Salamanders and Limitations


Do you know why the Smoky Mountains have so many species of salamanders?

I didn’t. After watching this video I do.

I ‘m sharing this with you because there’s more to it than salamanders.

Part of our work as Scouters is encouraging the joy of learning and discovery. Every time I see a group of Scouts sitting down listening to someone tell them something I wonder how we could do better. We know scouts learn when they are on their feet and active, not in a seat and passive; but how do we actually make this work? The students in this video are having fun; there is no indication that they are simply slogging through a school assignment. I’ll bet twenty years from now they will still remember what they learned about salamanders. Making a video means you impose a set of limitations on yourself, but more about that in a moment.

I am not necessarily suggesting that Scouts go out and make videos like this (although it’s a pretty interesting idea!). What I am interested in  how a creative approach enlivens complex concepts and makes them compelling.

If you don’t consider yourself  particularly creative let me suggest that limitations inspire creativity. A watercolorist limits themselves to their paints and paper but within those limits they find endless creative possibilities. The students who made the video were ‘limited’ to making a video, but that limitation created a fantastic result.

What limitations could you place on yourself to inspire that sort of creativity?

  • Can you teach knots without using rope or string? It turns out that extra long Twizzlers make excellent knot tying material, and you can eat your knots!
  • Can Scouts learn how to pitch a tent without actually seeing what they are doing? Safety goggles covered with duct tape make good blindfolds.
  • Can you show how to safely use woods tools without touching the tools yourself? Be careful!, but it’s possible to talk a Scout safely through this. Will he learn more from doing than watching?
  • Can you develop leadership skills without having classes or using PowerPoint presentations? It takes longer but there are great results.
  • Can you say what you need to say in a minute or less? Scoutmasters know this limitation sharpens their communication skills.
  • Can you build a bridge with a pile of Scout staves and no rope? Yes, you really can.

Limitations aren’t really limiting, they become a key to unlocking limitless potential.

Try creating some limitations and let me know what you and your Scouts come up with.

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