Setting the Procedure for the Cooperation Challenge

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Watch this video of a class being introduced to Phase 1 of the Cooperation Challenge:

The game begins with students standing in a large circle.

The script to set up the procedure is below. The words you will say are in italics.

The Cooperation Challenge: Phase 1.pdf

Embracing Failure

When students begin to play this game, you are in direct control of their success or failure. You can ensure their success if you slow your count or if you pause your counting until everyone has joined a group. Conversely, if you count quickly, without being responsive to what you see happening in front of you, the overly quick pace probably will ensure their failure. 

The art of facilitating this game is to know when to create failure and when to create success. Too much success will make the game boring and will not reshape behaviors. Too much failure will result in burnout and make the students feel too defeated to continue trying. However, in the beginning, do not shy away from creating failure. Failure in the beginning will make the group try harder and focus faster.

When energy is too high – Because the Cooperation Challenge is a fast-paced game, the students’ energy level can get very high, very quickly. If you need to temper the physical energy, simply count faster so that the students will fail at the exercise. Once they fail, you can move them to the Observation Deck, where you can reflect on the reason for the failure. Ensure that the students understand that the reason for their failure was their excess of energy.

It is not effective to tell students to calm down, because then they will associate high energy with a punitive discipline response. Instead, ask:

“When your energy is up here, what happens to your listening?” [Students should respond: You can’t hear me.]

“To your eyes?” [Students should respond: You can’t see what is happening.]

“To your brain?” [Students should respond: You can’t think.]

Help the students construct the understanding that high energy makes them “black out” and makes them unsuccessful. If they want to be successful, they must lower their energy level.

The Cooperation Challenge teaches students to communicate with one another in a high-pressure environment while keeping their energy level under control. The end result, ideally, is the creation of an ensemble.

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The script for setting up Phase 2 is below:

The words you will say are in italics.

The Cooperation Challenge: Phase 2.pdf

Keep in mind:

Perspective is crucial in this game. You must shift the class’s perspective on what behavior is perceived as “strong” and “weak.” In this game, stepping out or away from a group because there are too many people is a very strong, cooperative choice. This must be highlighted. Keep in mind also that sometimes a group needs someone to step in. The student who does that is also making a “strong” choice. The strong or weak choice cannot be identified until the situation presents itself. That is what makes this game so challenging.

The effectiveness of this game relies on the pace. Keep it quick. Each round should only take one to two minutes. If you do not think quickly on your feet, refer to the examples of ways to group students.

Always play at least two rounds.

At the end of a round, if someone is left on the Playing Field, it means the class’s cooperation muscles are strong. The students give themselves a round of applause.

Invite the students that are in the Observation Deck to count the number of groups and number of students within groups to problem solve how people could have formed different groups.

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If the students miss an inclusive grouping, send the entire class to the Observation Deck. If they step back because of an exclusive grouping, send only the students who stepped back to the Observation Deck. 

Introduce Phase 3 by saying:

"Now you are ready to play again, but this time, you will not know if it is a challenge where everyone should be in a group or if some people will need to be strong enough to step back. I will keep mixing it up to see if you are really paying attention and cooperating!"

When students are playing the Cooperation Challenge, they typically understand that, conceptually, they are helping the team and are still winning if they step back from the group. However, some students are particularly competitive and will never make the choice to step out. Although they might give you all the right answers (“We are all winning even if we go to the Observation Deck!” “Yes, stepping back helps!”), they will not choose to step back because they still perceive that as losing.

There is a solution. Since BOTH the choice to step in and the choice to step back are strong choices in this game, you can send either the group who "stepped in" or the individual who stepped back to the Observation Deck.

So you might thank the small group for helping the team and ask them to go to the Observation Deck, while you thank the student who stepped out ask them to stay on the Playing Field. What you are doing is forcing students who won’t step back to see that every choice they make on the Playing Field results in their perceived loss. They will see that the best way to play is to make the “right” choice, a choice not based on consequence. 

Then you can ask the group, “What happens when you step back?” [We don’t know.] “What happens if you step in?” [We don’t know.] “Why would you make either choice?” [Because it helps the team.]

You are not cognitively forcing the understanding by just telling them, but helping them to create understanding experientially.

It is an intervention strategy. Use this method to reshape the perception of the Observation Deck and develop better understanding of exclusive grouping.

You can build comprehension further by engaging the Observation Deck. Once students are seated in the Observation Deck, it is much easier for them to see what is happening in the game and find alternate solutions. When they are taken off the Playing Field, the pressure is off. You can include them by asking questions and making commentary about what is happening on the Playing Field: Did you notice what they did? How many groups are left? How did the group solve that challenge?

Engage the students on the Observation Deck to help them understand that they are still in the game. They are winning, too. They just helped the game by stepping out.


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