The Shelter Project

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When I taught 7th grade language arts at Carver Middle School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we had many incredible projects throughout the year. One of the ones the students liked the most was called "The Shelter Project." I can brag about these projects because they were already in place before I went there to teach--they weren't my brainchild. I wish they were!

This was a group effort among all the students' core teachers--math, science, social studies and language arts--

The mission: Students, in groups of four, will attempt to assemble a shelter that will hold at least one person who will not get wet when a bucket of water is poured over the top of said shelter. Students may use only string and natural elements.

Every day, for one week, during morning hours, students will work on shelters. On Friday, the big reveal and waterproof testing day--students may invite their family and friends to see the "reveal" and have an outdoor picnic afterwards.


This shelter project coincided with the reading of the novel, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, the story of an adolescent boy who survives a plane crash in the Canadian tundra and has to survive alone for 54 days.

So, not only were we reading a novel, learning problem solving for math (what would and would not work), keeping a journal of our experiences for language arts, studying the structure of leaves and different elements suitable for repelling water for science, but also learning to work together in a group for social studies. Some of these groups had near knock-down, drag-outs, I might add. But when all was said and done, most of the groups learned that working together was the best way, accomplished the most, and got them the best grades.

Here is one testimonial from a student: (The assignment was to tell me what learning experience in language arts the student had learned the most from, enjoyed the most, was the most enriching to his/her education. I did this at the end of each school year to help me prepare for the next.)

"This year the most enjoyable learning experience I liked was when we built our shelters and wrote a journal about it. At first it was hard to think up a way to build a shelter that would be waterproof. We tried one way and it broke down. We tried using gutters but the water wouldn't flow down them. So our best best was to pile up a whole bunch of banana, elephant ears and water repellant leaves on our top part. Even though it wasn't waterproof, it made us closer friends." by Chris H


I had to smile last week when I got down an old box of student papers and read this one by Chris. He made it sound easy-- "just piling up leaves"-- but it really amounted to a lot of hard work. These shelters had to be left out in the elements every night--on occasion we had rain, winds and even storms that blew through in said week of building these. If they weren't constructed well from the start, the students would have to start over after the overnight hours. That happened several times in my years there. I've heard lots of moaning and groaning and witnessed tears upon arrival at school by some participants.

We did have a few shelters each year that were waterproof--they were by far in the minority.

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In the picture of the leaf above, you will notice that the waxy cuticle skin is stripped away in places and we can see the veining. These veins are sandwiched between several layers of incredible stuff.

I took this picture last week while walking one morning. It was the first hint of red I had seen. I wanted to post it but had no idea had to tie it into anything that you might be interested in. But the more I thought about it, the Shelter Project came to mind, then I started thinking about having to prepare our own shelter and how hard those students worked to build something suitable but when the rains came, most of the guinea pig students got drenched.

It made me stop and realize how glad I am that I don't have to build my own spiritual shelter. God has said that I can take shelter in Him. So today, whether sun or shadow, soft breezes or stormy downpours, I choose to make Him my shelter. Then, when the storms do come, I will already be safe in his warm embrace.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him. Psalm 91: 1,2 NIV
Just as we teachers were cheering our students on, encouraging them to prepare, work together, gather the best and most appropriate materials and work hard at the task at hand so I think God is cheering us on to work together, to build our lives not upon would-be vapors and temporal but upon the good, the solid, the eternal!
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. Matthew 7:24,25 NIV

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2010-the Year of Longings

He longs to shelter us from the storms of life.

I long to remain under his protective wings.