Recently in Activities Category

High 5 has been a part of Olin College's program for first year students for over ten years. When we were first contacted about working with them, it was said that our approach to education was very in synch with the educational direction of this emerging college for engineers founded in 1997. Little did we know at that time that Olin would establish itself as the most innovative engineering school in the country.

The excerpt below is from a recent book by Thomas Friedman, Thank You for Being Late about living in the age of "acceleration."

"New approaches to rapid learning are already filtering into the traditional brick-and-mortar institutions, with some radically new models popping up. Consider just one example: Olin College. In a speech, the school's president, Richard K. Miller, explained that in 1997, the F.W. Olin Foundation established Olin College for the specific purpose of inventing a new paradigm for engineering education that prepares students to become exemplary engineering innovators ready to take on the biggest problems."

Check out this quick video of our work together!

"Improvisation is what you must do constantly, it is well beyond problem-based learning or even project-based learning. You are literally marching into a forest that no one has explored in search of things you have never seen."

High 5 is thrilled to be a part of this innovative institution. Our work with their first year students helps kick off college career with a day of thinking creatively, working cooperatively and exploring things they "have never seen."

Hands rose defiantly, paralleling the frosted blades of grass surrounding us on top of the High 5 hill that chilly morning. One by one, the 5th graders confidently recited quotes of perseverance retained from their most recent writing project.

They shared . . .

"Persistence is what makes the impossible, the possible likely, and the likely definite."
- Robert Half

"A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence."
- Jim Watkins

"We are made to persist. That's how we find out who we are."
- Tobias Wolff


The conversation continued as we transitioned onto the challenge course, voices fading as young eyes gazed upward at the high elements suspended between tall white pines. Before climbing high, the group was challenged to complete "Knot my Problem," an activity where rope is tangled and then connected to each participant, requiring them to unweave the mess to reform a single circle of rope. Minutes into the initiative the tune changed from excitement and anticipation to frustration and helplessness. Students impatiently scuffed at the thick orange layer of pine needles coating the forest floor, exclaiming . . .

"Can we be done now? Can't we just move on?"

"This knot is impossible. We will never finish this!""

It's in moments like these in Edge of Leadership (EOL), that we see how students truly struggle with perseverance. We have heard this before in different ways, how students need more "grit" and character building. We agree, and we have learned a big piece of that is simply giving students more time. Tina Lepple, a 5th teacher from Keene, NH shared her observation that there are few opportunities students have today to push through challenging experiences - it is always time to move onto the next subject, the next thing.

The 5th Graders that day, imprisoned by the knot they had created an hour before, were finally able to form a circle and then disconnect from the rope. As facilitators, we gave space for them to process informally at first, side conversations erupting with laughter as well as some stern faces. We asked . . .

Who felt frustrated during that experience? When and why?

How many people wanted to quit? How did you handle that feeling?

If we were to do it again, (which we wont!)what would YOU want to do differently?

The concept of "timing out" and perseverance was also demonstrated to us by an EOL Summer High School participant as she resisted crossing the swampy pond. She slowly realized that EOL was different and she could not just wait for time to be up. She had to choose herself if she wanted to take on the challenge, not let time decide for her. In the end, she made the decision to cross the pond. I would not say that she was immediately happy with her decision, but the next morning, she shared how that lesson was pretty powerful for her.

This theme of perseverance has woven its way into all of our EOL programming in response to the needs of students of all ages with whom we work. To stay in the loop about all the ways EOL challenges groups to be their best, check out our website as well as our Facebook page.

Submitted by Anne Louise Wagner, Edge of Leadership Adventure Educator

This activity works with every group size and every age from elementary to corporate teams!
All you need is two decks of Ubuntu cards.

"We aren't sure why this didn't make it into the Ubuntu Activity Guide. Ryan and I had a good laugh about that because we use it all the time". Chris Ortiz

Ubuntu Mimeograph
When working on a project, we rely on team members to do their best work to contribute to the success of the project team. If that work is not organized and agreed on by all team members, details can be missed and distrust in team members can fester. The object of the activity is for the team to recreate a pattern of cards that the facilitator has created in another, out of site, space.

Resources/Materials: You will need 2 decks of Ubuntu cards.

Set up:
Create a pattern of 10- 15 cards out in a hallway or in another room. Place some cards single image side up and others multi image side up. Turn some sideways or angled. Include the remainder of the deck as a part of the pattern.

Give the group the second deck of cards.

• Each team member may only leave the room to go look at the pattern of cards one time.
• They must go alone, no talking or technology allowed while in the other space.
• They may not touch the cards that are a part of the pattern.
• When they return, they can describe what they saw to the other group members.
• Can the group recreate the pattern exactly as it is in the other space?

Facilitator tips: Snap a picture of the pattern at some point so at the end you can lay your phone down to check the groups work before you discuss.

Reflection Ideas:
• How did the group decide to organize information? Was the strategy and vision of the plan clear for all group members?
• In what ways does this activity reflect the groups typical organization? Similarities? Differences?
• What lessons could be brought back to the workplace as a result of this exercise?

Saboteur Layer
Prior to playing, pass around folded up note cards to everyone and tell the group to secretly look at the card. Tell them that if someone has an X on the inside of their card they are the saboteurs for this activity and their goal is to prevent the group from being successful. (I never actually put an X on a card but adding this layer of distrust on the team can be a powerful discussion point.)

The story of Two Championship Cups, Two Countries & One Coach

In short, they are our latest success story at High 5; another example of Connect - Empower - Lead coming to life. They represent the power of teambuilding and the essence of what we try to achieve with the human spirit. They are the 2015 National Champions of Germany's professional ice hockey league, DEL, the proud winners of the Championship CUP!

But how did they become a part of the High 5 story and their season a focal point of interest throughout our year? Why did what began as a simple phone call in July 2014 from a man named Geoff Ward, end in such satisfaction and jubilation for us all at High 5? Mannheim H5.jpg

To understand the significance, you have to go back to another phone call in June of 2010. This too was from a man named Geoff Ward, but at that time, he was the assistant coach of the National Hockey League Boston Bruins along with head coach Claude Julien. That one single phone call was the beginning of a saga that would see the Boston Bruins coming to High 5 for a two-day retreat in September of 2010 and the winning of their first Stanley Cup Championship in 39 years. It also led to two more pre-season Bruins retreats and two more strong playoff showings.

Fast forward to the call in July 2014."Hi Jim, Geoff Ward here. You've probably heard by now, I resigned from the Bruins and took the head-coaching job in Manheim, Germany with the Adler Mannheim. I would like to have you and your team come over and do what we did with the Bruins that first year."

The operative phrase here is, "do what we did"? In this case it meant crafting a two-day program design that utilized adventure education activities and initiatives to meet the team's goals and desired outcomes. With both the Boston Bruins and the Adler Mannheim the goal was to help create a powerful team chemistry that would lead to a Championship. For the Boston Bruins this meant the Stanley Cup, for the Adler Mannheim, the DEL Cup.

I always like to think that we play a small but significant part in the pursuit of such a goal. All teams want to win. It's an inherent part of who they are; it's in their DNA. But it takes more than simply "wanting" to win to actually win. Teams need three things to be victorious, talent, a good coach and the right chemistry. At High 5, we help jump start the chemistry by setting the stage for the players and coaches to connect well together, to feel empowered and then begin to lead one another. And as much as we provide a spark to make this happen, the critical glue is the ability of the coach to continue to follow-up throughout the season and keep alive the themes and aspirations outlined by us early on. No one does this better than Geoff Ward, he's an exemplary coach who believes in the power of team chemistry as a tipping point in a team's performance. He's been right twice, in 2011 with the Boston Bruins and in 2015 with the Adler Mannheim.

It's no coincidence that this "tipping point" of performance is also what makes the difference in schools and businesses. If we can improve the ability of a classroom of students to work together as a team of learners or the members of a business to function more effectively as a team, their performance improves. It's that simple. We've known the success of this formula for a long time and our work over the years has always aspired to make it happen with each and every group.

What makes the Boston Bruins and the Adler Mannheim story a special one is that in the end there was a trophy proving that it all works! Thank you Boston Bruins, Adler Mannheim and Geoff Ward!

Two Cups, Two Countries & One Coach... yes indeed!

So you need team-building...
but why team-build with High 5?

Liz Moore explains...
Thumbnail image for Liz Moore

I could tell you our staff is made up of a team of experts in the field with over 90 years of combined experience. I could also tell you our custom designed programs are goal oriented and focused around your specific needs and interests.

But that is not what makes High 5 stand out, nor solely what makes our programming strong and highly successful.

Our team is not only made up of passionate and dedicated individuals, but together they have a unique relationship. One benefit of a small intimate training team is we can meet regularly to discuss programming, challenge one another to think differently, and support and encourage each other. Building our full time team to four people, and gradually adding to our group of contract staff has happened slowly over time, but the choice of each team member has always been careful and deliberate.

"Like any team we have our challenges, but I find myself finally a part of a group of people who truly practice what they preach, and that's unusual", says Ryan McCormick.

What does this mean for you? Even if you work with only one of our staff, it's as though our entire team is working for you. Our offices are the creative grounds for designing your team-building experience and once we've communicated with you, each of us may challenge each other and have input on how to best serve your team.

We each so passionately believe in the work we do and what it can provide for growing communities, which is why we make sure to practice it ourselves. We not only meet to discuss programs, but also to check in about our own intra-personal relationships. We have lunch together every day - and I can tell you, laughter is never in short supply.

As our client, you can be sure we will hold your community to the same standards we hold ourselves. Our dedication to a high level of communication keeps us aware of our challenges and working as active responders to any potential issues. We too, are a team simply trying to do our best in order to perform our best at work, and we'd love to help you do the same. From higher productivity to happier staff...we can personally tell you it's worth it.

Interested in learning how your team can benefit from a High 5 team building experience? Give us a call!

Jim, Chris, Ryan & Liz

We all know that investing in staff through training and professional development builds competency, confidence and community in schools and agencies. We also know that the budgets play a big role in what can be offered. Here are some quick tips to providing professional development sessions that have a high level of engagement, value and are budget friendly!

1. Appeal to all learning styles
You've got your listeners, your talkers, your doers and those who just have to write it down and those crazy combinations (how many possibilities does this create?)

When you are choosing a professional development topic, content and facilitator, make sure they really cover all those bases (and not just pretend too).

2 for 1 Bonus: When you intentionally plan to include all the learning styles, it becomes a reminder to your staff to do the same!
2. Be strategic and mission focused Quickly re-read your district, school or agencies mission and strategic plan (probably stashed in a closet, file or on the website). Make certain the facilitator intentionally aligns the training with the mission to refresh the staff on the goals of the organization.

2 for 1 Bonus: You help staff get re-engaged with passion and purpose!

3. Get buy-in from the start
Communicate with participants in advance to front-load how the investment of their time wiladd value and help them to know what they can expect from the program day. A skillful facilitator will be able to help you do this well.

2 for 1 Bonus: Staff are energized and excited before they walk in the door!

4. Hire a teenager while they still know everything!
We say this tongue in check, but truly there are amazing ways to engage students as co-facilitators, to lead activities, to hold dialogue sessions and to add real value (not just set up, clean up and serving the coffee). All while teaching leadership skills and aligning with 21st Century outcomes. Check out our Facebook page and our Edge of Leadership (EOL) website to learn how schools and agencies are developing meaningful student/teacher connections using EOL.

2 for 1 Bonus: You are providing a space for teachers to build meaningful connections with students they may never met in the classroom!

5. Team teaching and learning
We learn best when we learn together. Experiential activities that include problem-solving, brain-storming, communication and shared leadership are the cornerstones of a positive professional learning community. Staff, who spend most of their time working in isolation, build connections and identify new ways to support each other.

2 for 1 Bonus: You lay the groundwork to enhance a positive and professional learning community.

6. Use methodology and strategies they can apply in their day to day.
When staff experience content that they can see themselves using in their class rooms and directly with those they serve, they sit up and take notice.

2 for 1 Bonus: Experiential activities not only teach staff about themselves and their strengths, but they are easily replicated in the academic setting!

BONUS TIP: High 5's Mastermind Circuit is a half-day or full day Professional Development Program designed ESPECIALLY for large groups with a low facilitator to participant ratio . It is cost effective rich experience! Intentionally designed and sequenced activities tap into a variety of academic skills sets, learning and work styles, creative thinking skills and best of is a balance of non-physical and low-physical activities so it is suitable for EVERYONE on your team!

Need help putting together a cost effective professional development program?

Call us today to learn how to bring Mastermind Circuit or Edge of Leadership to your school! Your staff will thank you!

High 5 Adventure Learning Center, 130 Austine Drive, Suite 170 Brattleboro, VT 05301

802.254.8718 or 877.356.4445 fx:802-251-7203


Are You Ready to Build on Your Skills?
Beyond Basics: August 18-21

Scholarships available!

Beyond Basics is an advanced challenge course operations workshop.

It is designed to help practitioners reinforce and improve the requisite technical skills needed to effectively operate a low and high challenge course program. Emphasis will be on developing a deeper understanding of challenge course systems and cultivating a critical eye for risk management.

This workshop prepares challenge course practitioners for Level II Certification.

What you'll learn:

-Review of basic skills: knot tying, proper use and maintenance of equipment, belay skills

-Self belay techniques for challenge course access, set up and gear retrieval

-Risk management

-Emergency action plans

-Accident prevention and basic rescue procedures

-Specialty element operations such as Flying Squirrel, Pamper Pole/Plank, Zip Line, Rappel, Giant Swing.

Register Today

Click here to see our Entire 2014 Workshop Catalog

If you'd like to talk to a staff person about what training is right for you, call (802) 254-8718.

Are You Ready for a New Adventure?

belayershuddle.jpgAdventure Basics: July 21-25

Scholarships available!

Adventure Basics is your gateway to adventure education and challenge course programming skills. Participants will learn both the basic technical skills of operating a challenge course as well as the facilitation skills essential to sequencing a program to maximize outcomes with participants.

Adventure Basics provides an important first step for both understanding the flow and interplay of a group experience and for learning the skills to run an effective challenge course program.

What you'll learn:
-Essential challenge course skills for the operation of low and high challenge course elements including spotting, spotting skills training, equipment use, knot tying, belay skills and risk management techniques

-Knowledge of a wide variety of icebreakers, warm-ups, cooperative games, and problem solving exercises

-Creating a positive environment for learning, positive group norms and reflection/processing techniques

-Curriculum Development ideas: selecting and sequencing activities for optimal outcomes with your group

There are still a few spots remaining in this training, and scholarship funding is available (call for information.)

Register Today

Click here to see our entire 2014 Workshop Catalog

If you'd like to talk to a staff person about what training is right for you, call (802) 254-8718.

Bay Path College Students Leadership Program

Bay Path College is a small women's college located in Longmeadow, MA. For the past seven years they have been bringing students to High 5 for a 3-day leadership development program. The focus of the program has been to create strong connections among students, develop leadership skills and thereby increase retention rates at the college. Here's a snapshot of this year's program.

A select group of seniors and first year students visited High 5 for 3 days this week with somewhat different goals. Seniors-To celebrate and have a culminating experience and to pass on any advice/ thoughts to the new class ; First Year Students-To begin to think about how to be leaders amongst their own class and for the whole school.

What transpired exceeded my expectations.

This was a group that was somewhat timid and with a lot of fear when it came to trust and heights. While we began very slowly, I was quickly reminded of the power of our work.

Half way through the program on day 2 we paused to do a group reflection activity. Seniors had taken anonymous questions from the first years, and thought of some advice to share on how to look ahead. The whole group had been through the smaller section of our Voyageur course the day before, but spent the second morning separate... the seniors climbing to the end of our Voyageur course and discussing their experiences and views on leadership, while the first years, with many anxious looking faces, learned to belay and take care of one another.

When asked to address the first year students on what advice they had, one senior shared this thought: "Make sure you live for every moment of your experience. Despite any attempts to slow it down, college will go by quicker than you can imagine. All you can do is take every experience you are offered while here and give it your best, give people your best and take all from it you can. If you do that you won't think about how slow or quick it went, but how great it was".

Going off with the first year students for the afternoon, I kept in mind how I and others in our field get to be a part of so many moments that make strong and lasting memories. The impact of the thoughts shared by the seniors and the power of adventure education helped us keep our focus and energy, and the transformation from fear to comfort and then trust was remarkable for this group of young women. What a wonderful experience for all of us.

Thanks to Phil Brown and Laura MacDonald (High 5 staff) who contributed greatly to the experience these girls had all week. May their words, tears and hugs last in our hearts and remind us for future programming how positive and encouraging our work can be.

Submitted by Liz Moore and Jim Grout


There are many facets to great facilitators. But the main commonality is they never stop developing their craft.

If you are looking to go from being a good facilitator to a great facilitator with a style authentic to who you are and what you believe in, the High 5 Training Team has some tips for you!

1. Watch other facilitators at work. Observe the group behavior and reactions. Are they engaged? Is anyone disengaged? How do they create buy-in and inclusivity in ways that are barely detectable? Do they use language that empowers and is strength-based? Make note of what works and what flops.
2. Take a good look at how you use humor. Do you use it in a way that is engaging or in a way that shuts people down? Beware of sarcasm. Sarcasm is generally only funny to a small percentage of your group and is frequently regarded as a cloak for the insecure.
3. Practice silence. Watch facilitators you admire and see how long they remain silent after giving instruction, asking if there are questions or asking for feedback.
If you are talking more than 40% of the time in your program, you are probably talking too much. Start practicing staying quiet with family and friends. See how much more you learn and observe!
4. Become Comfortable with Metaphors. Start out by taking some of the traditional or classic adventure games and incorporating metaphors that speak to the nuances, community or culture of your group. Pay attention to how other more experience facilitators incorporate metaphor into their programs.
5. Maintain a Solid Foundation. While a lot of new and shiny ideas come and go, the best facilitators aren't afraid to try new things, but they always have a solid foundation upon which they can rely. Sometimes the most traditional, tried and true activities and methods are the ones that have the most meaning for the group.
6. Over Prepare While Remaining Flexible. If you are over prepared for each program, you will never be at a loss or fumbling when the unexpected crops up. However, the great facilitators are also flexible, skillfully going where the group takes them.
7. Create a Community of Practice. Seek out other facilitators who are also interested in continual growth and development. Get together on line and share stories, ideas, resources and key learning. Take turns watching videos of each person facilitating. And practice giving and receiving feedback at the end of each call.
8. Document. Keep a reflection journal of your facilitation experiences. Make notes of what went well, what was challenging and what you'd do differently. Use this as your "go to" resource when creating programs.
9. Read and Watch. There are great books and resources available to help you develop your craft. Some High 5 favorite books: Islands of Healing, A Guide to Adventure Based Counseling by Schoel, Prouty and Radcliffe; Open to Outcome, Journey towards the Caring Classroom; Frank, The Processing Pinnacle; Simpson, Teachable Moments; Cain, Cummings, Stanchfield, Happiness Hypothesis; Haight, Teaching with Love and Logic; Fay & Fink. Some High 5 Favorite TedTalks: Brene Brown, Jane McGonigal, Shawn Achor, Derek Sivers, and Seth Godin.
10. Participate in Professional Groups. Some of the groups that provide educational opportunities for facilitators include: AEE, ACA and ACCT. Presenting is another great way to polish your skills. Start with some of the smaller regional conferences.
11. Never Stop Growing. The best of the best understand there is always room for growth. They are constantly reading, observing, practicing, taking workshops and trying out new ideas.

Recent Comments

  • Rachel Sampson: I would like to try this but can't find where read more
  • Jen Ottinger: Hi Ryan! Great words to live by. read more
  • markcollardinc: Ryan, I saw Michelle Cummings present this exercise earlier this read more
  • markcollardinc: Ditto! We - Ryan, Nate and me - all reading read more
  • markcollardinc: Hey Ryan, why is this activity called Ubuntu CIRCLE when read more
  • higherbeing: Love it! read more
  • Wes: Hi Ryan. I am currently looking into establishing a physics read more
  • Ryan McCormick: Thanks Nate, I love this activity and find useful in read more
  • Nate Folan: Right on Ryan! This activity is very effective. Thanks for read more
  • Ryan McCormick: Well, it depends on the size of the group. With read more