User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education

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Post by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D. @jackiegerstein and Barbara Bray @bbray27. Crossed posted at http://barbarabray.net/2017/06/08/design-thinking-process-and-udl-planning-tool/.

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If there is a makerspace in your school, it may be down the hall, in the library, or in another building. If there is someone other than the teacher managing the makerspace or there is a schedule for the school, your kids may only be able to use it once a week or month. Some makerspace activities may be focusing on how to use the resources available and may not be connecting the activities to the curriculum or around a real world problem. If this is how the makerspace is set up in your school, then your kids may not have access to the resources, materials, and tools when they need them, especially for STEM or STEAM.

In deciding what resources you need based on the learners you have, you may first need to determine how your learners learn best, what projects you plan to do, how you can set up a makerspace in your classroom, and much more. This is why we decided to create a planning tool for makerspaces in the classroom for you using the Design Thinking Process and Universal Design for Learning®.

The Design Thinking Process

Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. The projects teach students how to make a stable product, use tools, think about the needs of another, solve challenges, overcome setbacks and stay motivated on a long-term problem. The projects also teach students to build on the ideas of others, vet sources, generate questions, deeply analyze topics, and think creatively and analytically. Many of those same qualities are goals of the Common Core State Standards. (What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School?)

We adapted the Design Thinking Process to include additional phases based on our own experiences in schools with educators and kids.

Define Problem IconDefine the Problem: The educator along with the learners generate possible authentic problems to explore within their local community (classroom, school, social, community) which includes identification of the intended audience.

Empathy IconEmpathy and Perspective Taking: Learners interview clients to gain an understanding of their needs and to see the problem from their perspective. The educator can assist learners in the interview process including how to develop interview questions.

Idea Generating IconIdea Generation: Learners, typically working in small groups, generate lots of ideas and questions to ask to solve the design thinking problem or challenge. Each generated possible design is analyzed as to its potential to resolve the design challenge.

Sketch Design IconSketch Design: A blueprint or sketch of the selected design is created through pencil and paper or through an online tool such as Google Draw or Sketchup. This design can be pitched to another group for constructive feedback.

Prototype IconPrototype – Test – Refine: This phase is the actual creating and building of the product. To get the product to work as the plan often takes several iterations of prototype, test, and refine. Learners are encouraged to use the tools and building processes that work for them.

Feedback IconFeedback from User: The final design is presented to the users for their feedback. The designers ask the users about the degree to which the design met their needs asking specific questions about what worked and what still needs improvement.

Reflection Icon

Final Reflection: Learners reflect on the process in a way that works best for them – blogs, photo essays, video recording, podcast, sketchnotes, illustrated ebook.

 

Share IconShare Out: A goal of the design thinking process is sharing learning out to a broader public. This is typically done by sharing documentation of learning and final reflections through social media.

 

Universal Design for Learning® (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning® (UDL) developed by David Rose and Ann Meyers is a registered trademark of the Center for Assistive Special Technology (CAST). UDL was designed to reduce the barriers to the curriculum and maximize learning. UDL provides a framework for all learners to help them become self-directed and independent expert learners. UDL has reordered the principles and guidelines, to begin with, Multiple Means of Engagement, the Why of Learning that compliments how the Design Thinking Process involves learners in identifying an authentic problem or challenge.

  • Multiple Means of Engagement (Why) is the affective network that explains how interest and purpose engages and motivates learners to want to learn.
  • Multiple Means of Representation (What) is the recognition network how content is represented and how learners process information.
  • Multiple Means of Action and Expression (How) is the strategic network involving how learners monitor progress and demonstrate and reflect evidence of learning.

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning goes deeper referring to the alternate version of the UDL Guidelines found in the book UDL Theory and Practice by David Rose and Ann Meyers where the order of the principles and the guidelines have changed. The UDL Guidelines provide a deep dive into each of the principles to checkpoints that provide resources, examples, and research. We pulled together the phases of the Design Thinking Process and identified specific options under each principle to create a Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for teachers.

Design Thinking and UDL Planning Tool

In the initial phase of defining the problem, the teacher involves learners to generate possible authentic problems within their local community. The problem can be defined by the teacher to encourage learner interest. We connected the UDL principle Multiple Means of Engagement to this phase by providing options for recruiting learners’ interest through optimizing relevance, value, and authenticity. To understand the problem, the teacher activates learners’ background knowledge and invites them to highlight patterns and critical features around real world problems that impact them.

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Egg Drop ActivityThe UDL connection to Engagement to the second phase of Empathy and Perspective Taking made so much sense to us. The UDL connection involves learners having options for sustaining effort and persistence by fostering collaboration and community. This phase is where learners gain an understanding of the needs of specific people about a problem from their perspective. They may interview, do observations or survey them about the problem.

Some lessons can involve a specific problem identified by the teacher who first wants to encourage empathy. We provide one example around an Egg Drop and the Design a Squishy Circuit for a Classmates (see these examples at the end of this post).

The middle phases of the Design Thinking Process involve the iterative steps related to idea generation and prototype-test-refine as well as getting feedback from the users.

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As can be seen in the UDL Connections column of the Design Thinking and UDL planning tool, representation and action and expression can be explicitly addressed. Representation or the What of Learning is a strong focus during the Idea Generation and Feedback from Users phases as the educator helps learners highlight patterns, critical features, and relationships of their discoveries. The Action and Expression or the How of Learning emerges most strongly during the Creating a Blueprint and Prototype-Test-Refine Phases as learners include their own personal touches and preferred means of expression.

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The final phases of the Design Thinking Process involve reflection on the design and making experiences and then sharing out the results to a broader audience.

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UDL technology connectionThe UDL connection to Action and Expression is especially strong in the final phases of Reflection and Sharing Out. During the reflection phase, learners are given the option to express what they learned during and because of their STEM, STEAM, Maker Education experience in a way that makes the most sense to them given the nature of the task; and their preferred means of expression. This is especially relevant given all that technology and online tools provide.

For example, students can write a blog, create a photo essay with a caption, record a podcast or video, do a hand-drawn or online sketch, create a comic.  Learners, many being savvy at the use of social networks, can then choose how they want to share out their reflections. This serves several purposes related to Action and Expression: (1) it gives learners an authentic audience, and (2) it helps other makers learn from their personal experiences.

Examples of STEM, STEAM, and Maker Education Activities using the Design Thinking and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Planning Tool

We hope the Design Thinking and UDL planning tool we developed helps you guide the design of learning activities that focus on STEM and STEAM and brings makerspaces into your classrooms.

We will be discussing this topic in the Twitter chat (#plearnchat) on Monday, June 19 at 4 pm PT, 5 pm CT. We ‘re also going to be sharing more details including redesigning makerspaces in the classroom in our presentation at ISTE 2017 in San Antonio on Monday, June 26 11:30 to 12:30. Please join us!

We welcome any comments, ideas, or questions.

Jackie GersteinDr. Jackie Gerstein’s byline is, “I don’t do teaching for a living. I live teaching as my doing . . . and technology has amplified my passion for doing so.” Dr. Gerstein has been teaching in-person and online for several decades. Currently, she teaches master’s level online courses in educational technology for Boise State, Walden, and Western Governors’ Universities as well as gifted elementary education where she focuses on STEM, STEAM, and Maker Education.

Jackie actively blogs at  https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/ and tweets at https://twitter.com/jackiegerstein

Additional Resources referenced from Jackie’s blog:

Barbara Bray Pic

Barbara is a teacher, writer, change agent, risk-taker, instructional designer, connector, futurist and visionary. Whenever anyone told Barbara she couldn’t do something, she took it more like a challenge. New and veteran teachers are overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks plus being asked to teach and integrate technology or to change their curriculum. The big question even today is “how do you fit everything in that is expected of you and meet the needs of all students?”

Barbara co-authored two books on personalized learning with Kathleen McClaskey:Make Learning Personal and How to Personalize Learning. She wrote a regular column on professional development for OnCUE (Computer Using Educators) for over 17 years and continues to write here, for Personalize Learning, chapters in books, articles, and as guest posts on other blogs.  She works tirelessly to find and research new tools and methods that help educators and personalize learning. Now with multiple opportunities to network using social media and join various online communities, teachers and learners are confused. Barbara makes it her job to determine what is authentic, valid, cost-effective, safe, user-friendly, and relevant for her clients. She is relentlessly researching how to personalize learning so all learners follow their passion so they discover their purpose.

Barbara  actively blogs at http://barbarabray.net/ and tweets at https://twitter.com/bbray27

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 8, 2017 at 10:33 pm

Documenting and Reflecting on Learning

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I am a strong proponent of encouraging learners of all ages to engage in reflective practice.

Learners do not just receive information only at the time it is given; they absorb information in many different ways, often after the fact, through reflection. The most powerful learning often happens when students self-monitor, or reflect. Students may not always be aware of what they are learning and experiencing. Teachers must raise students’ consciousness about underlying concepts and about their own reactions to these concepts. ETE Team

Documenting Learning

Silvia Tolisano sees documenting learning as:

  • a process of intentional documenting serves a metacognitive purpose
  • a creative multimedia expression (oral, visual, textual)
  • a component of reflective practice
  • taking ownership of one’s learning
  • a memory aid
  • curation
  • being open for feedback  (Documenting FOR Learning)

http://langwitches.org/blog/2014/07/01/documenting-for-learning/

Blogging as a Form of Documenting Learning and Reflection

I find blogging to be a one of the most powerful ways to documenting learning and engage in reflective practice.

Blogging has its own unique benefits as Sylvia Duckworth’s Sketchnote summarizes:

Top-10-Reasons-for-Students-to-Blog-Sylvia-Duckworth-CC-BY-flickr

Experiential, STEM, STEAM, and maker education are the focus of my gifted education classes. The learners in my gifted education classes have access to Chromebooks.  Having learners take pictures of their artifacts and describing what they did is a standard practice in my classes.

Sometimes I list vocabulary words I ask learners to include in their blogs. For example, for a design challenge, I asked learners to include the following vocabulary:

  • design thinking
  • communicate
  • empathy
  • tolerance

Here are some example blog posts from 6th grade students:

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Blogging, as opposed to keeping a hand-written journal of classroom experiences, has unique advantages in my classroom:

  • Learners can easily include photos of their work.
  • Work is easily reviewed and edited for errors.
  • Learners’ classmates can easily view and comment on one another’s work.
  • Blogging acts as a formative assessment whereby I, as the educator, get an opportunity to learn what elements of the projects were significant for my learners.

A Picture Tells So Many Stories

Because my classroom activities are high engagement, learners become totally immersed in the activities. They aren’t interested in taking photos during the activities. Also due to the student-centric nature of the learning activities, my role becomes that of facilitator walking through the classroom and visiting with individual groups of students to find out what they are doing, answer questions, give feedback. This guide-on-the-side role allows me to take lots of photos of the students. In essence, then, I become the official photography documenting student learner so they and their parents have an archive of the school year’s activity. We review these photos throughout the school year as a form of reflection. It’s fun to hear the learner comments exclaiming joy and amazement in what they learned earlier in the school year.

Here are links to photos I took for my two gifted classes and posted to a shared folder on Google Photos during the 2016-17 school year:

A Final Reflection

As a way to wrap-up the school year, learners should be given the opportunity to review their work from the past school year. For my learners, I asked them to look through all of the photos I took and the blog posts they wrote and choose between 5 and 10 of their most favorite and best projects. (It was great listening them express their delight in reviewing all of the projects they completed during the school year.) After selecting these, learners were asked to create a presentation of their chosen works using one of the following options:

They then presented their work to their peers and a group of adults: parents, school officials, visitors to the school.

A few afterthoughts about this final activity:

  • Throughout the school year, learners were asked to present their learning in front audiences. One of the students has a dual diagnosis – gifted and Asperger’s. This student wouldn’t even talk to the group at the beginning of the year. Loved the confidence shown during the final presentation.
  • The final presentations gave me, as the educator, a type of program evaluation where I got the opportunity to learn the most significant classroom projects from my learners’ perspectives.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 21, 2017 at 5:42 pm

Video Game Design with Elementary Learners

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In order to support interest and passion driven learning (all – I mean all – of my students play video games) as well as address cross-curricular content area integration of language arts, science, and technology standards, I had my gifted elementary learners, grades 2 through 6, do a semester long project on video game design.

Standards Addressed

English Language Arts Common Core State Standards

  • Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).
  • Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
  • Reference – http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.
  • Reference – https://www.nextgenscience.org/

ISTE NETS for Students

  • 4a – Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • 4b – Students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.
  • 4c – Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process
  • 4d – Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
  • Reference – https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students

Unit Overview

The overview for this unit:

  • Introduction to Storytelling
  • Storyboarding with Storyboad That
  • Storyboard Presentations, Feedback, and Revisions
  • Create a Video
  • Design a Logo

Introduction to Storytelling

The following video and articles were reviewed with the learners:

Storyboarding with Storyboard That

Learners used Storyboard That to create the storyboards for their video games.

Storyboard That is a graphic organizer and storyboard creator . The program provides pre-made scenes, characters, text boxes, shapes, and other images to choose from,  Students are able to drag and drop these items into their chosen layout. Scenes are organized into locational and thematic categories (e.g. school). Characters are organized similarly and can be customized with hair color, eye color, and other edits. Text boxes allow the student to give voice to their characters. Shapes and additional images add props to the story. (https://www.edsurge.com/product-reviews/storyboard-that-product)

It was continually reinforced that their storyboards needed to include strong characters, settings, and plot.

Feedback

Learners presented their storyboards to their classmates. Their classmates asked questions and gave feedback using the questions from How To Write A Good Game Story http://www.paladinstudios.com/2012/08/06/how-to-write-a-good-game-story-and-get-filthy-rich/

They made revisions and additions based on the feedback they received.

Create a Video Game

Learners were then given the choice to create their video games using one of the following platforms:

Create a Logo for the Game

Finally, learners were asked to design a logo for their games. To add another element of fun, learners decorated sugar cookies with their game logo.

Examples

The Adventures of Jack by a 6th Grade Boy

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His video game was created using Sploder:

His Game Logo:

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Save Mother by a 4th Grade Girl

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Her video game was created by Bloxels:

Her Game Logo:

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Sam and the Dark Lord by a 2nd Grade Boy

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His video game was created using Sploder:

His Game Logo:

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 5, 2017 at 12:00 am

The Over Promotion of Failure

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Almost daily I see posts on social media by educators promoting the benefits of failure. It often seems that there is a push to intentional embed failure into instructional activities. This always rubs me the wrong way. Failure has almost universal negative connotations. It doesn’t feel good and sometimes it is extremely difficult, if impossible, to recover from big failures.

For the past several years we’ve been bombarded with advice about the “wisdom of failure.” Books by business giants and self-help gurus tout the importance of learning from mistakes. The problem with the focus on failure is that failure is a weak process when put up directly against its counterpart: success.

I want to be clear that I’m not against learning from failure. It’s certainly useful that humans have the rare biological luxury of being able to learn, non-lethally, from our failures — we can remember them, share stories about them, even laugh about them. And all the stories and lessons about what you can learn from failure represent real opportunities to do better. The problem is that none of the advice and literature on failure fairly compares learning from failure to learning from success.

We have to ask how abundant or common are useful failures compared to useful successes? If opportunities for learning are rare, it’s hard to make a practice out of them. Unfortunately, truly useful failures that change our thinking (as opposed to merely stupid failures that just confirm what we already should have known) are relatively rare. (http://www.businessinsider.com/we-learn-more-from-success-than-failure-2014-6)

Focusing on success in practice does not translate in attempting to craft learning experiences into ones whereby learners have no struggles; achieve success or desired results on first attempts and iterations. In fact, I believe that authentic learning experiences should require multiple iterations prior to their successfully completion. This mimics real life learning.

The expectation then becomes that learners will struggle with their tasks, that they will focus from what went right and build upon these elements to have increasingly successful iterations within their process of learning the given task. I reframe the idea of failure, that oftentimes occur within open-ended, ill-defined projects, as things didn’t go as originally planned. It is just a part of the learning process. I explain to my learners that they will experience setbacks, mistakes, struggles. It is just a natural part of real world learning. Struggles, setbacks, and mistakes are not discussed as failure but as parts of a process that need improving. The focus becomes on what went right and on how learners can increase those aspects that were successful. The underlying learning principle becomes success breeds more success.

Learning from success is an active process that needs to become part of an organization’s culture. You just need to ensure that at least some of your “after action” reporting is dedicated to what went right. Even an event that was largely a failure probably has some small successes that need to be shared. (http://www.businessinsider.com/we-learn-more-from-success-than-failure-2014-6)

Within this framework, learners then reflect on their learning experiences coming from a place of success with questions such as:

  • What specific actions did you take that were successful within your learning task?
  • What did you do to decrease your liabilities during your learning task?
  • What personal and social resources did you draw upon if and when you reached an impasse with your learning task?
  • What strategies did you use to self-regulate your setbacks and frustrations if and when they occurred during  your learning task?
  • What did you see as your major strengths during the learning task?
  • What aspects of your learning will you take into future learning experiences in order to increase your chances of being successful with similar tasks?

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 30, 2017 at 9:06 pm

Toy Take Apart and Repurposing

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Toy take apart and hacking is a high engagement activity that works for kids of all ages, including adults who haven’t lost their sense of kid, and both genders. I have done it multiple times during my summer maker camp for elementary level kids, with my gifted elementary students, and at conferences as part of teacher professional development.

Here is a description of this activity from the tinkering studio at the Exploratorium:

Do you ever wonder what’s inside your toys? You’ll make some exciting and surprising discoveries about their inner parts when you don some safety goggles and get started dissecting your old stuffed animal, remote controlled car, or singing Santa. Use screwdrivers, seam rippers, scissors, and saws to remove your toy’s insides. Check out the mechanisms, circuit boards, computer chips, lights, and wires you find inside. Once you’ve fully dissected your toy, you can use the toy’s parts, your tools, and your imagination to create a new original plaything.  (https://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/toy-take-apart)

Standards Addressed

Toy take apart and hacking addresses a lot of cross curricular standards including:

  • Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool. (NGSS)
  • Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem. (NGSS)
  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (NGSS)
  • Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace. (ELA CCSS)
  • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. (ELA CCSS)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (ELA CCSS)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts. (21st Century Skills)
  • Act on creative ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to the field in which the innovation will occur. (21st Century Skills)
  • Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas. (21st Century Skills)
  • View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes. (21st Century Skills)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)

Frontloading and Framing the Experience

(For background information about this idea, see Don’t Leave Learning Up to Chance: Framing and Reflection)

To help frontload and frame this activity, participants are given the following scenario:

You have been hired to create the newest, most exciting handheld game to hit the market in years. You can decide the type of game, the population for whom you want to design it for – age range and gender, the goal of the game, the rules, any functions. The sky is the limit but there is one caveat – you need to recycle parts from old handheld games, ones made a decade or two ago, to create your prototype. Here are some questions to consider as you make your prototype –

  • How will you decide what to make?
  • What factors do you need to consider as you make your game?
  • What actions can you take if you get stuck using the tools? Coming up with ideas?
  • How can you ask for help as well as support others during the toy take apart and hacking?

How-To

I like to use the older handheld games as they contain lots of interesting parts and can be bought fairly cheaply in lots through ebay. First, the toys are passed around so participants can examine and learn about them.

Participants select the toy they want to take apart. Using the various screw drivers, scissors, wire cutters, and hammers that have been laid out on a work table, the toys are taken apart as much as they can be taken apart.

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After the participants fully take apart their toys, they are asked to create a new game out of their parts and parts discarded by the other participants. I use hot glue guns but soldering of parts can be done, too.

The criteria that I give to the participants for their game creation includes:

  • The creation must be a new game – one that the participant hasn’t heard of nor played.
  • The parts need to be used creatively – not the same way they were used in the original game.
  • The specifications for the game need to be developed and written as a poster are –
    • Name of the Game
    • Age Level Recommendations
    • The Rules
    • How to Play

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Participants then share their designs with the rest of the group.

Reflection

(For background information about this idea, see Don’t Leave Learning Up to Chance: Framing and Reflection)

After finishing their projects and sharing, participants can reflect on their experiences through:

Through a conversation with other participants; a presentation using Google Slides, Prezi, or Adobe Spark; or a blog post – your choice, address the following questions –

  • Describe the game you made – why did you make that type of game?
  • What changes did you make to your original design? Why?
  • Did you get stuck at any point during the activity? Taking apart the toy? Coming up with a design? Using the tools? Making your game? If so, how did you get unstuck?
  • What will you do the same/differently if you do a similar activity in the future?

More Information

For more information on toy take apart and hacking,  visit http://www.makereducation.com/toy-take-apart.html.

A slideshow of participant engagement in this activity . . .

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 8, 2017 at 8:13 pm

A Framework for Implementing Maker Education Activities Presentation

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I am facilitating two mini-workshops at ASCD Empower 17 and the 2017 ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence on using a framework for implementating maker education activities. The description for my session is:

Providing a framework for maker activities helps ensure that their use is intentional and that meaningful learning is extracted from these experiences. The educator, using such a framework, becomes proactive in framing or frontloading the maker experiences and in debriefing or processing them to increase the chances that learning occurs. Framing or frontloading is making clear the purpose of an activity prior to actually doing it; it helps to set purpose and intention for the activity. Reflecting on the maker activities can occur through a variety of methods: talking, writing, sketching, and using technology such as Web 2.0 tools and social media. During this interactive presentation, participants will experience this framework through maker activity that is introduced through framing or frontloading and then by directly using reflection techniques upon completion of the activity.

The slides for my session:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 24, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Team-Building with Elementary Students

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Yes, there are mounds of curricula students must master in a wide breadth of subjects, but education does not begin and end with a textbook or test. Other skills must be honed, too, not the least of which is how to get along with their peers and work well with others. This is not something that can be cultivated through rote memorization or with strategically placed posters. Students must be engaged and cooperation must be practiced, and often. (http://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/10-team-building-games-that-promote-critical-thinking/)

I meet with two groups of gifted elementary students, grades 2nd through 6th, for a full day each week. I begin our days together with a team building activity. The benefits for doing so cannot be overstated:

  • It sets the climate that cooperation and collaboration is an expectation in the classroom.
  • It reinforces that each person’s ideas and contribution will be respected.
  • It’s whole body-mind learning.
  • It builds a sense of classroom community which carries over through all of the classroom activities.
  • Communication, listening, and problem-solving skills are developed and enhanced.
  • Divergent thinking is honored and expected to successfully approach and complete the activities.

Lists and descriptions of team-building activities can be found at:

Several of the activities require some props. I enjoy making my own but they can also be purchased from the stores that sell sports goods to schools:

Sample Team-Building Activities

Spaghetti-Marshmallow Tower

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Materials:

  • Mini-marshmallow
  • Dry spaghetti

Task:

Split students into groups of 3 to 4 participants and given marshmallows and spaghetti (equal quantities of supplies per group). They are then given the task to only use the marshmallows and spaghetti to build the tallest tower.

Great Egg Drop

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Materials:

  • One egg per group
  • 40 straws per group
  • a few feet of masking tape – same amount

The Task:

Divide the group into small teams of 3 – 4.  Give each team one raw egg, 40 straws, 1 meter of duck tape, and other materials as listed above. Tell them that the goal is to design and build a structure that will prevent their raw egg from breaking from a high drop (from the top of the playground structure.

Traveling Tangrams

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Materials:

The Task:

To begin, give all of the large Tangram pieces and a few copies of the specific Tangram shape that you want the students to create. As a group, they need to create that shape using all 7 pieces at the beginning of the crossing area/the beginning “shore of the river.” The rest of the activity is similar to the River Crossing team-building activity. The object of the activity is to get all members of the group safely across the river; a designated area 25 to 50 yards wide. They must go as one big group, not multiple smaller ones. Everyone must be on the river before anyone can get off the river, forcing the entire group to be engaged at once. Participants cannot touch the water (floor/grass) and therefore must use rafts (Tangram pieces) to cross. If one member does touch, the entire group must begin again. Once they reach the other side/shore, give them another Tangram shape to create and explain that they must stay on the pieces to form that shape. They can get off on the other side/shore once the Tangram shape is formed.

Copy the Structure

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Materials: Several identical sets of Legos (or similar building bricks) that vary in size and color.

The Task:

Create a Lego structure out of different colored and sized Legos and place it somewhere in the room where it can’t be seen until the activity begins. Divide the group into smaller teams (depending on number of available Legos and size of the group). Each team should be given a set of bricks to build an exact copy of the Lego structure you have already built. The rules are that only one person from each team is allowed to go and have a look at the structure. When they come back to their team, they cannot touch the bricks, but they can tell the others how to build their copy. Anybody from the team can go and have a look, but only one at a time. Once another person comes back from having a look, the previous person can then touch their bricks to help build. Be sure to emphasize that the goal is for each team to complete an exact replica of the model.

Source: https://guideinc.org/2016/04/20/team-building-activity-lego-structure-copy/

Human Knot

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Materials: none

The Task:

Starting in a circle, students connect hands with two others people in the group to form the human knot – right hand to right hand; left hand to left hand; connecting with two different people. As a team they must then try to unravel the “human knot” forming into a untangled circle by untangling themselves without breaking the chain of hands.

Pipeline

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Materials:

  • 1″ PVC pipe cut down the middle – a 18″ section per participant (pool noodles can be substituted)
  • a golf ball

The Task:

Students, as a big group, are asked to work together to transport golf balls across a designated area through the chain of plastic tubes, lining them up and acting quickly so they don’t let the golf balls drop! That means that the first person in line must run to the end of the chain. A course can be set up ahead of time but I like to tell them the course as they go. If they are performing well, I ask them to go up, over, and through playground equipment. They can only touch the pipes not the balls. If a ball drops, the group must begin again. Once the marbles pass through their tube, kids have to move to the end of the line to keep the flow going.

Pinball Tarp Machine

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Materials:

  • One  tarpaulin is cut randomly with 8 to 10 holes and numbered from 1 through 8-10 depending on how many holes are cut (or two tarps if you want to have more than one group. I usually have two groups competing). The word START is written at one of the corners.
  • Small playground ball – a little smaller than the cut holes

The Task:

Between 8 and 20 participants surround the tarp spacing themselves out evenly holding on to the tarp with both hands, creating a table top effect. Supply the groups with one small playground ball. Their goal is to get the ball to roll through the holes consecutively from 1 to 8 or 10. On each successful number, the ball is picked up from the ground and placed on START.  If the ball falls off the tarp or through a hole, the group can start from the number where they left off or if a more difficult challenge is desired, the game starts over. If more than one group is playing, then the team that gets their ball through all of the holes first wins.

Catch the Foxtail

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Materials:

  • Foxtail balls – 3 per group (http://www.usgames.com/p-e-activities/toss-catch/foxtails)
  • Rock climbing webbing – 5-6 foot diameter loop (like a hula hoop) for each groups (I like webbing because: (1) it is soft and pliable, and (2) it sits better in students’ hands. Ropes could cause rope burns)

The Task:

Split students into 5 or 6 participants per group.  Each group is given three foxtail balls and a circle webbing. All members of that subgroup except for one student form a circle with the webbing so that the web forms into a big type of basketball hoop. The remaining member throws each of the foxtail balls one at a time up into the air. The task of the hoop holders is the try to get the balls through the hoop while all keep their two hands on the hoop. Getting the ball through the hoop after a bounce does not count. They often need to run together to get under the ball. After the three balls are thrown, the thrower switches places with one of the holders. All students should get a chance to throw the balls. The team with the most “baskets” wins.

Robot Drawing

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There are two versions:

  1. The Toobeez version – http://www.toobeez.com/teambuilding-book/17-Robot-Writer-Activity.html
  2. The Duct Tape version – http://groupdynamix.com/ducttapegame/

Toxic Waste

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Materials:

  • two plastic bucket, one with 8′ ropes tied into it (I drill holes in the side and tied the end of nylon ropes through the holes – one per participant)
  • plastic balls
  • another piece of rope tied together to create a loop with a 8′ diameter – this acts as a boundary
  • a much more expensive version can be purchased – http://everlastclimbing.com/products/toxic-waste-transfer/

The Task:

  • Set Up – Set up the 8′ rope circle. Put the plastic balls into the bucket with the ropes. Put the other bucket next to it.
  • Situation to Tell Students – A bucket of highly toxic popcorn (the plastic balls) has contaminated a circle approximately 8 feet in diameter. The toxic area extends to the sky (meaning that hands and arms cannot cross into the area. If the poisonous popcorn is not transferred to a safe container (the other bucket) for decontamination, the toxic popcorn will contaminate and destroy the population of the entire city.
  • The Task –  You must find a way to safely transfer the toxic popcorn from the
    unsafe container to the safe container, using only the materials provided to you. Each student must always hold onto the end of his or her rope.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 6, 2017 at 11:57 pm

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