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Today, I want to explore the power of making collaborative learning transparent.

What do I mean by that? Well for any of you who have ever been partnered with others on a project, think about that experience and reflect on the following questions:

  1. What structures or supports were in place for you to be able to seek out thought partners on your project team?
  2. What frameworks helped you calibrate your working pace?
  3. What prompted others to come and seek out your perspective?

When I talk about making collaborative learning transparent, that’s what I’m talking about: setting up scaffolding that helps all learners network and learn from one another.

The resource from the free guide that correlates with this theme is our KANBAN templates. If you’ve never used the Kanban method before, essentially it is a system that helps a team visualize where each other are at, on a given project. It often has the following columns: “to do”  “in progress”  “testing” “done”

If students were co-authoring a podcast script they might divide and conquer a to do list: some students might be researching online, others might be interviewing other students, others might be writing to the local library as part of the ‘to do.’ When each member of the team has updated their progress, they update the Kanban board so they know where each other is at. What does this do for teams? Well, the first thing that might come to mind is accountability–and yes, this is great for each member to stay accountable to their team’s goals. But in my experience the truly big win by using this system is that it starts conversations during the collaborative process. One of the biggest pitfalls for students working on a team is that we don’t intentionally make time and space for regular check-ins. I’ve made this mistake as a teacher–and the stakes are high, when we don’t help teach the skills and structures of collaboration, students end up seeing collaboration as an obstacle for learning when we want them to see it as a catalyst.

I even have a few teacher parent friends who have adopted this method for their household set of chores. Why? They tell me it creates a better sense of how their kids can jump in and help out when they have extra time, and it also models to them how much is involved in keeping the house clean, the fridge stocked, and the family taken care of. 

For me, when my team uses the Kanban method it also helps us make sure we really think through our priorities first. When you co-author a to-do list, you get the collective wisdom of others. For young learners this is huge. Even for an essay, asking students to all share their ‘to do’ starting place this will look different student to student, and when we invite them to learn from one another’s different starting places, they gain new entry points into that task. I think one of the most overlooked questions we need to remind students to ask each other more regularly is this one: “How do you get started?”

When I was a young learner, whenever I had a research assignment, I didn’t always know how to get started. And you know what? When that first step is cloudy, motivation drops. I had no idea how much time my classmates spent on their research or how they went about doing it. That’s a barrier for learning. The more we can make the learning process transparent, the more welcoming the process becomes.

I use a lot of sports metaphors. Here’s why I think they work for our educational context: athletes are so used to the idea of slowing down their technique. As a baseball player, my hitting coach would have me take hundreds of practice swings–and these were without a pitcher, sometimes with a bat, sometimes without it. My hitting coach wanted me to be able to memorize the motion, and really understand the exact position my elbow needed to be in, to feel the proper pivot on your back foot. We need to give students learning to collaborate more opportunities to slow down and isolate the moves needed inside of collaborative teams. When we do this right, we help lessen the anxiety about working together, we help students build their confidence, and we help build a sense of belonging.


I am excited to talk about one of my favorite shifting schools resources. If you follow us on social media, you may have seen us sharing custom made Jamboard templates. We have a collection of them in our resource library, and we’ve received so much feedback from educators. Why? Well, my guess is because Jamboard leverages collaboration. I think of it as a space to build an archive of ideas. The specific Jamboard template I want to dig into is called ‘Momentum From Mistakes.’ On the template you find four quadrants. Each quadrant is a space for the class or group to reflect on learning they’ve come to by way of a mistake. For example, one quadrant asks students to complete the following sentence: “Now I know to spend less time on (X) and more time on (Y).”

Why would I recommend you consider having a collaborative space to reflect on mistakes? In my experience, when we start a dialogue that reminds us that none of us are perfect, and that all of us can learn from mistakes, we take some of the shame out of mistake making. If you know me well, you know I love geeking out on new technology. Guess what, whenever I am trying a new edtech tool, I get to know it through mistakes. 

Often when someone tells me they don’t have the confidence with edtech, we talk a little more, and I realize–ah! They think those of us with confidence never make mistakes. And I feel it is my responsibility to let them know that I make mistakes with Edtech all the time. And it is because I’ve made hundreds of mistakes that I have a stronger sense of digital literacy. Whenever I think about all the mistakes I’ve made with technology, the memories of being in college and working on my wife’s Windows 3 computer. She used to hate it, cause I’d be geeking out and would have to reinstall the operating system at least once a week…..and of course always right before one of her papers where do…ah those were the days!

For too long there has been too much silence around mistakes in learning. We see someone who appears successful in a given subject area and we make assumptions. Even the phrase ‘natural leader’ is in my mind a misguided notion. In my career I’ve led a number of teams. I’ve even been told I am a natural leader. Guess what? I’m not! I work really hard at it. I look for feedback, I reflect, and I consume a lot of media about leadership. One of my favorite bloggers and thinkers when it comes to leadership is Dorie Clark. In a recent piece here’s how she defines great leadership:

“It’s about leading others consistently and allowing them to learn and make mistakes in a safe environment.”

Dorie Clark ~ Forbes.com

That’s exactly why I love our momentum from mistakes jamboard template. It says let’s make room to discuss the different mistakes we are making. It asks us a fundamental question: How do our mistakes in the past and present help us navigate future learning?

When you check out the template in our free guide, you might decide to change the prompts we have—-and I want to always reiterate that our Shifting Schools templates are never meant to be prescriptive–they are always meant to inspire even better ideas. So if you find yourself coming up with other sentence frames, I would love to hear how you have taken our template, remixed it and made it better. You can email me about that via info at shifting schools dot come. 

In closing I want to share two of my favorite quotes from Baseball and consider what they tell us about the significance of mistakes. Ready?

Quote number one is from Babe Ruth who famously said:

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

Quote number two is from Reggie Jackson who said:

“You can’t steal second base and keep one foot on first.”

As an educator how would you take those words of wisdom and apply them to your classroom context?

If you are a big baseball fan like me, you may already know that in 1923 Babe Ruth struck out more than any other player in the league. The more well known fact about Ruth’s career is that he was the first player to ever hit 60 homers in a single season. Is he defined by his mistakes or by his success? 

Reggie Jackson is legendary for many things-and again if you know your baseball history you may know that he was the first to strike out 2,000 times in a career. That’s a lot of swinging and missing. And you know what else Reggie Jackson did in his career? He found himself on the American League All Star list 14 times. He was on the world series winning team FIVE times. 

In fact, watch any baseball game and you’ll see mistakes all over the field. A mistake pitch from a pitcher that ends in a homerun, or a swing and a miss. Why do I love baseball…it’s pretty much the only thing you can be successful 30% of the time and considered an All-Star.

And the mental mindset you need to have to make that many mistakes and continue to be strong mentally is exactly what we want to work on with students. 

Making mistakes, making many, many many mistakes is part of the journey. As I often say in my trainings, failure is everything that happens right before you become successful. We fail our way to success…that’s life. We have to change the narrative about success. Being successful isn’t about being perfect. For both Jackson and Ruth–their experiences of success were most likely linked to being on a team where others encourage them, and where their mistakes were taken as opportunities to learn to get better. And that’s exactly what the fifth resource in our free guide intends to do for students. Let’s be open about making mistakes, let’s learn from them and allow those mistakes to lead us to success.

Day 3 of the #EduroChallenge is about teams and it’s something I’m personally very passionate about. Not only because we at Eduro Learning are a virtual team. We have no office space, yet we meet and work together all the time.

In 2009 I set up a camera to UStream our COETAIL session live from Bangkok as we had two virtual participants

In my opening keynote this year to educators I talk about that collaboration means in 2017 and beyond. We’ve always wanted students to be good team members, to learn to collaborate. However, in 2017 we need to make sure we’re also teaching students how to collaborate across time and space. That is a skill that is highly sought after in companies today. When are we creating learning experiences for students to collaborate across time and space?

I have a friend who works for Amazon (everyone in Seattle has a friend that works for Amazon). He is based in Luxembourg because it’s more central to the two teams he manages. On in Seattle, the other in Bangalore, India.

A survey by Gallup in 2015 found that 37% of American’s telecommute to work. I wasn’t able to find research newer than that but the trend is definitely heading upwards to 50%. If half the students in our classrooms need to know how to work in virtual teams, when are we giving them the opportunity to practice and understand how to communicate in that form, respectfully and productively.

Do you have stories about virtual teams? How do you help students learn to collaborate across time and space?

You know the four Cs right? I mean everyone is talking about them. The four Cs that are going to change education in the 21st century? They are amazing! Do a Google Image Search for 21st Century Skills and you get a beautiful display of the four Cs. Great colors, wonderful wording and multiple ways to explain:

Communication

Collaboration

Creativity

Critical Thinking

I look at this list from the lens of a 4th grade teacher, a tech coach, a consultant or a substitute teacher and I can’t help but think…really? This is new? There is nothing new in this list that educators haven’t been teaching and focused on for years. Don’t get me started on these being “21st century skills,” a phrase I gave up over 7 years ago. So why do these things keep coming up?

As I work with schools and educators, we do focus on these four Cs. They aren’t new…but in a way they actually are new. How we view them is new, what they mean is new. In 2016 these four Cs have a different meaning.

Communication: Teaching to communicate the way the world communicates

Not sure if you have noticed, but we no longer write letters to each other. We write Facebook updates, Facebook messages. We write emails…lots of them actually. We write LinkedIn updates, Tweets, Snaps, and Grams. I’m not saying it’s right…I’m saying this is how the world, both socially and in the business world, communicate. So where are we teaching this in schools? Where are we teaching:

Yes…communication isn’t new to education but how we communicate has changed. Are we teaching these new forms of communication? Where do they belong in our curriculum? At what level should we start and how do we assess these new forms of communication? Those are the questions we should be trying to answer in 2016.

Collaboration: Across space and time

Collaboration isn’t new. I remember doing group projects in elementary school in the 80’s. We collaborated on projects, on worksheets, on reading and science projects. Collaboration….getting along, working with others…has always been a part of education. So why is this a “21st century skill”?

In 2016 collaboration means across space and time. How are your students collaborating across periods in the school day (2nd period and 6 period working on a project together)? How are they collaborating across schools in your district or across schools in your state/country/continent/world?

I think about this every time one of my friends that work for Amazon talks about getting up at 3am to be on a conference call with India, China, Singapore, name-your-country. Or every time I have to get up early or stay up late for an Eduro, COETAIL, or Learning2 meeting. Collaborating across space and time is how the world works today. It’s how business gets done. I was talking about this with a gentleman sitting next to me on the plane today who instantly went to understanding cultures. How his company was doing business in France and failing until they started looking at the culture of France and accepting that they have a different way of operating. Once his company accepted and embraced the culture, it became much more successful. Collaborating with other students in your class in so 1990’s. We need to start creating ways for students to collaborate across space and time.

Creativity: To a global audience

It’s one thing to create something for your teacher or even a presentation for your class where everyone knows who you are. It’s something completely different to create something for an audience that you don’t know. Whether that is a YouTube video, an update on a Wikipedia page or a comment on an Amazon book review. Have you ever noticed how students try a little harder, do a little better, when their creations go beyond the classroom? In 2016 when we talk about creativity we do not mean creating something for a closed audience but rather we’re talking about creating something for a global audience. We’re also not talking about just “putting something out there” but rather finding a community that will appreciate the creation that the students worked so hard to produce. Create a google map of the Oregon Trail? Share it with your local community or local government. Create a recipe? Share it with one of a number of recipe sites on the Internet today and see how others rate it and improve on it.

It’s not just about “putting stuff out there” but rather creating content that has a purpose, has an audience, has a community.

Critical Thinking: Creating Problem Finders

When we talk about critical thinking skills we usually talk about problem-solving skills. We want students to be good problem solvers. I’m not saying that’s a bad goal. But time and time again I’ve been told that what we really need is Problem Finders. That’s a different skill…that’s a different type of critical thinking. We need to be able to find the problems that need to be solved.

What about giving students a mathematical equation that has a mistake in it. Their job….find the mistake (problem finder) and then solve it correctly (problem solver). Where is the bug in the code, or a bug in the production line, maybe it’s a problem with a science experiment. Whatever it is….how are you creating opportunities for students to be problem finders not just problem solvers?

The “C” word of education:

The C word that doesn’t make the list and probably is at the root of a lot of things we’re talking about these days in education is the word CONTROL. It’s a nasty word that many educators struggle with. When we talk about giving up control in the classroom we do not mean giving up structure. If you are going to give the control of the learning over to the students it means you need more structure in place not less. Routines need to be in place, timing needs to be clearly delineated, and a system needs to exist so that students can have control of the learning. Giving over control of the learning to students does not mean less prep-time, less work for the teacher…..at the beginning it actually means more work as teachers learn a new way of structuring their classroom around student interest, student questions and take on a new role as a facilitator and coach of learning.

The four C’s are not new…they are different. We need to come to a new understanding of what these mean in 2016 and beyond. I’m sorry to break the news to you, but your grandkids are not going to write you letters, they are going to Skype or Facetime you. Your next employee might not work in the same room as you, and your next project might have you focused on finding the problem and then handing it off to someone else to solve. Your next job opportunity might come through a LinkedIn connection or via something that you published publically. This is how work gets done in 2016. This is how we need to start defining the four C’s for our students.

Just finished up a full day at UNIS-Hanoi and thinking about where the conversations focused today. I spent the day talking with groups of teachers; Math/Science, Languages, Humanities, etc. We talked about my opening session and then got into some ideas on what learning looks like in a 1:1 tablet program that they have launched this year…how does it change the learning landscape for students?