Our 12-14 science fair (called the “Innovation Fair”) is coming up in March. Below, you’ll find a letter from Brian Corley and Courtney Peterson, the 12-14 science teachers. They do a wonderful job of explaining how they organize student groups and facilitate collaboration and group work. Group work can be a tricky endeavor for students to navigate and teachers to manage. There are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong and conflict to arise. The way Brian and Courtney have set it up, though, addresses any potential issues ahead of time. Group work and collaboration can be messy, but when it’s set up the right way, it’s a powerful and important experience .
Welcome to the Innovation Fair of 2015! This year’s fair will be one never to forget and we are excited and eager to share what we have in store. The event will take place on Tuesday, March 17.
To minimize the length of this letter, we have decided to allow your child to share the format of the Innovation Fair with you as we explain the reasoning for the structure. This year, students will have the opportunity to work as an individual or in a small group of four. The letter below is simply an FYI and pertains mostly to group work, however, the information is useful for those that choose to work in groups or as an individual. Please take a few minutes and review the letter below for a clear explanation of the Innovation Fair group structure.
Beyond the Innovation Fair, it is important that students develop other competencies that go above and beyond those related to science. Although working as an individual has its values, working in small groups is extremely important and valuable in the development of the overall child and can help students develop competencies in:
Collaboration / teamwork
Communication / listening
Leadership / project management
Articulating and defending a position
Of course that is not to say that group work assignments do not come with their fair share of problems and challenges. Chief among these are:
Logistical challenges: coordinating a time outside of school that meets all the group members schedules
Personality conflicts among group members
Students that may be along for the ride and are happy to leave the work to others
Those in the group who want to take over the project themselves
Things that we will do to maximize the benefits of group work and minimize its drawbacks are:
Provide Clear Directions
We will clearly lay out the goals of the assignment, directions on how it is to be completed, and our expectations for the final product. We understand that confusion and frustration will grow exponentially times the number of group members if directions and expectations are not crystal clear.
Diversify the Groups
We will emphasize the importance of heterogeneity in the groups. Mixing sexes, ages, talents, artistic abilities, etc. will be the goal. Again, the idea is to encourage a diversity of viewpoints and talents to come together as a whole — that is better than the sum of its individual parts.
Provide Guidance at the Outset
We will help groups get started by suggesting different roles that may be assigned within groups, by setting out clear rules of netiquette, and by pointing to resources available on group work, including “consultant” assistance, parent “investors” involvement and credible online resources.
Check in Often
We will provide check-ins early and often in this Innovation Fair process. Check-ins gives us a good idea on how groups are functioning as well as a clear insight on the dynamics of the group. It also keeps every student accountable to their group and their contributions to the group.
Emphasize Individual Accountability
Although it is a group project, and a group grade will be assessed, we will let students know that they will be held individually accountable for their contribution to the project. We will include an individual grade as part of the assessment, as well as, use peer evaluations via transparent assessment rubrics. Our goal is to let learners know that there is no hiding or slacking tolerated just because it is a group assignment. Additionally, group members will each be required to turn in weekly journals of their personal contributions to their group and also sign off on each others’ journal entries. Signing off indicates agreement and acknowledgement of authenticity and truth in their peer’s journal entry. This will help students hold each other accountable for individual work that needs to be done for the group to progress.
Debrief on the Experience
We will debrief with our students after the group assignment. It will provide students with a chance to reflect on their learning with respect to group processes, communication, conflicts, and the key attributes required in working with others toward common goals.
Group work can lead to problems because of personality clashes among students. However, we will try to resist the urge to jump in and fix things. We will help our students to settle any disputes, thus developing important competencies that will serve them well in other situations. We will do everything possible to help make this a smooth, enjoyable, and comprehensive project for our students.
Your child has already received a contract with more detail about what it means to work in a group or as an individual. There, students and parents will together decide if working in a group is best or if working as an individual is more appropriate for the student. Although, groups will ultimately be approved by the “consultants” (science teachers), it is important to get a complete understanding and “buy-in” from all constituents; students, parents and teachers alike.
Brian Corley– Head Science Teacher
Courtney Peterson – Science Associate