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.
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:
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.
Examples of no value questions:
blue or red
yes or no
Examples of high-value questions:
cat or dog
sports or arts
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.
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:
- Did everyone have an opportunity to share their ideas
- 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.
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.
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.