On Tour: Alva, OK

I will be traveling and speaking solid from May 16 to May 30. During this period my posts will be about what I'm learning, what I'm saying and how I'm saying it....

May 27

How can one simple activity hold the full attention of 8th graders for 25-minutes?

We have an activity called the Amazing activity, expertly led and processed by Kelly Barnes. A blue tarp is formed into a seven square by seven square maze. A team of people must figure out how to get everyone on their team through the maze in a preset pattern without talking and without making mistakes. Every minute it takes to figure out the pattern and every mistake they make (talking, wrong steps, etc.) costs points. Their task is to not only finish, but finish with a low number of points. Every group, including our group of 8th graders in Alva, Oklahoma today, stay totally enthralled in the activity the entire time.

So, the question is why? Why do they always pay full attention? More importantly, what can trainers, teachers and speakers learn about keeping a group's attention from the Amazing activity?

1. No Talking = No Distractions

The negative side-effects of multitasking are getting more and more attention these days. The Amazing activity is a great example of how focused, determined and productive people of any age can be when distractions are limited.

2. Full Responsibility = Full attention

Everyone on the team has to try the maze. In order to know how to try the maze, you have to watch it. You have to learn from other's mistakes. So, either because I am others-driven and want to help the team, me-driven and don't want to be embarrassed or competition-driven and just want to do well, I am going to pay attention to how the other people are succeeding/failing on the maze.

3. Clear Goal = Clear Goal

The ultimate goal is totally clear to the team. Get everyone through the maze as quickly as possible and with the fewest points accumulated. Because the team goal is clear and my role in the team is clear then my personal goal is clear. This clarity leads to heightened attention because our brains avoid confusion and are attracted to concrete, visual, and simple stimuli.

4. Mystery = Interest

There is a built-in "great unknown" in the Amazing activity - what is the pattern? This very organic knowledge gap forces people to pay attention because they are naturally interested in filling the gap.

5. Clear Parameters = Clear Focus

Basic principle of human nature - we respond positively (most of the time) to clear boundaries. In a learning exercise like this, the clear parameters (the 49ish spaces the pattern exists in) provides the students a concrete space to direct their energy and attention.

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