Pam, my colleague and co-conspirator (and our new Upper Grades Head of School) has invited me to collaborate with her 3rd grade social studies class on what may grow into authentic and innovative stem-based learning (heh heh) in our school garden. We're dreaming dreams of turning our school garden into a happy hive of social entrepreneurship and experiments in sustainable farming -- and it should all connect perfectly with our school's budding interest in design thinking-based education, and this unfolding unit on local agriculture, right?
To our surprise, we discovered that our students -- cheerful, willing, and energetic -- were pretty ambivalent about working in small groups. (It was surprisingly embarrassing to note how long it took us to uncover this need. More on that another time.)
This being our first-ever collaboration (and my first attempt at doing anything in an elementary grade classroom), we realized that we needed to pump the brakes on churning through content to address how we might tackle the work we hoped would enliven and enlarge their spirit. We spent the better part of a week interviewing our students in various formats, all towards uncovering their experiences of working together, both inside and outside of school. These exercises included individual journal writing, small-group and whole-class discussion, and -- our favorite! -- a share-out of one Post-It note stories: "The best out-of-school collaboration I ever had was __________________."
Having begun to assemble a list of what we did and didn't like about working in small groups, we took a peak at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School's norms -- and set our students loose on brainstorming their own. (This, of course, was a small-group exercise of its own, hiding in plain sight. It offered all kinds of opportunities for Pam and I to watch student interactions -- but, for the most part, to enjoy their growing collaborative spirit.)
Finally, we did a class share-out of all our potential norms, and each student voted for their favorite five.
While they ate lunch, Pam and I evaluated their list, and -- adding our own two cents -- have narrowed the list to five:
Share the well.
Everyone's vision has value.
And...: That last one remains a work in progress. Pam and I will challenge our students tomorrow to work one more time to hammer a faithful compromise or synthesis between these three: "Don't be afraid to be wrong/Have a positive mindset/Do your best."
We cannot wait to see what our students make of these norms -- and, perhaps, what those norms make of their teachers.