Here’s your task, just for the next minute, is that in a moment I’m going to place this in the centre and ask each of you with just one finger, and it won’t matter which one it is, but it’s ordinarily your pointy index finger to place it directly underneath the underneath the hoop. Okay?
So as I place it in there if you could now just place your finger directly underneath it. Alright, just underneath it. Okay we are going to start again. So bring it down to about my chest height. That’s it, beautiful, okay.
Here’s your objective ensuring that you maintain full and constant contact with the hoop at all times, is to bring this hoop down to the ground. Anytime you lose contact start again and bring it back to where it is.
Do you have the basic the idea? Okay I’m about to let it go. Remember it’s about bringing it down to the ground, and go.
(The hoop begins to rise as part of Helium Stick)
Remember it’s bringing it down to the ground.
(Laughing during Helium Stick)
You start when you’re ready. You have a minute to have a go. So don’t, remember it’s, just in case you’re not clear it’s bringing it to the ground. So bringing it…
(The hoop rises again as part of Helium Stick)
Anyone would think this was filled with helium. Alright, bring it back down again. Alright, so bringing it down to the ground.
(Group tries Helium Stick again)
Anytime. You must maintain full and constant contact with the hoop at all times.
(The hoop rises again as part of Helium Stick)
Another twenty seconds and then we’ll give this other group a chance to look at it. Clearly you can see a problem here you can solve.
(The group tries Helium Stick again while laughing.)
(A different group tries the activity with a different Helium Stick strategy.)
Remember your fingers got to be underneath it. Ah, finger must be underneath it, not on the side or the inside, it must be underneath.
How To Play Narrative
If you’re looking for a problem-solving exercise that will certainly challenge your group, give this one a go. As a task, it is very simple to present and understand. However, completing the task as stated is a whole other matter.
You’ll need to get your hands on a lightweight object such as a hula-hoop, a long tent pole or a stick, that will allow sufficient space for a small group of people to hold. The key is that the object must be very light.
Distribute one of these lightweight items to small groups of approx 8 to 12 people.
To set up the task, hold (and keep holding) the item in front of the group and ask them to place the top edge of one of their pointer fingers underneath the object. In effect, the object should be resting on top of these fingers.
Important – hold the object firmly, and resist the urge for the group to raise it as they clamber to place their fingers underneath (already, you may see where this is leading.) Keep hold until all fingers are placed appropriately underneath.
Now, for the fun part.
Explain that in a few moments, you will release your hold of the object, and the group’s task is to lower the object to the ground… AND (this is critical) everyone must keep their finger in contact with the object at ALL times.
If at any point an individual believes that one or both of their fingers was not touching the object as it was lowered – even for a split second – the group must start over.
Gosh, it sounds so simple, but it really isn’t. You see, the reason this exercise is called the helium stick is because it will seem that as soon as you release the object, it will rise up over the heads of the group on its own (as if filled with helium.)
Of course, this is not true, it is simply the matter of each person working hard to keep their finger under the object at all times, causing it to lift incrementally with each moment that passes. Hilarious at one level, incredibly frustrating at another.
And that’s it. Allow ample time for your group to experiment, plan, discuss and argue their way to a solution – if they can find one.
Consequently, there are plenty of opportunities to process your group’s experience here, including a focus on their planning, quality control, and goal-setting abilities (check the Reflection tab for some starting points.)
Practical Leadership Tips
If you have a large group, divide into small groups of approx 8 to 12 people.
Note the tendency for individuals/groups to ‘bend’ the rules a little in regards to keeping their finger(s) under the object. Gradually, you may observe the fingers starting to curl a little or work at an angle to the object in an effort to maintain contact at all times. But remain firm – all fingers must remain UNDER the object in a horizontal manner at all times.
Beware the levels of frustration that may creep into this exercise, rather quickly. This may occur for several reasons, not the least of which the exercise is difficult to achieve cleanly. Some people also quickly tune out of the discussion when they sense the situation is hopeless. Again, ideal fodder for a debrief about other possible areas within the life of this individual/group where this sort of frustration and hopelessness occurs.
Once again, as with many group initiatives, the value of this activity is more often discovered in the journey than in the destination.
You could integrate Helium Stick as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
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 advance, consider presenting a specific mindfulness lesson. Then, when ready, write the six full value tenets on the hoop and announce that this exercise will focus on Be Here. Present the exercise as described and then invite your group to reflect on their experience by posing the following questions:
Were you present at all times during the experience?
How often did your focus drift? Where to – internal or external?
What caused you to shift your attention from the present moment?
What was the impact of not paying attention to the task?
If there was ever a task that required lots of patience and resilience, this is it. Solving the problem of the floating Helium Stick is difficult and as such could be presented as part of a session focused on building resilient strategies. For example, invite those who are starting to get frustrated to practice one of the strategies you have discussed to manage their stress.
Two Fingers: Each person places the top edge of both of their pointer fingers under the object.
Pole Dancing: Challenge your group to perform this same task with any long, light-weight stick or pole, eg tent pole, bamboo stick, etc.
Take a look at Cross The Line and Negotiation to experience two other very simple, yet oh-so challenging problem-solving exercises.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Some tasks are just much harder than they appear. This next exercise is a classic example of “It’s easy for you to say” – a task that appears at first glance to be so simple, yet so difficult to achieve…
If you are truly honest with yourselves and your group, I expect that you will discover a real challenge in this next exercise. The task itself is difficult enough on its own, but I think you will discover that the real challenge lies in taking responsibility for your actions and keeping your group accountable for its results. Ordinarily, we are often tempted to take short-cuts and take the easy way out. However, in this exercise, I challenge you and your group to observe those moments when you would prefer to settle for a lesser result, and discuss what’s really at stake…
This hula-hoop [or another object you have procured for the task] may look like an ordinary hula-hoop to you, but it’s not. In a moment, you will discover that it is in fact a helium-filled device because as soon as it is touched by two or more of your group, it will want to lift up into the air as if by magic…
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 challenging group initiative:
What did you observe during the course of the exercise?
Why did the group struggle to lower the helium stick?
What was the biggest issue, frustration or challenge?
Was there ever a time when at least one finger was not in contact with the stick? How did you, or the group react?
Did you, or others, blame someone else for losing touch with the stick?
Did your group overcome any of these challenges? How?
What might this exercise teach us about integrity, teamwork and quality-assurance?
How might this exercise be related to bullying or ‘group-think?’
Small Group ‘Team-Building’ Session
What You Need:
5-8 people, 45 mins, 5 sets of 2 identical items, hula-hoop, set of Word Circles (Print+Play)