved around to the easier side and saw a student about half way up, methodically moving from hold to hold. I asked his friends how he was doing. They said he was on his second attempt and was just past where he had asked his belayer to bring him down the previous time. He got about two to three feet higher and said he was ready to come down. The counselor belaying him asked if he was sure, and after confirming, lowered him down. On his next attempt the student reached one handhold higher and let his belayer know he was ready to come down again. This time, the other climbers on the ground yelled up encouragement as he was so close to the top. He listened, considered, and after a quick shift of his feet, climbed on to reach the top of the 25 foot wall. The student had taken a risk and it was inspiring to see him conquer it.
The International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IB MYP) encourages students to become appropriate risk takers. For teachers, this means guiding students to explore new ideas, challenging their way of thinking, and encouraging them to be confident in their decisions. Although this is not usually happening 25 feet up in the air on a climbing wall, it is easy to see how these concepts transfer to Outdoor Ed and why it is so advantageous to have our trip early in the year. As the year progresses we continue to encourage students to be courageous and step out of their comfort zone. For some this may mean raising their hand to share their opinion and for others it may mean struggling a bit with a higher-level problem. Much like the two climbers I witnessed, one who struggled with the climb and another who didn't, every student has their own individual challenges. The trick is having the courage to face those challenges head on. This inherently means that students will fail in the process. Much like the young rock climber that continued a bit higher each of the times he climbed, the risks in the classroom can be calculated and taken purposefully. The main idea is that students feel comfortable taking risks so they can continue to grow as a learner and continue to climb.