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Collaboration: How to Ensure Today’s Students Become Tomorrow’s Global Problem Solvers

Collaboration

Several years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit Kennedy Space Center and to engage in an Astronaut Training Experience. It was the perfect holiday gift for my husband as he is fascinated by space.

While at Kennedy, we became captivated by the story of the creation of the International Space Station, a 420-tonne structure that orbits 250 miles above earth. On February 24, 2011, 27 years after President Ronald Reagan directed NASA to build a space station with a permanent human presence, American astronaut and flight surgeon Michael Barratt, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, brought this amazing international collaboration to completion. It was designed by Americans, Russians, Europeans and Japanese working in different units of measurement, in disparate parts of the globe, speaking in multiple languages. Various components of the space station were built by different countries, had to be launched in precise sequences, and weren’t assembled until they were in orbit.

Imagine the stress of wondering whether the collaboration would be successful and whether the systems would fit together and work. “There are hundreds of people from each country for every system we have, that had to communicate and design systems that would fit together the first time,” said Barratt. Incredibly, the systems integrated perfectly.

The creation of the International Space Station highlights the importance of collaboration as a skill set. In fact, a distinguishing characteristic of the most profound innovations of our world today is that they were created through teams who worked together to solve a problem or develop something new.

Learning how to work well with others, to be an active listener, to understand one’s own strengths, and how to build teams that complement one’s strengths are skills that will gain in importance as we advance further into the 21st century. It is why we have endorsed collaboration as one of the important skill subsets in Roycemore’s Portrait of a Graduate under the meta-skill, Scholarship.

Each day at Roycemore, you will see students engaged in collaborative activities to strengthen their ability to work constructively with others.

In the Upper School, classes are designed to provide frequent opportunities for students to participate in group activities. In Algebra I, students recently completed a Parabola Project in which students collaborate to identify authentic examples of parabola to graph. In US History and Modern European History, groups of students work together to become experts on a topic to share with the class so that students can hear about events or individuals from a peer voice. In Modern European History, students have regularly put Otto von Bismarck on trial for his methods used in the unification of Germany and create a defense and a prosecution team in which groups of students work on their case with witnesses and former teachers as judges. In science classes with lab experiments, students regularly work with lab partners to help share the work.

Roycemore’s Middle School is the epitome of collaboration. Virtually everything we do is an example of collaboration. One example from 7th Grade Science involved students working in teams on a design-thinking project where they were tasked with creating a prototype of a floating device that could clean up the Great Pacfic Garbage Patch. This massive collection of plastic floating in our oceans affects most forms of aquatic life and served as an excellent driver for students to be committed towards solving this real world issue. This task required that students work with their team to discuss what materials would be most useful in their ocean cleaning device, work on a budget to buy their supplies, and contribute towards the creation of their device. The collaboration skills of each team allowed each prototype to succeed in cleaning up parts of our model Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

In Lower School the fourth grade is currently collaborating to design and plant the Roycemore garden. Students researched what vegetables and plants they wanted in the garden and what conditions they needed to thrive. They worked together to prep the garden after winter and are now working in teams to prepare and plant the garden from both seeds and starter plants. The students are guided with teacher support, but their voice is evident throughout the whole project. During this time, learning is tied into their reading curriculum as they read Seed Folks.

And our youngest learners at Roycemore gain collaboration skills through projects and activities throughout the year. A recent example from this year was in Kindergarten with the Dollhouse project. After a student shared a favorite book on dollhouses during show-and-tell, Mrs. Smith turned the excitement into a group project. Students brainstormed what rooms should be in a dollhouse, created a plan, and then each student had the opportunity to build their portion or room with recycled materials. There are many opportunities for collaboration with weekly STEAM challenges. Students have designed and built race tracks, paths for Hexbugs, school playgrounds, and so much more.

With all of these examples, students learn academic material, but more importantly they learn and practice socialization; give and take of who will do what in the project and make sure the work is divided equitably. Students also can share their expertise or skill as well as learn how this collaboration can make the work more effective and efficient. During the pandemic especially, the benefits of group activities have become even more apparent.

As Ken Robinson wrote in his book, Creative Schools, “Enabling young people to work together can enhance self-esteem, stimulate curiosity, heighten creativity, raise achievement, and foster positive social behavior. Through group work, students can learn to cooperate with others in solving problems and meeting common goals, to draw on each other’s strengths and mitigate weaknesses, and to share and develop ideas.”  At Roycemore, we are committed to ensuring that this skill building is present throughout the experience for each and every student. Through honing their ability to collaborate, today’s students are poised to become tomorrow’s global leaders.