The Power of Metaphor and the Brick: How LEGO® can Transform Student Learning in Every Subject Area

LEGO® can be used for more than building cars or bridges! LEGO® models are used to analyze complex systems, understand emotions and be used to communicate in a way that can be more effective and efficient when compared with the written word or pictures alone.  LEGO SERIOUS Play®, a technique used by leading corporations and world-renowned facilitators can be used to transform learning right in your classroom.  The technique is simple to learn and really works.  This article will unfold the basics of the technique and how it was used in a grade six science class.

What is Metaphor Speak?

LEGO SERIOUS Play® or LEGO Build to Express® both use a technique that challenges participants to view LEGO® as more than just a simple building system.  Rather than blocks for building, LEGO® pieces can actually become containers of meaning, similar to words or pictures.  All language is deeply rooted in metaphorical meaning, representing ideas, values and culture.  So too, LEGO® can be used to represent abstract meaning, emotions, feelings and relationships.  Take, for example, the LEGO® dog.  The piece can be used to represent a physical dog.  But with a metaphorical interpretation, this same dog can be used to represent obedience, protection, danger or companionship.  A bucket of LEGO® now becomes a bucket of meaning where students can connect abstract concepts together in new and innovative ways.  The potential connection between abstract ideas can be very rich.  Students begin to make conscious and subconscious connections between building elements; wondering how the dog element fits into a model that expresses, let’s say, leadership.

An adult build that expresses the role of ‘teacher’.

As students move away from concrete physical representations presented by the LEGO® retail side, they too can become master builders; no longer needing any instructions.  Missing bricks or complex builds can be replaced with words and explanation.  The simple rule is: students build what they can’t explain and they explain what they can’t build.  By broadening the scope of a build to include rich metaphorical meaning and conversation, the act of creation becomes much more efficient and meaningful.  A simple green LEGO® brick can be used to build a bridge, or used as a representation of environmentalism, envy of the main character, the signal to take action, a pickle or a peaceful state.

A shared build that shows the influences at play between a teacher and the many internal/external forces that affect student learning.

What is more, because our language is structured using metaphorical meaning, students will often incorporate meaning into their model without necessarily being conscious of its message.  So, students may put a crown on a mini figure (a symbol that denotes control or authority) without much thought, but when other students are given the opportunity to interpret the build, rich conversations oftentimes springs forth.  The technique is simple and it really works!

A student exploring the concept of effective leadership.  Note that rich content can come from very few pieces.  What do you think this scene represents?

Younger students are used to this method of building and explaining; they’ve been doing it since they began to play.  As the student gets older, they lose the open-ended-ness of meaning; sticking to more literal representations.  After a couple class examples (I show them the green brick and they brainstorm what it could represent both physically (a tree) or abstractly (greed), students quickly begin to see the possibilities and begin to layer meaning all throughout their builds.

A student exploring the role of service.  Many questions can emerge from such a build such as: “I wonder what the palm tree in the back could represent?” or “what could each of the two cups contain?”.  Maybe it is literally a liquid or could possibly be an emotion, skill set or experience.

Grade 6 Science:  Invertebrates

Trish Wouters, a grade six teacher, was looking for some alternative ways for students to express understanding.  She was also looking for methods to remediate 21st-century competency skill sets, specifically by providing an experience where students would design, build and test a variety of prototypes.  Together, we came up with a couple of LEGO® interventions that make use of the metaphor speak technique described above and LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robotics.  The latter will be covered in an upcoming article, using both concepts of representation and robotics.

We began by introducing the metaphor-speak technique, each student having the opportunity to interpret a simple teacher build, followed by a series of simple builds that express more abstract concepts.  Examples included: ‘build a model that represents leadership’ and ‘create a model that shows what it feels like when you are listened to by teammates’ (LEGO® Build to Express® is an excellent resource for ideas).  Having already explored a variety of invertebrate animals and armed with a new way of expressing their understanding, students began to create builds that showcased a self-selected invertebrate.

Trish Wouters working with a student to gather the source information needed about the leaf cutter ant.

Using information cards and the internet for reference material, students were able to represent the key physical and behavioural features of the animal, using metaphor and even colour to represent the reactions of the creature to predators or food sources.  Stories naturally emerge from LEGO® creations; students began to create narratives, weaving together scientific fact and narrative fiction into their builds.  The bonding between narrative and fact leads to knowledge that is retained long term and is more meaningful.  By creating a physical LEGO® model of abstract concepts, ideas, and relationships, students remember the build and are able to better explain what each element represents.

Beginning the LEGO® build. Note the use of bats, dogs and chicken legs that are used to represent danger, protection and food sources.
A finished LEGO® build, these students have a lot to talk about!

Each student had the opportunity to record their build and was eager to share their work with students.  Although the actual build time was short, students had plenty to share about their builds.  The technique captured student understanding much more efficiently and effectively when compared with other traditional forms assessment, like reports, powerpoint slides or tri-fold boards.

Finally, students record their explanations in order to share their work with the class.


For more reading on this powerful technique, check out the following sites:

Serious Play Pro Everything you need to know about LSP and corporate facilitators.

David Gauntlett Amazing author and thinker, his work was used extensively to bring metaphor speak into the classroom. He authored a video on the technique: LSP in 3 Minutes

Per Kristiansen:  Master Trainer and facilitator of LEGO SERIOUS PLAY, was head of LEGO SERIOUS PLAY at LEGO, is a partner in Trivium, the focus is the same: Unleashing Play.  His book on corporate LSP was used as a foundation to construct many learning experiences for the school setting. @Per_LSP

Strategic Play A great Canadian company offering training experiences, check them out!


The Expert in the Room is the Room: Redefining 21st Century Student Leadership

Walk through the hallway of any school and you are likely to see a younger student reading with an older student.  In this one-on-one pairing, trust is built between both students, the younger knowing that she can make a mistake and receive guidance, the older experiencing the pride felt when given the opportunity to help.  A reading buddy can go a long way in building particular skill sets in a child, but, more importantly, can give our older students the chance to tangibly make a difference in the life of another.  If this model can work with literacy, why not with STEM?


A grade 7 student explaining the basics of controlling a LEGO EV3 robot.


Nothing energizes a student like the opportunity to help others in a meaningful and powerful way.  Effective communication, collaboration and mediation skill sets have never been more necessary as we prepare our students for an increasingly globalized work space.  But how are they to develop these skill sets if our students are never given authentic opportunities and challenges to put these traits to the test?  

A grade 6 facilitator working with grade 2 students to create an amusement park for a variety of age groups.

Much of our time as educators is spent equipping students with content knowledge and practical skills within the confines of the class.  Yet, these student-experts can be facilitators and, more often than not, can be effective teachers.  Using student facilitators can actually lead to more effective dissemination of technical knowledge and practical learning strategies when compared with the traditional teacher-driven classroom.    

Student leadership has become part of the learning culture at our school.  Students facilitate robotics camps, remediate the inquiry method with younger groups and have played an instrumental role when guiding students through challenge-based learning activities within the classroom.  

LEGO Robotics Camp: a grade 7 facilitator with grade 6 students as they work their way through the labyrinth.

Let’s explore the fundamental principles that we’ve used to inform and empower our students to become leaders of today within the school so that they can become the leaders of tomorrow.

Reorient the Role of Leader

‘Leader’ is a loaded word!  An adolescent, as they grow and develop, can understandably develop a concept of leadership is synonymous with power, control and authority.  Further compounding this, students look to by the ‘leaders’ of popular culture, politics and team captains, some of whom may be anything but.   

A good starting point is to challenge this notion of leadership.  Watch the ideas flow when it comes to the characteristics that define poor leadership.  Gradually students begin to connect the dots, recognizing that true leadership is ultimately a role of service: walking hand-in-hand with teammates to achieve common goals, develop new skill sets and help them to be the best version of themselves.  Leaders listen. Leaders see strengths and come up with solutions to remediate weakness.  Above all, effective leaders care deeply about those who have been placed in their care.  

Finally, I have students define their own role of leader, in the context of facilitating learning experiences for others.  As a leader, we want to help students make decisions in an explicit way and to work together in pursuit of goals.  As a student facilitator (I prefer this term over leader), good questioning and observing is at its heart.   

Student facilitators working with students who are creating a business pitch to sell their innovative 3 Little Pig wolf capturing LEGO WEDO solution.

Guiding, Observing and Questioning

For many students, the roadblock to learning is oftentimes not knowing how to tackle a problem in a systematic way.  As protocols and problem-solving methodologies are explicitly taught and modelled by the teacher, our students will have more tools at their disposal when tackling tough problems.  Student facilitated learning presents an amazing opportunity for student facilitators to model and discuss each step of the problem-solving process with the participating student. 

Our students use the following model:

  1. Brainstorm possible solutions
  2. Select a solution to try and come up with a plan (designs, pictures, lists of materials)
  3. Build and test a solution
  4. Discuss the results and improve your solution

At each phase, the facilitator ensures that each step of the problem-solving process is complete before moving on.  Student facilitators also are able to observe results and ask thought-provoking questions that help guide discovery.  Good facilitators never give the answer, but ask good questions or create learning experiences where the student can discover the answer.  We should never cheat the student out of the experience of discovery by revealing the correct answer for the sake of moving on.  The act of discovery enflames, motivates and ultimately builds confidence in one’s own abilities.  

Student facilitation also provides an opportunity to celebrate successful outcomes, both with the task at hand but also the collaborative and problem-solving skill sets being practiced.    

Sample Observation Questions

Say:  I noticed that (Name) really did this…

Say:  (Name) improved at this…

Say:  (Name) did this well… 

Sample Reflection Questions

Ask:  What did we do well at?

Ask:  What do we need to improve on?

Ask:  What will we do differently next time, in order to improve?

Peer to Peer Facilitation: Student facilitators support same age students construct, test and refine sweeper robots in this clean-up challenge.

Documenting the Learning Process

Student leadership plays a huge role in the documentation of the learning and discovery process.  At any moment, effective facilitation puts the discovery process on pause for reflection and documentation.  Metacognition can be made explicit through discussion with a facilitator who poses reflective questions.  Such promptings are necessary, especially with young, eager learners who want to rush headlong into a solution.  By posing questions, facilitators listen to concrete responses that help the child better understand what they plan to do and the reasons for taking any course of action.  By talking it out with the facilitator, students catch their own mistakes or flaws in thinking, revising and avoiding unnecessary testing phases; ultimately making the learning experience more efficient.  At each phase, the facilitator can document for the child or ensure that the documentation is complete, before moving on to the next phase along the learning journey.    

A facilitator capturing the learning journey of a kindergarten student.

Know your Role

As a student facilitator or leader, it must be stressed that the role is simply to provide the tools so that the student can achieve their goal.  This can be pointing to physical materials, teaching new skills, or by introducing step-by-step protocols to break down the learning process into manageable tasks.  Student facilitators are not allowed to do the task for them, the work must be their own!  With robotics, student facilitators are not to touch the robots but can guide.  Also, they are not to take on the role of disciplinarian, all issues are referred directly to the teacher.  For many student facilitators, this is a major source of relief.  At the beginning of any task, I always make this explicit, for both facilitators and participants alike.  


The benefits of student facilitation are manifold.  It is oftentimes more effective, efficient and leads long-lasting learning when compared to traditional teaching approaches.  For the facilitators, it is an opportunity to develop leadership skills and recognize that they can make a tangible difference in the lives of others.  For the participant, they are more willing to approach difficult or challenging tasks, knowing that the facilitator is there to support, guide and to provide encouragement, walking side-by-side throughout the entire learning journey.  

A student facilitator listening to a grade 2 student explain the various aspects of the LEGO build.

Modelling Maker Space: Making the Journey of Discovery More Effective and Efficient

The Maker Space movement has taken the educational field by storm, empowering students to harness their own creative potential by solving challenges that matter to them and as a way to express their imagination.  You’ve spent a good deal of time finding Maker Space challenges, have all the mixed media materials on-hand and grinning students eager to dive in…but have you considered that they may not have the necessary strategies in place to be successful? 


Maker Space is more than crafting, it is a pathway of discovery, experimentation and learning that few kids experience now in the modern age.  Before the crafting scissors come out, it is important to consider what learning strategies and skill sets need to be explicitly taught before unleashing your kids.  Failure to do so can lead to poor results, frustration and ultimately disinterest in STEAM centred tasks.  As educators, we can explicitly model and design protocols so that the outcome of any Maker Space activity is both efficient and effective.  We want all of our students to succeed, so it stands to reason that they need the time to learn about and practice critical thinking, decision making, goal setting, effective communication and observation skills (to name but a few!).  Maker Space can be a power training place where students make use of these skills and grow in confidence to face the increasingly messier problems of the world.


Dana MacDonald, teacher and FIRST LEGO League coach extraordinaire expressed an interest in designing a Maker Space for her classroom.  She wanted a space that not only actively promotes the inquiry process but a place where students could acquire and practice the necessary problem-solving strategies and protocols, thereby making the entire learning process more effective and efficient.  As these practices and protocols became second nature to the students, it was hoped that students would be better able to design and manage their own projects; setting goals that truly engage and challenge.  Finally, it was hoped that by remediating the strategies involved with the inquiry process students would, could have meaningful opportunities to make new connections and transfer their own learning insights from one situation to another.  

Having designed a series of LEGO Robotics camps and learning experiences, a simple framework was created to guide the students more effectively through the learning process.  


Stage 1: Setting the Stage

With any great task, a person understands their own role within the project and believe that they have the ability to succeed.  Recognizing the importance of this, Dana started this inquiry by looking at STEAM and the individuals who have contributed so much within each of its categories.  By looking at both modern day innovators and those of the past, students were challenged to take on the awesome role of artist, engineer, scientist and mathematician.  Moreover, students were challenged to accept these roles today, not in some distant future or after years of study.  

Stage 2: Modelling the Process

A simple framework of inquiry was developed and then demonstrated, through teacher direct modelling.  At each stage of the framework, we took time for students to brainstorm and document the particular actions or questions to be used during each phase of the inquiry task.  


Phases of the Inquiry Process

1.  Challenge: The challenge is presented.

2.  Solve it:  Brainstorm as many different ways the challenge could be solved. 

3.  Choose it:  Select one of the solutions you have created. 

4.  Design it:  Draw and label an image of your prototype.  Include a list of all the materials you will need.

5.  Test it and Improve it:  Using a chart, students would identify a minimum of three instances where they test their creation, observing what worked, what didn’t and what changes they plan to make before moving on to the next building phase.

6.  Communicate it:  At the end of every challenge, all students share about their learning journey, demonstrate their solution and discuss some of the challenges faced along the way and what they did to overcome roadblocks.  This can take many forms including video posting, business pitches, or writing pieces.  

Explicit Teacher Modelling

Our challenge was simple: to devise a way to help Bob, our LEGO mini-fig across a 30 cm body of water.  Students came up with a wide range of ideas.  As teachers, we took care to document each idea, modelling the documentation process that was expected from students. 


Before choosing the solution we were to attempt, students were then asked to consider the limitations placed on the challenge: time limit of 2 hours, the building materials being only LEGO (we later added string) and that at no time was any part of your body to pass over the river.   After selecting a solution, Dana drew a detailed design that included multiple perspectives, labels and arrows indicating the direction of movement.  We also included a materials list, although limited by the challenge itself.  By modelling the process and demonstrating what the expectations were for each phase of inquiry students had a much better idea of the process.  

Stage 3: Gradual Release and Skills Reinforcement

Students were then tasked with completing the challenge on their own.  An important note that we have found critical to success.  Before a student moved onto the next phase of the inquiry process, students would check in with the teacher who, after a short conversation, would sign off on the respective phase, offering input related to the documentation.  


This was especially true during the prototyping phase, where testing and improving their solutions occurred.  A major goal was to slow down the pace at which students move through the phases, allowing for periods of reflection before enhancing a solution.  Students typically opt for the first solution that pops into their heads, rather than carefully considering all potential options and selecting the one that best fits the situation.  By signing off on each documented prototype observation and improvement phase, the teacher could have highly constructive conversations and ensure that student thinking has been properly documented, as a scientist or engineer would.  Students were required to complete a minimum of three prototyping phases in order to pause, evaluate and determine the next steps in the building process.  


As each student-teacher conferencing opportunity occurred, students gained greater insight into the inquiry model.  Having achieved a solution, students were also challenged to increase the level of difficulty on their own; moving away from straightforward solutions to solutions that involved greater engineering challenges.  As students came to recognize their own role in determining the criteria for success, they likewise became more empowered to set the bar high, adding increasing layers of difficulty to their own design criteria.  


This speaks to the striking advantage of Maker Space, in that it challenges students not only to come up with a solution but to dream up a solution where they are challenged to innovate, learn and test.  Many students were able to solve the challenge quickly, yet were excited to have the opportunity to push their own learning towards tough solutions that would hopefully prove more effective (many original solutions would have required Bob the mini-fig extensive recovery time at the hospital).  With a successful outcome becoming less important in the eyes of the student, the challenge of the learning journey becomes the priority; ultimately the joy of learning and discovery being the source of pride, rather than the win.  


Next steps will include rolling out this approach in the Kindergarten classroom and to try out the use of STEAM student facilitators to guide, assist and document new Maker Space initiates.  Stay tuned!



How to Remediate Creativity

The lack of imagination is the source of all adversity in our world.  Now, more than ever, we must empower our students to tap into the awesome creative potential that rests within the imagination.  So, how do we explicitly remediate creativity?  

All students have the ability to create, yet if left undeveloped, rigour mortis of the imagination sets in and becomes a distant memory of happier, childish times.  Imagination, when taken seriously, offers infinite possibilities, not necessary bound by the rules of logic, the world or political views.  Too often, students fail to explore their own imagination, especially when it comes to dreaming up solutions to the problems of the day.  As the child progresses through the education system, students perceive their own ideas as foolish and are taught to always appeal to the ‘experts’.  Gradually the notion of “until I am taught or told what to do…I am wrong” creeps in, turning potential Speilburg’s into passive consumers of content and wikis.  

As educators, we must turn this limiting way of thinking on its head, challenging students to dive into themselves for the answer; to dream big and to find the ways their own solution can work. 

The starting point of any inquiry should begin with the assumption that the solutions we have are correct, have value and may potentially transform the world.  No doubt, experts can shed light on our journey of discovery and help us to better form feasible solutions.   However, any creative journey must start with a belief in our own wellspring of ideas and awesome solutions that have been amassed over the years.  

So, as educators, we first must reorient or question the role of the imagination from idle daydreaming of no consequence to a realm of incredible value where real solutions to complex problems can be found.  Insofar as the imagination offers infinite possibilities, it forces us to consider solutions or perspectives that may be far outside the realm of possibility.  Yet, in doing so, we tap into a creative space where the impossible can become possible.  Whether it be equality for all, manned space travel or ecological sustainability, these dreams begin in the imagination and are only made manifest when the creative spirit brings it into existence.  

IMG_0665 2.jpg
The joy of creating!

If we want our students to become the problem solvers of tomorrow, we must recognize the overwhelming value of the imagination.  Secondly, we must understand that, like a muscle, if the imagination is not used or developed, it is lost.  When facing the problems of today, do we not want our students to consider an infinite number of possibilities before a solution is chosen?  Thirdly, the creative act brings the ideas of our imagination into being.  Creativity, like any other skill set, must be practiced, rehearsed and refined to improve the efficiency of the act but also its ability to capture the full potential of any imaginative solution.   More often then not, students are often criticized for ‘not thinking’, yet if the imagination is undervalued and creative expression is not practiced, are they truly able to think for themselves or do they simply default to popular option or pre-baked responses?  

So, let’s get to the meat and potatoes, how do we teach students to value their own imagination and provide students with the creative opportunities to make that manifest.  In short, how do we remediate creativity?

I believe that it begins in small ways: 

Designate Time for Imagination:  When designing classroom tasks, mandate a portion of the learning sequence to include the brainstorming a variety of solutions when facing a single problem.  In my classroom, this happens in all subject areas and this process is carefully documented.  Students will oftentimes rush to their first idea, without taking the time to reflect on other possible solutions.  At first, the students are frustrated with this, but, as this skill is practiced and reinforced, it quickly becomes second nature.  It also allows for better ideas and solutions, once the tap of imagination is opened.  Specifically, it calls on a student to imagine different perspectives and contexts, leading to a wide range of solutions that ultimately cross-pollinate into a feasible original solution.  

Students brainstorm a variety of solutions facing fairy tale characters.

LEGO Metaphor Speak:  In my opinion, LEGO® Serious Play® and Build to Express® is one of the most powerful learning solutions I have ever used.  The technique assumes that the participants have many rich answers that need to be expressed concretely, through the LEGO® medium.  Click here to read about how I have used it in a variety of contexts at all grade levels for many years now with outstanding results.  In short, I have discovered that it can be the best way of engaging and channelling the imagination.  LEGO® metaphor speak is a creative boot camp for the brain, training participants to regularly engage in the imaginative process.  For now, take a look at this video to learn the basics of what it can do.  

A student using the metaphor speak technique to represent the concept of service.

Maker Space:  While this movement is sweeping the education system, I believe that by enshrining the imagination as the primary source of the creative mind, Maker Space moves from crafting to a space where the creative process and be systematized, practiced and refined.  While individuals all have different ways of going through the creative process, Dana MacDonald and I have developed concrete methodologies and protocols that help to guide the student through the process.  As the creative skill sets are learned and strengthened, students will better be able to choose the strategies that work best for them.  Check out some of my blog posts that features how we have done this with our students.  

A student reacts after a very successful trial!
Dana MacDonald discussing the documentation of possible solutions
Student work showcasing the variety of solutions created before evaluating what solution would be most feasible.

Challenge-Based Learning:  Like Maker Space, Challenged-Based Learning provides students to engage in problems where there are no clear or obvious solutions.  For many of my challenges, no solution already exists on the Web because the task forces the students to create their own answers that spring from the creative mind.  Incidentally, plagiarism has never been an issue for me.  Whether it be creating the culture of a newly discovered tribe or building security solutions for fictional characters, students are challenged to dive into their own imaginations, to create both unique problems to solve and tailored and original solutions.  


Blackbeard Pirate Ship Protection System
Protecting the Crown Jewels

As this blog post quickly expands into a short treatise, readers are encouraged to check out some of my other blogs that dive deeper into the aforementioned topics; through case studies, happy failures and student outcomes! 

Remediating Collaboration…Activities for Success

Effective collaboration lies at the heart of all problem solving when students face the messy problems of the future.  Not only will students need to work in teams, but they are also now challenged to develop a collective intelligence and co-construct meaning, in new and innovative ways.  Here are five simple exercises to remediate this all-important skill.

Dana MacDonald, grade five teacher and fellow First LEGO League partner coach, identified collaboration as a competency in need of remediation with her group.  Together, we sought to design a series of micro-collaborative experiences (10 minutes in length) that would allow students to learn key communication protocols through a series of scenarios.  Each scenario would challenge the student to voice an option, listen to their other teammates and make a choice.  Initially, the scenarios had little personal value or importance to the students.  Yet, as they developed the communicative protocols, each scenario had more personal value to the students, giving rise to constructive debates, compromise and collective decision making.  Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 10.39.51 AM

The steps of each learning phase were discussed with the students, at first with direct teacher prompting (e.g. “now we will share”), until they grew in confidence.  

Team Work Tasks:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Share
  3. Decide

What is a Team?  

The team were asked to brainstorm ideas around the following stem: “a team is…”, here were the results from the class (pardon my poor board writing; a skill I have yet to master) 

The discussion was rich but really got exciting when Dana and I shared our own past experiences with teams, most notably with FIRST LEGO League teams.  We really stressed that, in the end, the collective problem-solving capacity of a team is always greater than one person working through the messy problems that FIRST LEGO league presents to students.  Any breakdown in communication and collaborative principles will ultimately lead to failure.  

Get it Out

Groups of 4-5 students sat around a chart paper and asked to brainstorm as many colours as possible in 40 seconds.  Many of the students looked dumbfounded at the simplicity of the task.  The goal was for students to experience rapid brainstorming sessions; being careful not to judge their ideas but to simply get them out.  This activity was done several times to build this capacity; ensuring that all students share and that no ideas are judged.  It gradually became a competition…what team could get the most ideas in 40 seconds?  While many students fear to say the wrong thing, this activity sought to normalize brainstorming as a regular part of the learning process.  It also forces teams to make a decision rapidly and fairly, a necessary skill if any progress is to be made.  

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 11.04.04 AM

Examples of no value questions:

blue or red

yes or no

Examples of high-value questions:

cat or dog

sports or arts

best sport

Of critical importance to effective communication is ensuring that every member has an opinion (a choice must be made!) and that they justify their thinking by saying “I think this…because….  

This game really encouraged students to think about the problem-solving process. It builds skills such as creativity, negotiation and decision making, as well as communication and time management. After the activity, teams are better equipped to work together, and to think on their feet.  

Team Name

Students had two minutes to create a team name.  This was a tough one in that the students took more of a personal stake in the naming of their team.  No guidance was given with this, Dana and I wanted the cracks to emerge that would be discussed at task completion.  As you can imagine, teams came up with some pretty interesting ideas.  

We then asked students to close their eyes and silently reflect on the following questions:

  1. Did everyone have an opportunity to share their ideas
  2. How did you, as a team choose a name.  

Students described that some people shared, some members didn’t have any ideas and some teams described that while no consensus could be made on a name they instead chose to modify the team name to integrate as many ideas as possible (clever students).  From there, the teams identified protocols and strategies that they would use to ensure that all members have a voice, that each idea is valued equally and that personal bias (he’s my best friend) doesn’t enter the decision-making process. 

Fun Storming

Students were given a pack of sticky notes and 3 minutes to brainstorm as many fun things as you can come up with.  Before this session, each team agreed upon and reviewed their own code of conduct for sharing ideas and making decisions.  After the 3 minutes, students had to agree upon categories that they would use to organize and manage the mess of sticky notes.  Duplicates were matched and gradually order was created.  Ultimately teams that had agreed upon categories by way of their own code of conduct were successful while a few teams could not move past making decisions.  Again, this child-sized failure became the starting point for new learning and rich discussion; each team gradually practicing strengthening their teamwork skills and working more efficiently together.

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Build an Alien 

Teams were then challenged to brainstorm the five most important things an alien would need to learn and why, after crash landing on Earth.  This was by far the most challenging and truly was a test.  After each team reviewed their own code of ethics and the protocols they would use(I know this sounds repetitive, but they really need to explicitly agree to this before beginning each task), teams were let loose on the problem.  

As teams brainstormed, discussed their ideas, created categories and voted, it was observed that not only had they dramatically improved on their communication and negotiation skills, but there was a considerable improvement in active engagement and overall efficiency with the task.  


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