Each person faces their partner and extends their pointer finger in front of them, about 30cm (12”) from the end of their partner’s finger.
On “GO,” each person attempts to draw (in the air) every number in sequence from 1 to 30 as quickly as possible.
The first person to reach 30 is entitled to pump their fist into the air to proclaim a win.
Swap partners and/or try a variation.
Video Transcript for Space Counting
presented by Mark Collard
What’s going to happen here is that we will actually be facing one another, and… we’re not actually on an exercise bike, obviously, but it’s now a competition.
Our object is starting from zero, is that each of us are doing at the same time, we’re going to draw in the air all of the numbers, starting from 1 then to 2, and you actually draw it nice and big, in the air, to get to 30 as quickly as possible.
Now when you get to 30 you just simply throw your hand up in the air or punch a fist or whatever you need to do to indicate between you and your partner who got there first.
It’s an honour system. If you went from 11 to 16, no one’s ever going to know but you. And of course if you think that you weren’t happy with that number 8 because it doesn’t look like an 8, you can go back, erase it, and try it again if you wanted to, but it’s all about getting there quickly.
Let’s just get to 10 just to give an idea of how this is going to look. Are you ready, Deb?
You’re doing it and I’m doing it at the same time. Are you ready? And go. Okay, you got the idea. You start when you’re ready and go.
(playing space counting…)
One of you is going to actually be drawing the numbers. So as I’m drawing I’m going, you know, going through whatever my process is, but Deb, you’re going to do exactly the same as me, tracing my finger as I draw.
So basically you’re doing the backwards… the opposite of what my number is. So you need to think about what I’m doing with my finger. So for example let’s just go to 3 or 4. Are you ready?
Alright, you got the idea. Get to 15 then swap over. Go.
(playing another round of space counting…)
So you’ve got to 15. Hopefully you’ve each had a chance to … and what did you notice?
(You anticipate what you think is going to happen, you know what’s next, and so it’s very hard to turn your brain off and just follow.)
Right, very hard.
(Your speed is slow to help the person there because you’re not trying to race them.)
Yes, it’s no longer a race anymore.
(You slow down so that they could follow you around.)
So you could be more successful. Okay great, got it.
(Considering other people in your process.)
What numbers in particular did you discover the most troublesome?
Pretty much any number there, really.
So what was the biggest obstacle? What got in the way? Like your partner is doing the numbers as they know them. What was your biggest problem in trying to copy them exactly?
(Knowing what’s next.)
Knowing what’s next. Happy birthday by the way.)
(It’s hard to coordinate so you’re trying to coordinate it but if you don’t know you can just follow his finger.)
(Doing a five you don’t know if they’re going to do the top bit first.)
Exactly. Even one can be problematic. I’ve seen people do the ones with the little cap and the little base at the bottom. 03:05 what’s happening here. But that’s their one, it doesn’t make it wrong or right.
So from a a group of educators or facilitators, if you just look at that exercise alone, what could you take out of it that actually impacts on you as educators, and particularly today when you think about the issues you had about trying to do those numbers or follow your partner?
(You’re thinking about doing it, just what you said before, is don’t necessarily try and break it down into the process.)
Just do it. Yes, okay. So you can be playing in that level.
(You need clarity. You need to really clearly explain what you need, what’s good for it.)
(Is the four like this or is it like this.)
So what sort of four are you going to do. Well that doesn’t matter. If I’m only following you… (Your preconceptions. A four should look like that…)
Yes, exactly, so think about what was going on for you. You already had a picture in your mind, for example when we did 8, I knew your 8 was one of those hourglass 8s, so I thought okay, see what happens here, I’ll do the two circles. I was in the middle of my first circle, you already come down here. Not wrong, but what were we following there was actually your own agenda and not, in this case the leader or the group or whatever you want to call it.
And so from a facilitator’s point of view, there’s an exercise that’s very simple, it can be fun, but clearly illustrates the point about how difficult it is to follow, to give up your own stuff. Hang on a second. My 8 is right. But what makes it right? You know, today this is the number that’s going to be used for 8.
And think of that from your students’ point of view. How much do they come to going, already know this, already got this down. That’s a big part of these sorts of days too, is like already know this stuff, already know icebreakers, already know this activity before.
Yet it was a bit like that You You Me Me game, with I had already heard the name-game in my head and already followed it through to the end and thinking, I hate this game. Yet thirty seconds later I discovered she was doing an 8 differently to how I would normally do an 8.
So there’s a big part of that today as well, and think of that from an adventure perspective as well.
You’ve removed any unanticipated outcome. There’s no discovery there, that all required was a little bit of following, a little bit of, so it’s really about following that hand…
How To Play Narrative
This gem is sourced directly from my friend and mentor, Karl Rohnke, one of the most well-known (and funnest) adventure educators in the world.
He ‘discovered’ this activity as he was pedalling on his exercise bike during the cool-down phase of his daily exercise regime. He challenged himself to draw the numbers of the seconds (in the air) as they ticked down from 60 in the closing minute of his morning routine. And from this humble beginning, blossomed a new partner activity…
Each partner should face the other and extend one of their pointer fingers in front of them (chest-height) so that the tip of their finger lies within 30cm (12”) of their partner.
From this ready position, the action begins.
On “GO,” each person attempts to write the numbers 1 to 30 as quickly as they can in the air in front of them (aka space) using their pointer finger as their writing instrument of choice. The first one to reach 30 wins, and may pump their clenched fist into the air as a sign of competitive superiority.
Invite individuals to swap partners a couple of times, and then introduce a twist by presenting one of many variations below (see Variations tab.)
As a potentially powerful and dynamic exercise, take a look also at the valuable Leadership Tips and Framing Ideas described below.
Practical Leadership Tips
As with many activities, especially if there is a chance someone is not listening to you (what?) it’s always a good idea to invite a volunteer to join you in a demonstration. This choice also serves a valuable second objective – it invites someone to ‘take a risk’ which is enormously transformative in the life of a group.
Even if only for a good laugh, suggest that the competitive version of this exercise works on an ‘honour’ system. That is, if an individual feels that a particular number they have just written (in the air) is not legible, they are honour-bound to write that number again, … or not.
With the more strenuous/focused variations, I often instruct the pairs to write from 1 to 15 or 20 at the most.
You could integrate Space Counting as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand the perspectives of and empathise with others including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
In addition to exploring issues of perspective, Space Counting is a wonderful exercise to teach the lesson of adaptability. Working with a partner, often in a reverse or backwards manner demands that each person adapts and accommodates the needs of the other. Help your group to understand why adapting is important and the best ways to adapt to achieve a common goal, ie communicating with one’s partner.
Further to above, there are wonderful lessons to be learned about effective leadership – not to mention, goal-setting – from this fun partner game, too. For example, in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on the following questions in regards to leadership:
Should a leader adapt to the needs of their group or the other way around?
In what ways did the leader adapt to the needs of their partner?
Why did the leader choose to adapt their methods?
Specifically, what did the leader do to help their partner trace their movements more successfully?
How is followership related to successful leadership?
Finger Tracing: Invite one of the two partners to copy or imitate the movements of the other as they draw their numbers in the air, ie trace the identical path of their partner’s finger. Note, that I did not say “…write the number backwards” even though these are often the words that pass through their grey-matter. Naturally, when one person has completed their task, they swap roles with their tracing partner. An exercise very worthy of reflection at the end.
Random Numbers: The writing partner chooses to draw any ten numbers at random (between 1 and 30,) but their partner’s goal is the same – to trace as best as possible the identical path of their partner’s finger. Again, process your group’s experience – Was this easier or harder to focus? Having removed the anticipation (of what number is coming up next,) were you more or less successful?
Alphabet: Use letters of the alphabet, both upper and lower case, instead of numbers.
Hold My Hand: In pairs, still facing one another, each person uses their idle (non-writing) hand to grab the wrist of their partner’s drawing hand in an attempt to keep the movement of their drawing arm and hand immobile as possible. Regardless of the version, it’s considerably more difficult, right?
Partner Mimicry: Take a look at Mirror Stretch to enjoy a fun, partner-stretching exercise built on the same mimicry premise.
Form pairs and allocate each into a unique breakout room for one minute. Instruct them to extend their arm and hand close to their webcam and keep their movements within the boundaries of their video frame (as best as possible.) This setup is not ideal, but it can work.
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As with many play and adventure-based activities, I will often introduce this activity via a fun story (such as how Karl discovered this exercise on his bike) or personal experience. And then, as the variations unfold, and I take the time to briefly process my group’s observations and interactions, the connections and metaphors to real life become apparent.
The results of Space Counting are rich with many meaningful metaphors. You’re bound to discover more of your own, but here’s a few to start with:
Style – not everyone performs a certain task the same way, but often gets the same result.
Goal-Setting and Focus – when I am solely focused on achieving my goal (tracing the finger of my partner,) I am more successful.
Distinguishing the actual problem – is my task to draw the numbers backwards (the brain-generated thought of ‘what I thought I heard you say,’) or am I following your directions (what you actually said.)
Making assumptions – acting or making a decision based on poor information (pre-empting the shape of a particular number, or the next number in sequence.)
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun, partner-mimicry energiser:
How successful were you in tracing your partner’s fingers?
What was the biggest challenge you encountered?
What got in the way of achieving your goal?
What might this exercise teach us about goal-setting, collaboration or problem-solving?
The inspiration for Space Counting, and many more inventive, partner energisers, was sourced from the following publications: