Many Hands Make Light Work

I travelled again to Iceland this past week with a group of 21 kids. Without a doubt it was the best trip I’ve yet had. Though I’m sure the fantastic weather and Northern Lights had a lot to do with the kids’ great attitudes, I couldn’t be prouder of their determination, focus, passion, and compassion. They smiled through all the hard work and asked for more of it as they widened and improved trails, shovelled and moved gravel and rocks, built a willow garden and turf wall, dug out ditches to improve drainage, trimmed willow bushes in campsites and turned those trimmed branches into erosion control fences, removed invasive lupine, built a water tap and bench, made trail markers and installed them along trails, moved a tree and more. We even got in a couple of long hikes.

We talk a lot about integrating technology into the curriculum, SAMR, virtual connections, et al. This trip is decidedly non-tech. We go into the Icelandic forest, work with our hands, get dirty and sometimes wet. We communicate one-on-one or in small groups, while working to accomplish a task. We go on long hikes and enjoy the scenery and each other’s company. Evenings are spent playing games and enjoying meals together.

I learnt a lot more about appreciating as well as noticing small things in nature and especially in hiking trails.

It’s not about the math, or the humanities, or the science, the exams or the stress. It’s about helping kids to find their passions and making those a reality. It’s about  forming relationships and collaborating with others. It’s about giving back to the world and finding joy in the giving. If, as the Amish say “Many hands make light work”, we were floating on air.

I’ve always thought that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Iceland taught me that asking for help is actually a sign of strength.

To be sure, there was tech involved in this trip. The experience would not be complete without photographic evidence, the student-run blog, the post-trip Kahoot! we played, or the funny videos about elves and trolls the kids made with their phones. Yes, they even had internet access at night. We aren’t deliverers of torture, after all. But the tech was not the focus–we didn’t SAMR anything.

I think this trip has told me the value of experiences and getting the most out of what you are given even if it means pushing your body to the limit.

Every one of these kids is a different person for having spent this week together. Every one of them questioning what they want out of their lives.

Words don’t do this trip justice. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves (with short descriptions of the work for the curious among you). Just take a look and see what meaningful work with a cool group of people can do for the soul.

Trimming willow bushes to improve campsites. Parts of willow then are re-used to create erosion control fences, which trap soil on barren hills and themselves may even grow into new willow bushes.


Widening trails by cutting back 10-15 cm of turf on each side. Those bits of turf are then used to build a turf wall. Gravel from the river bed is carted back to the path to refine and finish the surface.


Removing invasive lupine by hand, because herbicides would poison the water supply. As it has no natural predators, it grows uncontrollably across much of Iceland. The massive underground root structure adds to the challenge of this task.


Making a garden bed as a willow nursery. Kids dug out a 1m x 2m x 1m deep hole, filled it with rocks, gravel, and soil, all to be irrigated by grey water. Sticks of willow are put into the soil, where about 60% of them will resprout and be ready to plant elsewhere in the next year or two.


Trail markers are color-coded to mark various trails. Each marker is labeled and GPS-tracked, so that hikers in need of rescue can easily be located.


Rjupnafell, 810m, in the center. A steep climb across scree and moss to a spectacular vista of hills, glaciers, and valleys.


Waterfalls, Rainbows, and Northern Lights. Iceland never disappoints.


Thank you to Chanine E, Sarah H., and Chris E. for the incredible photos.




9 thoughts on “Many Hands Make Light Work

  1. Valerie, thank you for sharing these reflections and incredible photos! What an great trip with an impressive group of teachers and students. Barry


    1. You should most definitely go to Iceland. It is a fascinating place. Truly a gem and the Aurora are magical. Such a treat when they appear.


  2. Valerie- thank you for your post. I have been to Iceland and have photos somewhere to prove it. It was definitely a cool experience and yes hardly any access to technology. I thought I was on another planet. You have inspired me to rethink my Course 5 project.



  3. Valerie, it sounds like there are many amazing learning experiences for both the students and teachers. The use of photos and blogging is actually using technology to enhance the students learning through reflection without even realising you are using SAMR. I think this shows a try integration of technology where it is relevant and meaningful.Enjoy the rest of the trip.


    1. Kim, you are totally right about that. I guess we fit in the tech where it fit naturally, and that is SAMRing, isn’t it? Thanks for the reminder.


  4. Dear Valerie,

    This trip looks absolutely amazing! The photos tell such a rich story – clearly the students learned a lot about the environment, about teamwork, about perseverance. They must all be grateful to have this kind of outdoor education and to have teachers like you as guide.

    I was most intrigued by the realization that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, rather of strength. I wonder what of the trip has brought this out? I have watched two TED Talks recently that talk about the power of communication, empathy, and teamwork in the face of challenges. I doubt showing my students the videos would be half as impactful as experiencing this on their own against a gorgeous background of the Northern Lights and pitted against the forces of nature.

    Thank you so much for bringing us the highlights of this trip. It has made me think deeply about weakness, strength, and the impact of learning through experience.

    Many thanks,


    1. Dear Vanessa,

      That comment was so amazing. I told a few of my other students about it and they just said “Wow”. Funny thing is that I collected feedback from the kids anonymously, so I don’t even know who said it. I told the group that it really struck me, so hopefully the person who wrote it knows how profound that was. I wish all education was like this, that we could do real things with real kids. Imagine how different the world would be.



  5. Hi Valerie,

    This trip sounds incredible and rich with learning that goes beyond the classroom. I, like Vanessa, found the comment about asking for help intriguing and so relevant. Creating a safe environment for students, teachers and all of us, for that matter, to seek out support when needed is essential to perform at our best. Thank you for the reminder that it is a sign of strength – I will be reminded of it the next time I myself am feeling insecure about not feeling good enough.

    I hope all your future trips are as rewarding!



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