Child Category I Child Category II Child Category III School Session Uncategorized

The Four Ps: Building Skills for School Success

Welcome to the Whale Watch! In a minute—but not yet—all of you will be asked to board our boat. Once on, your challenge is to balance it long enough to sing the lyrics to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in unison…Welcome to our Zen Garden! Your goal as a team is to keep your group’s yoga mat balanced. Before anyone enters your yoga mat, you need to develop a plan and set a time goal for how long you will keep it balanced.

Wait, what? A boat and a whale watch in the middle of the woods in Prince William County? A giant yoga mat? A stretch of the imagination transforms a giant teeter-totter into a boat, a yoga mat, or a completely different object. The name of the activity is simply a frame, or metaphor, for the challenge the team is being asked to take on. The underlying themes stay the same, however. First, the team works together to solve a problem. Second, they are developing skills in the social, emotional, and cognitive domains that transfer to other spheres of their lives, such as school, athletics, or work.

For our younger participants, we focus on reinforcing skills they need for school success in those three domains. As such, we have four tools we share with the students at the start of the day and revisit them throughout the program. These tools, The Four Ps: Plan; Practice; Patience; and Perseverance, have been part of George Mason University’s Team Development and Experiential Learning program for several decades. Examined through the lenses of Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Learning (BT), The Four Ps are closely linked to positive growth academically and socio-emotionally.

Plan: Developing and presenting a plan is a requirement for many of the activities we do at The EDGE. Many teams realize that having a plan and revising it throughout the challenge is a key to their success.     

     SEL: Skills essential to effective planning include active listening; sharing and evaluating ideas; recognizing strengths; self-discipline; motivation; goal setting; and organization.
     BT: To plan is the highest order of BT’s Cognitive Domain, Create. When we ask our participants to develop a plan, they are also activating the lower domains as well: They need to remember the rules, understand the goal, and apply the rules and goal to the plan. When we reflect on the activity, they revisit apply when they compare and contrast the effectiveness of the plan and transfer those learnings to new situations such as group projects in school. Finally, they activate the remaining two domains, analyze and evaluate.

Practice: None of the activities and initiatives are easy to accomplish. As such, teams may spend 30 minutes in achieving their goal. Repeated attempts are necessary, with the team building their physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive skills through each attempt.
     SEL: When individuals and teams practice skills for improvement, they are also building self-awareness in terms of what their body is doing in time and space, and what they are feeling internally. They become more aware of whether they are contributing positively toward the
team. They are considering whether their strategy is the best one for every team member and communicating those thoughts to team members.
     BT: Participants are able to list the skills necessary for successful practice and implement those skills while solving the problem. Through active experimentation they discuss and practice a number of strategies and construct a process that enables the team to be successful.

Patience: This skill is essential when an individual, as part of a team, is working hard toward a goal and is trying to keep a positive attitude. Feelings of frustration can lead to misunderstandings and inhibit the desire to work with certain team members.
    SEL: Participants identify their feelings as they work through a challenge, and are challenged with managing their levels of stress and self-discipline. They reflect on how others are feeling, and develop empathy and the ability to take others’ perspectives when reflecting on the challenge.
     BT: Patience is reflected in both the Affective and Cognitive Domains. The participants cooperate in the activity, and discuss how they can work through negative feelings like frustration. They are able to describe the impact of impatience on the team’s ability to succeed, and value patience as an essential skill for team building.

Perseverance: Perseverance is a key characteristic of a growth mindset, and focuses on achievement through effort. Carol Dweck, PhD, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, states that “no matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.” (2016, p. 41).
  SEL: Participants focus on accurate self-perception in terms of internal energy and focus. They work on self-motivation for the good of the group, contribute to the team effort, and evaluate how the team is doing toward achieving the goal.
  BT: The individual and the team value achieving the goal, and are committed to seeing it through. They support each other physically, cognitively and emotionally. They defend their rationale for striving to achieve the group goal, and experiment with different techniques.

The Four Ps foster the development of skills that are proven to improve academic performance, positive attitudes toward themselves and others, and decrease levels of emotional distress. Our post-program survey results show that participants practice effective communication and decision-making strategies; increase trust in their team members; increase self-awareness; and gain an understanding of the value of different perspectives. Testimony from repeat clients reveals long-term behavior change as a direct result of their students’ experiences at The EDGE. Come see for yourself!


Repurpose, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, repurpose, reuse, recycle: all those “r” words we often hear around Earth Day. Buzzwords?  Maybe. If taken seriously and pursued diligently, these actions can lead to innovation and cost-savings—and even bring charm to a place. Mason Recreation’s Team Development and Experiential Learning program, The EDGE, has saved thousands of dollars by repurposing materials. In many cases, we have increased the quality of a structure or piece of equipment better than we would have by buying it new.  For example, a recent project to replace wheelbarrow handles using repurposed two-inch-thick white oak boards made for much stouter handles than those on a new, store-bought wheelbarrow.

Even larger repurposing projects have come from material donations. To help us build our course, Novec, a regional electric utility, donated a trailer-load of retired power poles. We only had to transport the poles to our facility with a borrowed trailer. With these poles, we have built benches, stair steps on steep trails, and many of our activity structures, including our team walls and cable walk challenges. Purchasing this quantity of poles new would have cost more than $20,000.

Fairfax County’s Public Works and Environmental Services periodically delivers six tractor-trailer loads of mulch to us, all recycled wood. County businesses and residents send trees and woody plants to recycling and disposal centers, which in turn shred and deliver mulch to the public for landscaping use.  The mulch benefits The EDGE by reducing impact on the roots of our hickory-oak-pine woods. Groups visiting The EDGE also have a softer, “cushiony” surface to walk on and enjoy their activities. And the county can dispose of a huge quantity of material in a short time. Win-win.

In addition, when Dominion Energy built new power line towers through the Science & Technology Campus, they donated their heavy-duty construction mats. These have given us important driving access to our trails and have lasted about three years. As they have split over time from weather and our driving, we have repurposed boards for smaller equipment, such as the wheelbarrow handles mentioned earlier.

Nearby neighbors have also donated a truckload of treated wood when rebuilding a backyard deck. We have used this wood in smaller applications such as for portable activities—and we have kept more material out of a landfill as a result.

The list keeps growing! We have made a concerted effort to re-imagine and remake things just as we help teams and individuals re-imagine and restore themselves.

Our strict approach to client safety keeps us replacing our climbing ropes based on manufacturers’ recommended timeframes or our observations of significant wear. Instead of sending retired ropes to take up more space in a landfill, we use them to make new activities, teach knot tying, and even pull out stuck vehicles.

In addition, we have transformed

  • a large electric panel box into an equipment storage locker;
  • surplus wrenches into unique door and drawer handles;
  • discarded Plexiglas into windows in our equipment sheds;
  • an old bowling ball into a pivot point under our Whale Watch balancing activity;
  • retired climbing helmets into hanging planters and unique lampshades.

As you can see, we take fun and creativity seriously at The EDGE. Such innovation adds value and lowers costs, and there’s a strong philosophy behind it all. While we celebrate the 49th Earth Day this year and the 50th the next, you can bet we will do more than recite buzzwords—we’ll remake and restore what we have toward a better world.

Thanks for reading. Share your stories of reused, repurposed, or recycled materials with The EDGE today, or book a program with us to see our projects for yourself.

By Daniel Nellis


Jennifer Stanchfield Workshop

March 26th, 2019

Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner: Experiential Approaches to Social Emotional Learning and Academic Engagement

Description: Join this interactive workshop and fill your teaching and group facilitation toolbox with experiential, brain-based techniques to engage and connect learners, create a positive and supportive learning community, and maximize social-emotional learning and academic outcomes.

Price: $150 per person

Registration: Contact Taylor Hyde, Coordinator of Membership and Sales, at or (703) 993-5891.


Internships: Focus on the People Skills

Internship opportunities abound, according to a recent employer survey. However, the skills employers want the most from prospective interns may surprise many job seekers.

Eighty-nine percent of employers across all sectors offer internships or other experiential learning opportunities to college students, according to Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI). In addition, overall hiring of new graduates increased significantly over 2017–2018, a trend that has continued for the last 8 years and represents the longest sustained increase in CERI’s 47 years of conducting its Recruiting Trends report. According to CERI’s 2017–2018 report brief on internships and co-ops, employers are hiring interns and similar pre-professional positions for students of all disciplines, the most common in the fields of business and engineering. Commonalities emerged on desired skillsets. CERI researchers asked employers what they were looking for in potential candidates, and then to rank those attributes. Three emerged as the most important: enthusiasm, fit to the employer’s culture, and work ethic. The upshot: The abilities to build positive interpersonal relationships and communicate effectively can make or break how an intern fits in at their organization.

That may go against conventional wisdom. Job postings abound with job-specific technical skills, but attributes like the three above often prove hard to articulate. Which may be why when LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner asked an audience last October what skills U.S. workers lack, most replied, “Coding.” “It turns out that’s not the biggest skills gap,” said Weiner, referring to recent LinkedIn data research. “The biggest skills gap in the United States is soft skills. Written communication, oral communication, team building, people leadership, collaboration.”

The EDGE is revamping our curriculum to address this skills gap, and we would value your input! Our brief, five-question survey [link to the survey] should take 5 or fewer minutes to complete, and your insights will directly inform the programs we will offer.

We are also currently booking onboarding programs, and we would be delighted to welcome you and your intern team to The EDGE. To book a program or request more information, click here.

For more than 20 years, we have been offering onboarding programs for new hires, whether interns on a summer program or a new cohort of employees. Most frequently, teams visit our 10-acre team development course located on GMU’s Science and Technology campus. We also can also bring our Challenge Course to you through our mobile EDGE on Wheels program. Email so we can reserve your date!

  • Pamela Krist & David Heath