One of the over-arching goals of any STEM program is for students to improve communication and problem-solving skills, as well as to hone their ability to work with other students. In short – how to be part of a team.
By the time students are in 3rd or 4th grade, we begin to expect them to be able to work cooperatively with their peers in small groups . We need to keep in mind, however, that just like any other skill, students need to be taught how to share their ideas and listen to others and resolve conflicting visions of the solution to a problem - all while working toward the solution to the problem. Not an easy task for most people of any age.
As a STEM teacher, it is your job to ensure that your students have the opportunities to build their teamwork skills needed to successfully complete a challenge with others. This is a tall order and best to be thought of as a year-long process.
The first several days of a new school year is typically spent in “getting to know you”, and general team building activities. There are discussions about acceptable respectful discussion behaviors that are typically listed and posted in the classroom. These discussions are the perfect springboard to segue into working as a team to solve challenges.
Trying to solve a problem within a group can offer quite a challenge to young students. Communication misunderstandings and competing ideas of how to solve the problem can cause tension among the members. Therefore, we discuss and model language to use within the group to enable the students to:
Lessons whose purpose is to specifically build teamwork are fun and can be a great way to help the students build trust and camaraderie before tackling a tough problem.
A good team building lesson should:
We believe that STEM lessons are great team building lessons since they are typically fun and encourage communication.Our Back to School Team Building lesson packet is perfect for the first week of school. Comprised of 5 quick energizers in a bundle, its perfect to use as a fun way to discuss and build those team work skills needed all year.
We’ve found that often young students have difficulty jumping into a STEM challenge without some very explicit procedures to follow, in spite of having language to use. They are usually excited to begin and anxious for their ideas to be used for the solution. Therefore, we often utilize the following at the beginning of the year:
When grouping students into teams, you need to carefully consider what you know about each of your students. This is definitely a challenge at the beginning of the school year; therefore, keep challenges simple at that time. Teams should be composed of students of differing strengths and abilities. Once teams begin to work, be sure to carefully observe the dynamic of the team:
Teams should be changed throughout the school year and the information that you learn from observing your students will help you avoid creating a group that cannot be successful.
In short, it takes time to teach your students how to be a member of a team. The time you invest in the beginning of the year – and throughout the rest of the year will be well worth it.