"I really like working with my learning buddy. It was kind of hard to work with them, though, because we all had to agree on one idea and then put it together. But we worked it out!"
These words of wisdom came from a student in Kara Mason's class at Florence Elementary School. Every Friday, Mrs. Mason's class of second and third graders meets with their Learning Buddies, a class of Kindergarten and first grade students from down the hall. Recently, the Learning Buddies came together to collaborate and engineer with STEM Bins.
Today's environment requires the collaboration of large and diverse teams of people - all with different specialties and talents. Developing teamwork and collaboration skills is important and, often times, not easy! Helping young students development collaboration skills is more than just grouping desks together to get student to talk to each other. It requires careful planning and integration into your day and into your curriculum.
Walking into Mrs. Mason's classroom one Friday not too long ago, that's exactly what we experience - careful planning and integration of activities meant to foster students' collaboration skills.
"Remember, everyone, your Learning Buddies haven't done engineering before. They haven't used the STEM Bins. You're the mentors. You're the experts, so let's talk about what we already know!"
Mrs. Mason goes on to rehearse and role-play collaboration and teamwork skills with her students while reviewing the engineering design process. Moments later, the Kindergarten and first grade Learning Buddies flood into the room and the collaborating begins!
"I got to work with my Buddy. It was cool to think of ideas together to make things out of different materials. Trying to make the trains out of the cups. We worked through it by stacking the cups instead of changing the shape of the cups. When you are in a difficult problem, think through it and think positively."
Over the next hour, bridges are built, tunnels constructed, walls erected, and traps designed as the students collaborated and worked together to design and engineer various structures. As objects are built exclamations like "Good idea", "Do you have another idea?", "We can do that together!", or "I think we can make this better." echoed from the classroom walls.
"I liked that no matter what you chose, the STEM Bins, you could still make what it asked as long as you had a good design. I think this was a smarter way to work because we had 3 different brains and 3 different ideas. I learned that sometimes you have to use teamwork that can involve making different things and testing to choose the best idea. I think my Learning Buddy learned about teamwork since they are younger. "
STEM provides the ideal setting for team projects and fostering collaboration skills. From engineering challenges to group investigations, many hands-on activities are ready-made to become collaboration-fostering experiences. With the right amount of careful planning, integration, and openness anything is possible.