Design Thinking Challenge – Beach Obstacle Course

Last week I had the opportunity to go on a field trip with our fifth grade class to Ship Island in Gulfport, MS. We consider this their capstone adventure for the year and while there, they learn about Fort Massachusetts, tested the water, did an art project, and did a design challenge with me on the beach. The trip doesn’t always look this way and as this was my first time on the trip, I didn’t really know what to expect and I got to decide what I wanted my station to be.

Initially, I thought I would do a team building activity. Being a PE teacher, it’s something that I would naturally do. Beach Blanket Volleyball seemed like a fun idea, or even beach soccer, but I wanted my station to be a little more stimulating. I also thought about the “forts” that were being built on our playground by the students – they had asked a neighbor for his bamboo and they went to work building these forts with so much passion and energy – and then they had to take them down because wars were breaking out. I loved this because I was a kid that was always exploring and making forts and building things with legos, stuff I found in my shed, or pretending a tree was my home.

How could I let them build something to bring the thrill of creation back to them?

My idea for a Beach Obstacle Course actually came from my desire to not bring anything with me and also from recently doing an obstacle course for Tae Kwon Do. It worked out perfectly! The challenge was to find things on the beach like driftwood, shells, sand, water, and what-not and design an obstacle course with at least 8 elements.

I was blown away by the courses that the groups built. There were 4 groups using more or less the same things and they built 4 completely different courses. Some courses used balance beams, jumps, and crab walks. Others included crawling into a hole they dug and had elements that required throwing at a target. The things that my students came up with were amazing and I’m so proud of them.

I do challenges like this with my students in the gym from time to time. I give groups the same equipment and it’s up to them to create a brand new game using that equipment. The same thing happens – no group creates the exact same game. I call it Playmaker Day.

Seeing the way the students approached this challenge and worked together made my day on the beach getting eaten by sand fleas totally worth it!

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