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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Adventure Learning: Connecting People and Learning Through Experience

Dec 26, 2012 12:04PM ● By Linda Sechrist

In 23 years, no attendee has ever asked to take the organizers of the Teachers of Experiential and Adventure Methodology (T.E.A.M.) conference up on their money-back guarantee. In fact, since its inception in 1988, the educators, social workers, school counselors, students, coaches, camp counselors, administrators, recreational therapists, adventure education facilitators and substance abuse counselors—as well as Girl Scout and Boy Scout leaders—that have participated at the conference in either learning or teaching methodologies intended to connect people through learning experiences, have been returning ever since.

At first appearance, the conference brochure’s descriptions of classes and workshops summon a sense of play, rather than the concept of learning methods that foster lifelong growth and learning. However, the conference’s organizing committee, part of an eclectic group of volunteers dedicated to promoting and supporting experiential and team-based learning, knows that group activities such as wall climbing, book-journal-making and dancing in lines, squares and circles, promote collaboration and cooperation in children and adults. Each is an important aspect of social and emotional learning (SEL) as well as anti-bullying behavior and awareness.

“Adventure-based learning, when used with kids, encourages them to open up and share their personal stories. This helps them develop compassion for others and deep a sense of autonomy, which leaves them less likely to wrongly judge and want to inflict hurt on others,” says Professor Dan Creely, Jr., from the Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) Physical Education Undergraduate Program in the Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics Department.

Creely, who has been involved with the conference since the beginning, saw firsthand how well teambuilding, rock climbing, problem solving and adventure programs built interpersonal and intrapersonal skills when he first introduced it as a class at NEIU in 1988.

As a varsity football coach and teacher at William Frend High School, in Palatine, Stephen Patton enjoys combining his life and career experience to teach junior and senior level adventure classes, yoga classes and Leadership for Life, which is a classroom-based academic class. Patton, who has been attending or presenting at the conference since 1997, uses much of the material he has learned over the years from other adventure-based presenters.

Patton sees and hears anecdotal evidence affirming that adventure education works to create empathy and self-awareness. To demonstrate what they have learned, the kids that he teaches write stories, draw or paint pictures and even pen song lyrics to perform as part of their end-of-year project. “I have kept the powerful song lyrics for Let Me Hear Your Story (see sidebar), written by one of my students, Nathan Lord. I read them to every new class, so they understand on some level how their worldview is a filter through which they see other people,” explains Patton.

Erdinc Cohantimur, a student at NEIU, volunteered to help out during the 2011 conference. “I signed up to volunteer for one session. However, I enjoyed the experience so much that I stayed the entire day and attended several workshops, which left me wanting to experience more,” says the native of Turkey, who is proud to be involved with the conference which attracts teaching professionals that offer cutting-edge adventure methodologies.

One thing that Cohantimur continues to value from what he learned from his interactions is the importance of communication. “While the experiential activities were a fun and safe environment in which I could interact with and get to know others, move beyond my comfort zone and learn to express myself, what I still remember is how Chris Cavert, Ph.D. (assistant professor at NEIU’s physical education department) helped me understand that the more I know about a person, the less likely I will be to bully them or want to do them harm,” explains Cohantimur.

Cavert, the co-chair of the T.E.A.M. conference, as well as a four-year veteran presenter, advises that few individuals know about facilities-based adventure education, which has a social curriculum for interpersonal and intrapersonal development. Cavert, the author of 14 adventure-based-activity books and a 2008 winner of the Karl Rohnke Creativity Award, presented annually by the Association for Experiential Education, teaches how to create adventure education programs and facilitate team-building activities. “Developing behavior that allows us to tell our stories and learn about each other not only encourages acceptance and tolerance, but also helps to prevent antisocial behavior,” he says.

“Neuroscience now proves that adventure education involves the whole brain, which helps kids to learn better,” says Rich Rutschman, EdD, on staff at the Chicago Teachers’ Center. This aspect of NEIU’s College of Education supports teachers that are interested in using methodologies which promote SEL and can help students to build self-efficacy.

“When teachers help their students to learn how to work together in a group to confront their fears and overcome challenges, their self-perceptions change. They have higher self-esteem and can move ahead with their lives,” advises the administrator of the ENLCE Leadership Institute at NEIU.

At this year’s conference, Rutschman is presenting a workshop—Hormones, Neurotransmitters, Neural Integration, and the Brain-Mind Development: What Neuroscience Tells Us. “When we create more optimal experiential learning environments and opportunities, we present adolescents with various ways to make up for past developmental shortcomings. This is something that benefits everyone,” he notes.

The 24rd annual T.E.A.M. Conference will be held Feb. 1-2, at Northeastern Illinois University, in the PE Bldg., 5500 N. St. Louis Ave., Chicago. The event is open to the public. For more information or to register, call 773-442-5564, or visit

Let Me Hear Your Story
by Nathan Lord

Look at the way he walks
Listen to how he talks
He thinks he’s cool

He’s so full of greed
I bet he’ll smoke some weed
Right after school

I think I have him figured out
I know what he’s all about
I haven’t even talked to him
And I’m already judging him.

I want to know your name my friend
On the inside you are more like me than anyone can see
I really want to comprehend
Let’s go have some tea and let me hear your story

See that girl right there
The one with the bleached hair
She’s so fake

She’s always dolled up
And never shuts up
It’s too much to take

I think I have her figured out
I know what she’s all about

His name is Thad
Turns out he lost his dad
When he was three

Her name is Jen
She gets abused by the men
In her family

I thought I had them figured out
I didn’t know what they were all about
They’re just trying to cope
In a way that gives them hope

I want to know your name my friend
On the inside you are more like me than anyone can see

Copyright Nathan Lord