What can a school teacher do with some carabiners, pulleys, lengths of ropes, and Z-drag kits (not to mention a digital scale, some helmets, and harnesses)?
You might have begun to guess where this is headed, and it’s a grant we were proud to fund for Sandpoint Middle School math teacher and climber/whitewater rafter Patrick Lynch.
“Find something you really love doing and mix it with something you really care about.” – Kathleen Hanna, American singer, musician, artist, feminist activist.
Mr. Lynch has infused his passion into the classroom and energized his students, thanks to the help of a PAFE-funded grant, Knotworking and Mechanical Advantage.
“Young adults are presented with so many different options and under so much pressure to make choices; choices that have a lasting impact. I just hope to give them opportunities to bump into things they like – that stick. Hopefully, they bump into it and find “Yeah, I’m good at this. Can I use this, and can I make money at this?’”
Mr. Lynch teaches students how to use both knots and mechanical advantage for everyday use as well as outdoor pursuits. But it also turns students into teachers while fostering resilience and collaboration. The grant funded equipment needed to perform exercises and equipment were not typically included in the school’s curriculum.
There are many essential knots that every kid should know for everyday use. If you want to tie up to a post, you will use a clove hitch or a bowline. There are knots for tying things together, from square knots to constrictor knots. There are knots for hauling something to put tension on a line. If you’re towing a boat across the lake, you’ll need two different sizes of rope to create a sheet bend.
There are knots for camping, hunting, and fishing, such as a taut-line hitch. The trucker’s knot is used for lashing things down. They learn how to tie the double figure-eight knot, which is a climbing knot that securely links a climber through the harness.
Applied mechanical advantage allows one to multiply effective force to move heavy objects. Using an interconnected system of rope, multiple pulleys, slings, and carabiners, students discover that a 5:1 mechanical advantage allows them to lift a 60-pound weight with only 12 pounds of force. They do this by hoisting students to the ceiling.
But first, they have to use algebra and apply the math. Students need to know how much the student being hoisted weighs to use the equivalent ratios and calculate the force applied to them. Then, up to the ceiling, 16 feet up, they go and sign their names.
Let’s say your raft gets wrapped around a rock. You’ll want to use mechanical advantage to free your raft; otherwise, you’re not getting your raft off the river. You’ll also need to know a variety of different knots such as girth hitches, slings, and the versatile prusik knot.
On the more practical side, if a tree falls on your house during a windstorm, mechanical advantage will give you the ability to lift the tree straight up enough to get an expert in to limb it and remove the imminent threat.
Bringing it Together
At the end of the unit, they bring it all together with performance tasks.
Starting with a stock tank (“the raft”) that holds about five middle school students, they place it about 75 or 100 feet down the hallway in the common area. The goal is to rescue the students in the “raft” within ten minutes. Students are given the raw materials they need, including a 150-foot section of rope, a couple of girth hitches, three pulleys, and three carabiners, and two prusik cordelettes. Using some schematics as a reference, and the specific knots they learned, they have 10 minutes to assemble everything from scratch into a Z-line drag to drag the raft back to safety.
It’s a time-pressure collaboration that brings everything together and requires a lot of knowledge. They have to know many knots, tie a girth hitch and make sure they have a good anchor. There is a lot to know and do and assign to make the time.
One group failed on their first try. Then they failed on the second. On the third attempt, they were so focused, so serious. They had the best time that has ever been recorded. “It was pretty cool to watch them make it happen,” said Mr. Lynch.
He goes on to say:
What I wanted to get across to them is that you are likely to fail. But if you keep trying, and keep applying what you know, and do things the right way, you’re going to have success. They get super emotional, and are so competitive, and so devoted to getting it done.”
Then they tear it all down. They reset the timer, and the next group goes. They talk amongst themselves and plot who’s going to do what, assigning the various tasks.
I have a few years left in teaching before I retire, and I’m having such a great time because the students are really into it. Applied learning is hands-on; it’s not like a regular classroom. But really, teaching spreads out – students help each other to learn. If you can’t get through to one, you turn to someone else who figured it out and ask them how they did it. And since this works for you, can you show this person? Then suddenly, something that maybe I didn’t even show them, another person will show them their technique that the student could understand. When they do have success, it’s pretty satisfying for them.
The funny thing is, with all of the projects I do in here, kids are rarely absent if they can help it.
I feel lucky I can do this because it’s expensive and not covered in the standard curriculum. Over the years, PAFE has given me tens of thousands of dollars in grants that have allowed me to push the curriculum and pushed me to find something new and fresh. I love that challenge, too. It keeps me fresh. So, I’m appreciative of all their support. But when I get the validation from the parents, I know it’s worthwhile.