Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Case for Collaboration

Collaboration is a big buzzword in education right now. We’re told that employers want creative team-players, who can solve problems with critical thinking. Working together often allows students a place to bounce around and grow ideas, yet I find some teachers still reluctant to take a risk and change their practice to include a collaboration project. There is pressure to hit all the curriculum expectations, to deliver quality test scores, and to regularly communicate with parents about student progress, be it in person or through written reports. To contemplate, on top of all this, a new way of teaching that involves another class, possibly another school, and technology-infused learning can seem daunting and intimidating to even the most seasoned veteran. So the question then begs: Why would anyone do this?

I have now completed two different collaboration projects involving my grade 4 class, and a grade 10 class in a neighbouring city. Both projects happened towards the end of the year, and integrated a few subject areas, as well as the “soft skills” like communication, compromise, and teamwork. The first year we had one end product- an interactive history museum, featuring structures from Ancient Times; the second one resulted in a variety of passion projects, ranging from constructing and operating a drone, to designing a music school and lessons for the less fortunate, to running a bake sale and flag football tournament to raise funds for a local sports charity. (as a team we raised $600)

All well and good, but in your educator’s mind, you are asking: how did this push students forward?  How is this an improvement on what I’m already doing?

The first Grade 10 class was at the Applied level; kids who were not ordinarily in leadership roles suddenly became mentors; grade 4 sought opinions and valued their input into the design process. The older students acted as “contributing citizens” fostering “respectful relationships”, both qualities outlined in our Board’s Improvement Plan.The learning products weren’t just another task in the vacuum of our classroom; the exhibits were for someone else. Parents, grandparents, and other school visitors came to our museum to learn from the experts. Students became more confident and creative with how they used technology tools. Students blogged about the entire process, often getting comments and feedback from their high school partners, and family members too. Growing confidence, practising metacognition, developing critical thinking; all of these elements push students forward.

I believe one of the most important features that kept students engaged, was creating something for others. Students enjoyed opportunities to help the less fortunate, or to teach other students, and in both cases helped to create the conditions for success. Kids made a difference on their own, to people in the real world. As a team, with constant communication in an environment of respect, kids felt great about what they accomplished. At that point I knew this was something bigger than just a cool, innovative project. The students grew as people. A year after the fact, my high school colleague still had students coming back to him, asking if he was going to do another project with this year’s class.

Was it difficult and at times messy? Yes. Did we know what the exact outcome was going be? No. I am not in the classroom this year, otherwise I would absolutely do this again. In my current role, I can share my experience with other education innovators, and hopefully persuade them to try a collaboration project too.

In my experience, this approach was well received by both our school administration and the parent community. If you are interested in learning more, chatting about this or ready to find a project partner, please follow the link to a form where you can leave me your contact information.

cross-posted at

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