Adventure and Learning

The second question of three.

In your experience, how does adventure learning contribute to a student’s academic and personal growth? Please address both types of growth.

Expeditions can greatly contribute towards building strength of character. Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim tells us that it is necessary for a youth to experience events which ‘reveal the inner worth of the man; the edge of his temper; the fibre of his stuff; the quality of his resistance; the secret truth of his pretenses, not only to himself but others.” Kurt Hahn

IMGP0046Recently a colleague has been dealing with a lot of bad luck. Following bankruptcy he had been clawing his way back by building a branding consultancy, just as things were starting to fall into place his partner ran with the money and accounts. Why am I telling you this in regards to adventure education? Well this gentleman used to sail big yachts and seeing him peering over the precipice of depression I decided to have a chat with him about his passion. We shared stories of dealing with duress outdoors and failing in life as depicted by a modern consumerist paradigm. We talked about how being in “adventurous situations” we did not whine, we just dealt with whatever circumstances were thrown at us. We did not find people to blame, we lived as our best selves. When we are functioning well we bring the lessons that we have learned outdoors into this modern conundrum that we call living. As we talked about John the outdoorsman vs John the business man a light started to shine in his eyes. As he remembered who he is outdoors he recognized who he can be in any other situation. He left our conversation with a renewed resolve that was wonderful to watch.

B Tech 1008Kurt Hahn was particularly impelled to bring Outdoor Education into his pedagogy because he believed that society was becoming diseased and that expeditions were one of the best form of therapy for the post industrial malaise he saw growing in Nazi Germany. The Salem School; Hahn’s first opportunity to practice his thinking, set out to to train young people to have moral independence, an ability to choose between “right and wrong,” and an improvement in their physical health. It strikes me that this is just as necessary today in America as it was then in Germany.

“We discovered that expedition training and expedition tests counteracted the unhealthy effect of undeserved hero worship. Not a few specialist athletes revealed in adversity a certain flabbiness of will-power which was well hidden in their ordinary life. The expeditions were sometimes of an arduous nature – long treks in the Alps, exploratory expeditions to Iceland and on the Payenne and the Seima Lakes in Finland. Again and again the average and even clumsy athlete excelled on such expeditions…” Kurt Hahn

IMG_0688This is a large part of my motivation to teach in the outdoors in that not only am I a “clumsy athlete” I also appreciate the contemplative nature of outdoor folk. Nature shows us that we are part of something much bigger than ourself which leads to the Eastern thinking that we are all connected. Anything I do to something or someone else ultimately affects me. This fosters a desire to nurture as ultimately I will also be nurtured. I feel this is the best way to bring about social justice and heal the evident issues we face in the West as demonstrated in an Aurora movie theater last year.

626546211_MzSPU-LA number of years ago Robert Fulgham wrote All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I feel the same way about the outdoors. Relevancy and reality are amazing motivators when it comes to learning and the outdoors caters to both. I have yet to meet a student who having been advised to bring a jacket because it will be wet and cold, shown how to cook a meal and praised for a cooperative behavior and its benefit to the group does not open to my teaching.

A shared experience outdoors inevitably develops meaning that is understood and a connection between the teacher and students involved. I still feel strong ties to all the teachers who took me outdoors.

IMGP0695The raised level of engagement and cooperation that adventure demands opens a door to explore concepts that may normally be shut out by cultural demands. The idea of “I am not a mathematician” is usually left behind when we introduce math for navigation. Understanding the current group dynamic is brought alive by history and the stories it contains, even if history is deemed useless in another arena.

Adventure though is so much more. Students have to learn to deal with feelings of uncertainty (I argue that this is the very definition of adventure) and the cognitive dissonance it creates. The vulnerability that is felt emotionally is the very same state that creates significant learning and this learning transfers to other areas of life both personal and academic. As soon as someone believes they are a learner they gain the self confidence to learn anything. In particular we focus on problem solving skills, value clarification, communication, cooperation, leadership, decision making and continuums like the distinctions between right and wrong or needs and wants. All of which define both a person and that person as a life long learner.

IMG_0001b (39)I once taught a Canyon Orientation class. In the interest of transparency I need to disclose that not only did I know very little about canyons and traveling through them I also felt completely uncomfortable in a desert ecosystem. When I thought of the arid lands of the South West I was filled with dread as everything appeared prickly, cruel, uncomfortable and full of venom. Obviously this feeling is based on my perception because I knew plenty of people who felt the polar opposite to me. The course was taught over two long weekends and as I drove the bus to Delta for the first time I was worried. What did I have to teach these people when I was a fraud?

IMG_0074We rose early the first morning and walked to the entrance of the Dominguez Canyon. Prior to entering I asked the students to sit silently for half an hour and just be. We talked about the sensations and feeling we experienced in this time and it was obvious that others had felt the same as I had. It was also evident that none of those negative emotions existed any more. Knowing nothing about the natural history, I told them the story of William Smith and the creation of the first geological map, how when he started there were no names or published ideas and yet how observing patterns he had made sense of the earth’s formation. I asked them to walk alone, then in pairs and finally in fours to observe and reflect on the patterns that they saw in the geology. We then came up with questions we wanted answered and expanded those to other areas of the natural history. That week they were all tasked with researching some of the group’s questions and preparing presentations and handouts before our return. The result was incredible.

“It is the sin of the soul to force young people into opinions – indoctrination is of the devil – but it is culpable neglect not to impel young people into experiences.” Kurt Hahn

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Creating your roadmap: dreams and futures

A couple of years ago I was reflecting on the places that I have lived and trying to figure out if there was any reason why I had been attracted to those places in particular. At the time, there really seemed to be no pattern. Each of the places seemed unlikely for different reasons. I never really wanted to spend an extended time in Australia because my mother had emigrated there in her twenties and I did not want to follow in her footsteps. Nepal always seemed to be a hard country to gain a visa for. The States was the place of movies rather than somewhere I was going to end up living even if Colorado has the perfect climate and incredible mountains. Alaska, now there is a far flung frontier, what does anyone want to do moving there?

During our sojourn in Alaska; which really is an incredible place, I wrestled with why. One day it suddenly struck me. On the wall of my room at school I had placed posters and a few pictures from magazines. In particular there were four large images of climbers and guess where the climbs were; Australia, Nepal, Colorado and Alaska. Now I have never done any of those routes but something must have resonated. A seed must have been sowed and nurtured which led to my following through and all this was done at a sub conscious level.

My conclusion is that dreams really are powerful. Creating images of where you want to go is far more productive than looking at roadblocks.

What do you want to do and how are you going to create the images that will take you there?

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Finding your why

Several things have occurred recently that have led me to a similar set of thoughts.

Firstly, I bumped into a parent at Cai’s school and we sat down together and talked. Craig Zablocki is a funny man and he makes his living public speaking and using improv techniques to “get in people’s faces; in a good way.” Basically he likes to make his audience think about actions they can start now to make a positive change in their life or work.

Our conversation covered similar territory to my intention with this blog. When I write here, I am often reflecting on what makes us the best we can be. The trouble is that many times I am uncomfortable because I understand optimal behavior academically, yet I am human and I do not always take my own advice. I feel as if I have been asleep for rather a long time and therefore recognize that perhaps I am more of a sham than a shaman when I ponder the words I type. This feeling of disconnect ultimately leads to procrastination on a large scale.

While Craig and I talked and laughed I realized that he was asking me to hold myself accountable to at least one immediate action that was going to change my path. This aligns with two other sources of thought that I am currently being accosted by. The first is a book by Simon Sinek titled “Start with Why“. Sinek’s thesis is a simple one. Good leaders and organizations stand out because they do something simple yet profound; before telling you what they do and how they do it they communicate why they do what they do. We buy into their belief. If the belief (why), the actions we take to realize the belief (how) and the result of the action (what) are in alignment then people see us as being authentic and naturally trust us. Elegantly spartan, Sinek campaigns for us to consider our belief and values first and make a clear statement of them before we start to think about how we are going to make them happen and finally the measures we will put in place to know we have achieved what we set out to do.

The final thought I wish to share is a four minute talk on by a volunteer fire fighter Mark Bezos. Mark recounts an amusing story of going into a building to rescue a pair of shoes. I will not spoil the ending for you, his pitch though is worth waiting for. Again it is simple; start doing small things today.

So what do I take from all of this? Well I agree with what Tony Robbins says in his TED lecture; we live in a therapy culture, one where most of us believe that all we are is our past. Biography equals destiny. He goes on to say that decision is the ultimate power. Well here is one of my decisions, it is a small action I can start today and one that helps me a great deal. I will commit to writing this blog once a week and I will use it to ruminate and create material that I can use while teaching.

What small action are you going to take which will positively shape yours or someone else’s future.

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Impossible is a way of thinking:

I wonder how many times I have been stopped in my tracks by limited thinking. It becomes more apparent when I think of when I have overcome it and seen the result. A good example of what can be achieved was provided by Cai this Christmas. When asked what he wanted from Santa the response was instant, “I want a flying broom”. Sometimes, I will immediately shut him down especially when I do not believe that what he wants is possible. Thankfully, I did not do it this time. The question is, how does someone find a flying broom for a six year old?

Kim put out a call for help on Facebook, all she got was facetious responses – fancy that! I struggled to think of something and the muse was elusive. The germ of an idea came from Cai’s cousin William who provided a solution that was embraced and developed. As is often the case this solution came form the least expected source; being open to suggestion was key, as was treating this as a team activity. Before we knew it the materials had been collected and put together – I will confess we were impressed. On Christmas day Cai woke up excited, my highlight of the day though was when he saw one particular package. Tearing it open a huge smile lit his face; he had a flying broom.

Here is Santa’s note that accompanied it as a reminder that there is still magic in the world.

A Christmas Gift:

The broom of Maximillian Remus-Crown,
To earth by a hex was brought down.
Into the hands of Wizard Cai it finds its way,
On this auspicious, sunny Christmas day.

To raise it back into the sky,
Seven years of Cai’s life must go by;
During this time he must find the spell,
Then as transport it will serve him well.

Bon chance, good luck, lwcus dda.
I will be watching you carefully from afar.
I look forward to meeting you in the air,
Until then I hope that well you fare.

From a friendly wizard who cannot yet be named

How do you make the impossible possible?


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Life Shapers

A friend’s Facebook recently sparked off a train of thought. Stu likes to post pictures, his is a happy Facebook, one where he shares images of a smiling family playing outdoors and also his recent climbing exploits. Of late there have been photographs of classic North Wales climbing, the routes I lived and breathed in my teens. Of note to me a climb called First Slip an E1 (climbing parlance describing difficulty) at Tremadog and a series of routes on Dinas Cromlech including Cenotaph Corner E1. It was the first time Stu had climbed the Corner in 17 years and it reminded me of a childhood promise. I was going to lead it on or before my 16th birthday or come back when I was 65. In the end I stood below it a couple of days before my birthday and psyched out; in all fairness it is an austere place. However, just days before I climbed a route on it’s right wall, Cemetery Gates which now receives the same grade and on my birthday I climbed First Slip. Many more routes of that grade were climbed that summer and I kept my word by not coming back to climb the Corner leaving it as a pensioner’s present to himself.

The thing is two years ago I noticed something spooky from that period of my life. I was trying to figure out why I might have spent extended periods of time in the countries and States that I have been fortunate enough to call home; Australia, Nepal, Colorado and Alaska are a strange cocktail after all. It suddenly occurred to me that there had been a series of small posters on my wall at school and I had spent a lot of time looking at them. Each of these pictures had depicted a climb in the countries I have mentioned. Now I do not believe that I have done any of the climbs (although routes close to a few of them now provide memories & stories), I am though blown away that mental images from my teens can so shape my life.

Here is the thing, over the last 5 years I have let my fitness slip and I am not really on track to accomplish my promise. It is time to do something about it and I am now wondering if they give discounts for airfares booked 21 years in advance.

What strong images have shaped your life?

And here is one for me to shape my 60’s.

Taken from


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