What is True Survival?

How to launch learning to engage students?

Learning does not have to suck.

Yes, there are times when learning can be tough and not enjoyable. That is just part of the process. However, that does not mean as educators we cannot create a culture and the elements needed to spark interest, ignite passion, connect to the world around the students, and help them see how powerful their ideas can be. I have said it many times, the excitement for  learning in classrooms is dictated by the excitement of the teacher teaching. This excitement starts right from the launch.

We have a group of teachers who are kicking butt getting students excited for learning. A team of 6th grade teachers have developed an interdisciplinary project focused around the driving question, “What is true survival?”

Students are going to be exploring this question through a variety of classes and topics. Students will be reading various books around climbing Mt. Everest for guided reading, constructing 3D maps in social studies and infusing math standards throughout. The basic project outline and plan can be found here for some more guidance.

Where I want to focus is the launch. I see and witness so many learning opportunities wasted and missed when classrooms don’t bring excitement and hands on learning to students. This is unfortunate and something that I have become quite passionate about this school year.

This team developed an entire day to launch this project. In most cases educators would just start. No excitement, no curiosity building, no wonder moments. This team did the opposite. They made a special day on very little funds and resources.

They started the day with stations. Students were able to experience a variety of quick 20 minute activities to explore survival. What does it mean? What experience do we have? How much do we really know? Often times we think we know more than we do. Students worked through various stations to understand in small doses how much they need to learn as well as have fun, active, engaged learning.

As you can see below we had a station where students had to breathe through a straw and some other challenges, walk and scale a ladder, fire department cold rescue, nutrition, how to tie knots, and how to construct a tent with wind.

Activity Time Soc. Studies Per
Straws 8:21-8:41 3
Straws 8:43-9:03 1
Ladders 8:21-8:41 5
Ladders 8:43-9:03 4
Cold water rescue – fire dept. 8:21-8:41 8
Cold water rescue – fire dept. 8:43-9:03 7
High energy snacks 8:21-8:41 1
High energy snacks 8:43-9:03 3
Knot tying 8:21-8:41 4
Knot tying 8:43-9:03 5
Pup tent 8:21-8:41 7
Pup tent 8:43-9:03 8
Bill Collette 9:53-10:35 All students
Movie 11:30-2:15 BHS

Here is a video of the events that includes the presentation given by Mr. Collett on his Klondike adventure.


Here is also his video presentation of images and videos


Following all of this students were then transported to our high school to our very nice auditorium to watch Everest. This is a powerful movie that really showcases survival in a very authentic and powerful way.

It was an amazing day of learning that really has set the stage for an amazing project.

But the launch and excitement building has not stopped there. A week later we are bringing in experts to keep fueling the fire. With the use of Skype we have made connections with 5 expedition experts over the next few weeks to help students build their answers and awareness of survival.

The first one was AMAZING. Mark Wood is one of the most inspirational and educational speakers we have had so far this school year. He took time out of his super busy schedule preparing for his trip to the Arctic Circle to speak with us.


He not only discussed his travels, but he framed his experiences to the lives of students. I was so impressed by his message. Through questions, experiments, artifacts (polar bear tooth), and more he had students fully engaged.



He shared facts like the idea of five north poles and how to survive to life lessons like “life is bigger than a mountain” to challenge kids to think differently about life. Below you can see them doing an experiment to understand the difference between the Arctic Circle and Antarctica.


By weaving in authentic audiences students are beginning to grasp the importance of learning and finding answers to this driving question. The focus of authentic audience is a whole new blog post, but for the sake of this post I challenge you to the following:

What are you doing in your classroom to create excitement?

What are you doing to transform the culture of learning to inspire students to engage deeply into their own learning?

What are you doing to change how we connect with students like these teachers to allow kids to wake up excited for school instead of treating school as survival?

Leave me a comment and let us know. We would love to learn more. In the meantime we prepare for more speakers and keeping the excitement brewing while we connect to standards, meet student needs, and push their learning to new levels. It all starts with the teachers in the classrooms. I feel so lucky to work with a staff loaded with teachers who do these things on a daily basis.


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