Lately, our society seems to have overemphasized individual vs group performance especially during the developmental years for kids. This makes sense if you want students to perform well on standardized tests but not so logical if you want them to be the creative problem solvers that develop the inventions and innovations to change the world.
If we look at the largest tech companies in the world, Apple (Jobs, Wozniak & Wayne), Facebook (Zuckerberg, McCollum, Moskovitz, Saverin & Hughes), Microsoft (Gates & Allen), we can quickly see that despite their individual talents, together they were able to start and grow some pretty amazing enterprises. And, while there are some that are more well known - Jobs, Zuckerberg and Gates; if you really dive in, you would find that the team was essential to getting these organizations off the ground.
And, if you look at the number of employees they have now - Apple (132,000), Facebook (35,587) & Microsoft (134,944), it becomes clear that it takes a large number of people working together to continue to create the innovative solutions of tomorrow.
In the classroom, the dynamic is a bit different. Students are so used to individual grading and individual test scores that they resist helping their neighbor to prioritize their relative individual performance.
This is not how the real world works. And, we are doing our kids a disservice by not actively encouraging this mindset in their formative years. Below, we have a few ideas for how to encourage more collaboration within the learning environment for kids.
1. Host team based competitions
While collaboration is important, students also need to understand that absolute and relative performance is a part of life.
One of the best ways we’ve found to incorporate this into the learning environment is through team based competitions.
By using a prompt that requires students to work together and then having their collective output compete with others to compare performance has been very useful.
For example, one of our students favorite projects is Battle Bots. Using the LEGO EV3 platform, students work in small groups to design and build their bots. From the size of the wheels to the structural integrity and the modifications they will use to push their competitors out of the arena, students are required to collaborate to build their bots.
However, the project really comes to life after the first round of competition. Regardless of performance, we offer students the opportunity to iterate their designs.
Through this competition based approach, it becomes clear how their bot stacked up. From there, they can take this knowledge and improve their design by working collaboratively with their teammates.
It’s always amazing to see how designs improve as we progress through the rounds from the melding of the teams's ideas.
2. Reinforce 3 before me
Within traditional learning environments, students have been lectured by instructors and then they dive into the project or assignment.
When there is a question, they raise their hands and expect the teacher to get them unstuck.
This 1:many problem resolving process is extremely inefficient. Often, there are several students in a classroom who understood the concept well enough to explain it to another.
And if a student has to wait for the teacher to get to her, then a lot of time can be wasted. However, if we leverage a more collaborative approach, the student reinforces their learning and perhaps offers a different explanation of the concept than the teacher initially utilized.
When students become teachers and teachers become students, the collective intelligence and efficiency of the classroom increases.
In our learning studios, we encourage students to check with their neighbor, check with their row and then circle back to the instructor when they need help.
This three before me approach increases the opportunity for learning from each other tremendously and helps to stimulate the collaboration necessary for students to be successful professionally.
3. Create opportunities for stealing
One of the best ways to unlock the cross pollination of ideas from others is to encourage students to critically look at what others have created.
Whether it’s carving out time to play someone else’s video game or watching the animation of a classmate, the classroom should be a source of inspiration.
However, instead of discussing what they might have found wrong with someone else's project, you want to figure out what they found right with what their classmate built.
To do this, ask what elements you would steal from your classmate's project. Do you like how they designed their game character? Are you influenced by the customizations they added to their Battle Bot? Do you like the way they used details to 3D model their skyscraper? Are you impressed with how efficient their code? Is there an algorithm they used to create functionality that you hadn't thought of?
It’s healthy to bring in ideas from a variety of sources to come up with a better output. Not only does this reinforce the confidence of the idea creator but it also shows the borrower that there is an opportunity to iterate and improve upon their initial creation by seeing the good in the design of another.
Although there may be opportunities to distinguish and differentiate yourself individually, we believe that collaboration produces the most innovative outcomes over time. At companies we have seen that great teams produce great results.
As such, there are steps that we can take now to develop these skills within our kids so that when they work within professional environments, they have already practiced this collaboration.