Developing a Collaborative Culture

Corporate leaders highlight the need for a new generation of workers who can creatively solve problems by collaborating with other team-members. It’s imperative that our K-20 educational systems provide opportunities for learners to engage in a variety of strategies that help them to frame a problem, analyze information, synthesize that information into knowledge sets, and then evaluate and iterate their work realizing that there’s a good chance that the there will be need for another round of problem-solving. I had a chance to experience a good example of this type of process led by TeamBuilders Group, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm, and Point Park University. The seminar represented the mixing of the problem solving approach of Human Centered Design that’s employed at Point Park with skill building approach to collaboration that’s used by the TeamBuilders Group.

Setting the Stage: Agreeing on Norms

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

To start the seminar Jordan Lippman and his TeamBuilders Group initiated a conversation around Norms – what should be the agreed upon conditions for collaboration? Examples Jordan shared included: Be present, listen mindfully, share thoughts respectively, invite help from your team, encourage everyone to participate, and trust your team. Jordan then asked the group to add their thoughts to the list of team building conditions. It’s extremely important to make sure everyone agrees to the rules of the game. Without norms trying to work collaboratively becomes a competition where some people take control or dominate. I can remember so well as a student how I became the person in charge and ended up doing most of the work.

Solving the Problem

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

For the next set of activities Eric Stennett from Point Park University took the lead. The original group was divided into three teams of four people. For the initial activity the participants were challenged to brainstorm “problems” that they faced in their educational roles. Participants were instructed to put each idea on a Post-It Note. Then each group had to cluster their ideas based on some common thread and then name each cluster. Eric “took the hood” off to explain the rationale for each exercise as it related to Human Centered Design (HCD) developed by the LUMA Institute in Pittsburgh. The group used the technique of “Affinity Clustering.” The next step tapped into the HCD strategy of “Visualizing the Vote” where each person had four large dots to place on the clusters that he/she felt were most significant problems. Three problem areas came to the forefront: Building Systems, Creating Equity, and Developing Bridges.

At this point people were given choices – form new groups to develop a strategy solution for one of the problems. It was interesting for me as an observer to see how the new groups functioned. In the process roles were not assigned but by reinforcing the norms, care was taken to ensure equitable participation. I’ve learned that when you keep groups no larger than ten, you have a better chance to engage each person. When you set ground rules that everyone agrees upon, you even the playing field and allow everyone to be not only a contributor, but also an active listener.

Reflecting

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Often a team-building process ends with a solution and there’s no opportunity to discuss how to use what’s been learned or to evaluate the process. For this seminar the group reformed into a semi-circle and spent the necessary time to process the experience and think about next steps. Jordan Lippman used the opportunity to highlight the “Trust” model developed by his team. One of the shared problems came from one of the Point Park administrators – how do you get a team of colleagues who already know each other to collaborate? The seminar included a diverse group of people who didn’t know each other and were open to accepting the “norms.” What happens when you have a group that has a history of not collaborating? It was fascinating to hear how the group used the morning experience to address the problem – start with norms that everyone can agree upon, think about using “protocols” that help the process, and have someone in the group take on the role of a facilitator.

#CollaborativeCulture is a great way to #RemakeLearning – Ani Martinez

As I think about my work with high school students around Design Challenges I can see ways that I will improve my process based on this seminar. I will make sure the “norms” are clear and explicit. I’ll make some of the strategies I use more explicit so the students can build on the process. I’ll give more time for the student consulting teams to reflect and think about how they’ll use what they’ve learned in the process of the Design Challenge. Most importantly, I’ll go back to Fred Roger’s thought: Deep and Simple is Far more Meaningful than Shallow and Complex.

 

Real World Learning

Why Real World Learning (RWL)? The key is found in the Glossary of Educational Reform, “Realworld learning refers to education that is focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and challenges.”

When we start with a real world issue we’re providing a context or connection. Educational research indicates that deeper engagements occur when learners see a relationship or connection to what they are researching, studying, or investigating. When you add an “inter” or multidisciplinary approach, then you create another level of connection.

In my work with learning institutions in the Western Pennsylvania area I’ve observed several great examples of where students and staff are engaged in RWL. In this article I’ll highlight two elements:

  • Students as agents of social change and creative producers
  • Regional Opportunities

Students as agent of social change and creative producer

The Avonworth School District has developed over the years a number of projects that challenge not just a select group of students, but all students at a grade level to solve a real world problem that relates to the school community. According to Jason Smith, the 8th grade Civics Teacher, “After a recent class discussion around racism and discrimination in the country, students took an anonymous survey which showed that 76% of 8th grade students believed that our country was more ‘divided’ than ‘united.’ After brainstorming times and places where the country, their community or town felt ‘united,’ students and teachers cited sporting events and fundraisers as examples.” The students then took the idea a step further and decided to develop a 5K run that would raise money for an Avonworth family that had lost their home and daughter to a recent fire.

The students were divided into teams that included: Promotions, Public Relations, Design, Registration, and Sponsorship. What makes this project more real world and more challenging is the fact that it was not just one Civics class, but all six classes that Jason Smith taught. The students shared, for instance, lists of sponsors, and each team had an alphabetical range of names to contact. In order to promote the event each class had to design a website and then a team of experts selected the best website for the project.

When I observed students working on the project everyone was engaged and collaborating with their peers. This project demonstrated how every student can be an agent for social change and contribute creative products to a common effort.

Another Avonworth project that has engaged students for five years now is the high school Galleries Project. In this case students work hand-in-hand with art professionals from four partnering museums – Carnegie Museum of Art, The Warhol, Mattress Factory, and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The organizations serve as mentors for students throughout the school year. The students select a project and then product artifacts that reflect the characteristics and mediums of the partnering museums. Last year according to Assistant Superintendent, Ken Lockett, the students wanted to address the question, “Who do we value?” So the students decided to change the way valedictorians were recognized as part of a series of photographs in one of the hallways. The students tapped into an Andy Warhol style of silk screen printing. Instead of traditional photographs, each valedictorian looked like an Andy Warhol poster shimmering with bright colors.

According to Ken Lockette, “The students are working on body images with the Warhol team – trying to get their peers to look up to an ideal.”

Avonworth realizes that the power of these real world learning projects. The school district is now connecting with other schools to expose a larger number of learners to the power of real world learning.

Just down the Interstate from Avonworth, students at the South Fayette School District are working on a variety of real world learning projects. In an interview with Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation, we discussed a middle school program focusing on sustainable systems, “Seeds of Change,” and a high school set of projects revolving around Student Innovation.

Like Avonworth South Fayette has all of its 8th grade students working on a community-focused challenge. Each team of students has come up with a concept to address the question: how do we build a sustainable community? Students have used Human-Centered Design strategies to identify stakeholders, key issues, milestones, and possible solutions. One group is focusing on a living wall that can be incorporated into a classroom. Another team is investigating aquaponics. Another group of learners are examining solar panels and composting.

In each case the students are engaged in a real world challenge that allows them to be creative producers with an engagement with either their class, school, or community.

At the high school level South Fayette students are tackling innovative solutions to real world problems. South Fayette did not have a curriculum in place to teach Python. A student-led team worked with a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student and an engineer from Google to develop an after-school program and then turn this into a curriculum for classroom use. Next year all 8th grade students will take the Python course developed by their high school peers.

Four years ago a team of students at South Fayette worked with Amanda Gunawardena, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon and Princeton, to create MyEduDecks. Over time new student teams have modified the program creating new iterations. As part of the project students conduct research and then share their findings at professional conferences. The students have presented their findings at conferences at Pepperdine University, Microsoft Research, and Brown University. The student findings are professionally published by Springer, a national publisher. According to Aileen Owens, “The most difficult thing is creating the research project and understanding what the data means.” What could be a more real-world problem?

As part of a middle school program around App Development students had to come up with solutions for community problems. One team of students about four years ago discovered from bus drivers that there was a problem with kids getting on the wrong bus. The original team developed “BusBudE” and today student app developers continue to provide new updates to the software. In the latest iteration the students are working on a version that can be shared with other school districts and a training module so other districts can link the software to their busing schedule. The student app team is also working on materials for parents so the parents understand what the data means.

Bringing the real world doesn’t stop at the end of the school year at South Fayette. Students work on the STEAM Innovation Summer Institute for educators. Students serve as tech coordinators as well as student assistants and teachers. Yes, the students who developed the Python course last summer trained teachers in the use of Python. While the students are the creative producers, the teachers need to understand their role as facilitators and mentors.

Regional Opportunities

Through the efforts of schools like Avonworth, South Fayette, and Elizabeth Forward, educators around the region and across the country can learn more about integrating the arts into Project-based Learning and Human Centered Design, STEAM, or FAB learning. Starting in June and continuing through July there are opportunities at each of the schools I’ve listed. In addition, this year Pittsburgh is hosting the Schools that Can National Forum from May 10-11.

Schools that Can (STC) Forum is an annual, public conference focused on a common theme. Sessions are led and attended by top urban educators from STC schools, innovative educational organizations, thought leaders, industry, and community partners. This year’s theme is: Real World Learning for the 21st Century. On the first day of the conference participants will have a chance to visit examples of projects representing the range of K-12 activities. Sites include Pittsburgh: Allegheny Traditional School, Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, Drew Mathieson Center, and City Charter High School. At each site students will share their “real world” experiences. On the second day the event will move to the University of Pittsburgh where panels of experts will share best practices around Real World Learning.

The Elizabeth Forward School District will host from June 15 to 18 a FAB Institute. Elizabeth Forward is opening its doors to any educator interested in creating or improving their own FAB or Fabrication Lab. Participants will learn real world skills such as: computer-aided design, embedded programming, 3D scanning and printing, and much more for implementation at elementary, middle, and high school levels. Apply online at Pittsburgh FAB Institute.

From June 14-25 the South Fayette School District will host its STEAM Innovation Summer Institute. Sessions for educators working in the K-20 arena (in school and out-of-school) range from one to four days. Topics include: Making for Young Children, Creating Sustainable Mindsets, Computational Thinking, Entrepreneurship, App Development, Robotics, and 3D Modeling for Young Children. This year the program also introduces two new workshops that focus on bringing real world projects into the classroom: Professional Development for Authentic PBL School to Business Partnerships and Teachers in the Workplace.

Last year the Avonworth School District partnered with the LUMA Institute and the Center for the Arts to develop Studio A, a 3 day workshop that integrates the Arts into Project-based Learning (PBL) using Human Centered Design. This summer Avonworth will roll out the second round of Studio A training from July 11 to July 13. Participants will learn new tools in design thinking and the arts to workshop ideas for developing authentic, real world PBL units. Teachers will build skills and knowledge to develop interdisciplinary, project-based lessons/units to engage students in meaningful learning and in applying 21st century skills.

 

Equipping Students to Lead In Our Rapidly Changing World

[Throughout the country students are tackling real world problems in their communities. In this Getting Smart article students from the Anne Arnundel County Public Schools in Virginia address water and space issues. In my work in Western Pennsylvania I’m working with students on sustainability projects around energy and food. I work with colleagues who are getting students involved in a variety of other real world projects, ranging from creating a marathon to raise funds for a family who lost their home to redesigning an auditorium for a historic building. In all of these cases students work as engineers, designers, and scientists to address a real world issue that tackles a social issue in their community.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

By Vipin Thekk, March 4, 2017

“We talk about consumers and producers. In much of education, the student is a consumer. The Changemaker movement has helped us to help teachers help students become producers.”

~ Maureen McMahon, Deputy Superintendent for Academics & Strategic Initiatives, Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Eighty percent of the best jobs of tomorrow do not exist today. And increasingly, social problems are outrunning the solutions. We can see that in all aspects of human life – from climate change to unemployment to racial inequality. We are living in a world where change has become the only constant.

In such a world, the art of changemaking–or working empathetically with a team to solve a community problem–becomes essential. When children and adults master the skills of empathy, teamwork and leadership to solve problems which they care deeply about, they are realizing their own power to catalyze change; learning that the status quo can be challenged, and discovering that our collective success increasingly depends on our individual strength as change agents.

Read more…