In my ongoing education about skiing, I've learned lots about lifts: gondolas that can pile in 8-10 passengers; chairs that accommodate 2-6, sometimes in high-speed detachable versions and other times in fixed models that give your knees and back a solid whack when they arrive. No matter the lift, though, one quality they have in common (across North America, at least) is a Disney-like corral or maze. Made of ropes or metal barriers, this structure funnels shuffling skiers and riders in varying degrees of order towards their ride. Multiple lanes sift together like an alternating merge on the road, and at some high-volume, well-staffed establishments, lift operators double as traffic cops, keeping people flowing.
Another quirk of this culture is most lifts that invite three or more passengers feature a singles line as one entry point. So, while friends and family typically opt to ride together, soloists can go their own way, filling in stray seats and optimizing the uphill load. A lesson imparted to me years ago by my wife, a life-long skier, is that in a crowded corral the singles line typically moves faster. Thus, while she and I played together at the mountain yesterday, we took a mercenary approach to the lift line, heading for the singles. Sometimes, the luck of that line meant we still rode together, piling in with another pair from the group lines. Other times, destiny divided us. We reunited minutes later and a thousand feet or more higher to compare notes about the skiers with whom we shared a chair -- from Scotland, Louisiana, Indiana, and sometimes even from Colorado, where we were recreating.
This management system sparked my teacher brain. (It's never fully on vacation.) While group work has its place in cultivating collaboration skills and yielding results that differ interestingly from what one can produce on one's own, what if project-based learning regularly offered a singles line where some students could opt to operate independently for a stretch? At some point, singles could merge with each other or a larger group, either to change the dynamics of the ride or to compare notes on the journey thus far before returning to their separate ways. This strikes me as another opportunity for student choice, reflection, and even teacher coaching. Maybe my next assignment -- among other variables -- will specify how many riders can fit on the proverbial chair.