There is something elegant about string mazes. Boys in 4th-6th grade really love the challenge. This summer we used a string maze as a daily challenge for our Super Hero Summer Camp. Now many staff do not like string mazes. They take time to set up and about twice as long to take down. However when you use them intentionally to support critical thinking, they can be a worthwhile experience.
What do you need? Cotton or Nylon string and upturned chairs.
For the first couple of days of Super Hero Summer Camp, staff set up and took down the mazes. Kids were simply challenged to navigate the string. On the third day, a team of two was asked to be the maze designer. We did student created designs daily until everyone had participated on a team to design a maze. During this part of the learning process, youth were able to observe how mazes were constructed. We reflected this process in our routine daily activities by providing experiences with specific Skill Building activities.
As youth navigated the string maze, peers were encouraged to time them. Often the maze designers would go through the maze first to “demonstrate” their vision of how to navigate it and then act as timers for their peers. Some youth created elaborate rules about touching the string. Others simply wanted to see how quickly they could get through the maze without worrying about touching string.
The next stage of the string maze was to challenge the maze designers to take apart their own mazes. This takes a significant amount of time and the intervention of scissors as they start following the string backward. That being said, Over the course of two weeks we retained more string without knots than pieces that needed to be knotted together. It is vital that this be a part of the process. Youth need to understand that what they put together can be reversed. A continuous line of string provides an elegant experience. We reflected this learning in the classroom by have youth reverse engineer kites.
String mazes are worth the time when you are focused on teaching critical thinking skills. The deconstruction becomes quite important. In the last days we began to have one team set up the maze and another team take it down. We ran out of time before we were able to have all the youth have this experience and will definitely make time for next time we do mazes for critical thinking.