Eduporium Weekly | Welcome to the Collaboration Station
So much of 21st century education is getting students to unleash the creativity they did not even know they had. The challenge is getting them to access it on a daily basis. The solution might be to have them collaborate – daily, nightly, pretty much whenever possible. Two heads are better than one and, when students work in groups while each member of that group is thinking innovatively, collaborative learning opportunities lead to accelerated learning and valuable experiences in the classroom.
Strategies to Deepen Student Collaboration
Collaboration is a vital 21st century skill for students to possess. Their ability to collaborate – though it may not be apparent for a while – will undoubtedly play a big role in their success at one point or another. The power of collaboration is real and teachers have even begun designing learning activities that require students to work together on a regular basis. Putting students in groups, however, is one thing. It’s getting them to interact with each other, which isn’t always easy, that counts. Collaborative classrooms should be full of kids discussing and innovating together rather than all just staring at their laptop screens or a couple of team members putting their individual well-being ahead of the rest of the group. To get students collaborating and collaborating meaningfully, teachers should make it more about student agency and foster real-world relevance. Here’s how.
In order to get students excited about and engaged in collaborative projects, teachers need to make sure the work they are giving them is challenging enough. Students need a reason to collaborate and, if the assignment is too simple, they will see no need to work together when they can just go through the motions and get it done themselves. Another thing that teachers can do is prepare students and provide them with the proper mindset for what it will be like to work as part of a team. Teachers can’t just create truly collaborative groups simply by assigning them; they must be nurtured and developed over time. Also, educators need to play a role in group development from the stages of forming collaborations to brainstorming among team members, and performing successfully together.
Aside from these two necessities, there are other small measures teachers can take to create the best collaborative learning experiences possible. One of those ways is to minimize opportunities for students to free ride. In smaller groups (four-to-five students), there is less intimidation and less room for students to hide. With meaningful team roles assigned to every member, team members will feel more valuable and less likely to skate along. In addition to that, the best collaborative learning also features many opportunities for discussion and consensus among team members. Discussions are rich opportunities that students can use to connect their ideas with those of their classmates and are very valuable in project-based learning especially. Finally, collaborative work should focus on strengthening and stretching each student’s expertise – even if it has gone beyond its comfort zone. This helps ensure that even those students who struggle with concepts or material end up playing an important role in the group. Mesh all these together and you’ve got a good start to collaborative learning in just about any K-12 classroom.
Creative Collaboration Boosts STEM Success
While learning, students tend to wonder why their teachers are making them learn this particular thing. They often think they are never going to need to know how to multiply two 3-digit numbers in the real world, to give one example. They even complain about group work from time to time as well. Well, though they might not have to show their multiplication skills all that often, they sure will have to know how to collaborate. Especially in the STEM fields, where the numbers indicate a lot of today’s students will end up, cooperative collaboration is king. STEM education is providing students with real-world experience from the time they enter school when they’re five or six years old, leading to them developing key skills and interests that could very well lead to profitable careers. And, creative collaboration in the classroom is playing a major role.
When it comes to STEM education in particular, there are at least two kinds of collaboration that benefit students. The first, of course, is student-to-student collaboration. The second, which is usually reserved for students in older grades, is between students and local businesses. Often, local businesses are more than willing to partner with schools to give students real-world experiences in an authentic STEM environment. STEM education gives kids the chance to solve authentic problems that persist in their communities and likely even affect them personally. When they work together, as we know, real results happen – and happen much faster. By engaging in these types of community projects, students can spread responsibilities around, so while one is working on developing a design, another can work on the engineering and a third could be responsible for figuring out the technology – creating a perfect marriage between STEM projects and collaboration.
Collaboration in STEM-focused environments creates an education experience that’s beneficial for everyone. When working together, students are able to take responsibilities for their own learning and enjoy the perks of a tangible experience in the process. Just as in regular STEM classrooms, content matter should effectively connect age-appropriate information and standards, but with a greater focus on group work. STEM education is all about critical thinking and working in groups helps students push each other to uncover new ideas and innovative ways of learning. The earlier students start to learn in this way, the better off they will be. Even in the early grades, encouraging meaningful collaboration through STEM activities is not only helpful, it’s becoming necessary. Whether it’s in the classroom or out in the community, STEM education is undoubtedly enhanced with the added element of collaboration.
Why EdTech Makes Student Collaboration Better
Technology in the classroom is known to help students uncover their masked creativity, explore concepts on more in-depth levels, and engage in learning in ways they never have before. It’s able to teach kids many more lessons than are readily visible to them while they are using it and EdTech might just be at its best when students are able to use it as part of their collaborative projects. We already know that both technology and collaboration make learning more authentic and effective, so it should go without saying that, when the two are combined, students will stand to benefit even more in both the short term and the long term. Technology gives kids the chance to share their voices, their ideas, and their opinions, all of which are key in helping them grow and learn.
Not only does technology capitalize on making the learning experience more enriching for students, it can also make it much easier to facilitate for teachers. Technology enables student collaboration to happen inside the classroom or out. Some teachers may believe that they can achieve the same outcomes without technology as they can achieve with it. While this may be true to some extent, once teachers see how well students respond to technology (especially in groups), they won't want to teach without it. In fact, collaboration is one of the most natural ways in which students can use technology in the classroom as it helps them to communicate their ideas more clearly and gather the information they need more efficiently. Collaboration also comes naturally to students – many of whom spend the school day struggling to remain quiet and still in their seats. Collaborative activities afford them with the opportunity to get up and active while putting their energy to good use.
The fact that it can help make group projects happen remotely makes technology an even more valuable asset to student collaboration. It’s almost impossible for students not to collaborate outside of school with all the modern tech tools that are available to them. It also contributes to making them more likely to complete their assignments since the technologies they are likely to be using are more intriguing than a textbook and pencil. On the other side of things, when students collaborate with technology, the job of their teachers tends to get a bit easier and more organized. Technology makes it easy for them to track who is contributing what and, thus, easier to dole out fair grades for everyone. Most Web-based tech tools and even some STEM technologies allow teachers to track student contributions and ensure that they’re getting as much as possible out of their time collaborating in school, out of school, and everywhere in between.
Why Makerspaces Help Nurture Collaboration
Contemporary education is equal parts making use of innovative problem-solving tools and creative problem-solving methods to, well, solve problems in the most efficient ways possible. Problems generally aren’t solved, however, when the person or group of people trying to solve them is using the same type of thinking that led to the creation of the problem in the first place. In the years preceding the 21st century, schools had become removed from real-world issues and lost touch with exposing their students to the best tools for solving problems. This kind of teaching simply teaches kids what they already know instead of teaching them how to use their peers as resources and innovating to solve problems. To understand the effectiveness of collaborative learning, students need to be given the chance to try it.
Another trend perforating K-12 education these days is makerspaces – learning labs designed to get kids working with their hands, exploring new ideas, and using high- and low-tech tools to build creative devices. The learning that takes place in makerspaces has been shown to boost key 21st century skills in children, including their abilities to think creatively, solve problems, and collaborate with other students. In today’s classrooms, teachers should be focused on creating young innovators, something they can do by helping them develop their critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. In makerspaces, kids have no restrictions or structure holding them back and they are free to work with as many peers as they want to help speed up their 21st century skill development. Makerspaces are the perfect environments for encouraging collaboration and using it to make Future Ready entrepreneurs out of kids.
Perhaps the greatest benefit kids see from makerspaces is that they provide them with a space to design and complete larger scale projects. For schools that are able to purchase a 3D printer or two, an in-school makerspace is where you would likely find groups of three to six kids collaborating to design and print a custom tool to use in an innovative project. Makerspaces are boundless environments where collaboration is one of the main purposes. It’s no accident that kids who are lucky enough to learn in makerspaces are able to set themselves up for future success with relative ease. In these innovative environments, collaboration can happen anywhere, helping to prepare kids for what the real world is like and position them to achieve unlimited success in the future.
Managing Collaboration in PBL Classrooms
Project-based learning – the practice of students teaming up to learn through group or individual projects – is a fancier name for hands-on learning. In project-based learning classrooms, there tends to be a much greater focus on preparing students for the 21st century world and the manner in which they learn reflects this goal. In PBL, students are able to engage on deeper levels, explore relevant learning concepts, align hands-on activities with educational standards, and do all of this without the need for a textbook. Of course, with project-based learning comes tangible projects instead of papers and tests, creating perfect opportunities for students to build collaboration skills in the classroom. In these types of environments, students are able to strengthen their collaboration skills while working as part of a team – a vital component of 21st century success.
Collaboration is almost essential for facilitating deeper and more authentic learning experiences for today’s children. Stop us if we’ve said this before (we have), but the ability to work effectively as part of a team is a central skill desired by employers in today’s workforce. The benefits of collaborative classroom learning actually extend beyond the here and now for students. Today, the world is filled with rapidly advancing technology and teachers need to be preparing students in all grades for the unknown that lies ahead of them, which they can do by managing the collaborative process in their classrooms. The idea of team unity and togetherness helps instill in children the importance of collaboration in the classroom. It’s important that everybody is on the same page from the start, so that the truly effective learning can take place during the middle phases of group PBL.
Especially in PBL, collaborative learning helps students recognize their own strengths as individuals as well as what they can contribute to the rest of the team. Managing key aspects of projects can help kids build self-confidence simultaneously. Along with the importance of project collaboration, it’s important for students to create a positive group dynamic too. They need to get comfortable with each other and mini meetings throughout the process can help them reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as a team and come up with ways they can improve. In the classroom, collaboration is becoming essential – there is almost no denying that. Aside from mimicking real-world challenges, collaboration helps kids build important communication skills, practice new ways of thinking, and gives them the chance to take learning in a new direction. Everybody should make it their New Year’s Resolution to try in 2017!
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Image: © Global Digital Citizen Foundation