Working Together

One of the most fascinating things about running this robotics club is watching kids figure out how to work together.  The mantra about 21st century learning is that cooperation and collaboration are at the top of the list, because things like cloud computing make it possible to do across time and space.  But working together is a really hard, especially for girls who are smart and used to achieving individually.  I’ve watched kids bickering, individuals doing all the work, individuals complaining that “no one is helping”, people wandering off from the group, and people getting frustrated.  It’s all part of the process.  I spend more time talking to kids about how to work together than I do talking to them about how to build a robot.

Some of them literally don’t know how to work as a team.  I find this interesting, though not unexpected.  They’re young; they’re not asked to do this very often.  And they don’t actually see the end goal very clearly because they’ve never done this before.  They’re all trying.  So although I hear complaints and see bickering, those are their ways of trying, so I talk to them about better ways to communicate, how to delegate.  I’ve seen kids make great strides.  Students who were bickering a couple of weeks ago now delegate work to the rest of the team.  And I find it kind of fun to try to come up with ways to help them work together.

I can’t emphasize enough how important I feel this skill is.  In the “real world,” we all have to work with people we don’t like or don’t agree with.  If we just worked with people we liked, we’d never accomplish anything. Am I perfect in this regard? No.  But I work really hard at it, because I think it’s important in order to achieve things within an organization, even as an individual.  Very little that I’ve done has been accomplished without some kind of help, directly or indirectly.  I hope to teach my students this as well.  We’re all in this together.  Working together is how we are going to solve the problems we face.


4 Replies to “Working Together”

  1. The problem with learning to work together is that most school projects are small enough that one person CAN do it. There’s really no point to working together so everything’s really artificial. And, if one person doesn’t pull their weight, they know that the smartest person in the group will usually do the slacker’s work, too, so as to not jeopardize everyone’s grade.

    Large robotic projects ARE big enough to need the input of multiple people, so it’s a great place to learn to work together in a real environment, especially if it’s a voluntary for the kids to be there (so that they all want to be).

  2. I too agree that many in school projects (math, for example), are rarely structured so group input is useful. That gives everyone a bad idea about what group work really means. Another failure point is if some people really don’t have anything significant to contribute.

    But, I think there are definitely group activities that can help kids learn how to work together — the first is team sports (I’d be intrigued to hear what the team sport participation is among your girl robotocists — and whether there’s any correlation with the ability to work together). Drama (the scientist who blogs at Gas Station Without Pumps; talks about drama as a team-teaching tool) is another one. I haven’t worked with robotics, but Destination Imagination definitely requires the cooperation of a group in order to be successful.

    I am coaching a DI team, one that is extraordinary cooperative, actually, and it is still interesting to see how the kids work together. This group of kids knows each other really really well, and the hump I’m seeing them get over is to edge them out of assigning roles to each other based on their long histories (kind of like families). The kid who was slowest/shortest/worst at writing in K might not be any more, but they have a tendency to remain in their assigned roles unless they are pushed a bit (especially since the changes aren’t usually quite so dramatic).

    Really impressive in our group (of mostly 10-11 year olds) is how much each of them have to contribute, if they would all listen to each other.

  3. Drama is a great example of having to work together, bj. Jo, I agree that there’s a real challenge to finding authentic projects that will encourage real teamwork. Among my robotics groups, we have a lot of kids who also play team sports, although I have to say that I’m not seeing the sports people doing any better at teamwork than the non-sports people. Even in team sports, I still see a little too much emphasis on individual skill.

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