Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Who’s Doing What?

In Uncategorized on May 23, 2012 at 6:08 am

I admit it again: I am not a teacher-blogger. I blog once in a blue moon and solely to share what I do in the classroom. So if you are up to a (long) post filled with activities, samples of student work and fun you are welcome.

My students are in third grade (second-language learners,too) and we are concluding an inquiry unit on teamwork. The central idea is By working together and sharing responsibilities we can achieve a common goal.

I do not reveal it until students themselves can actually put the threads together – why should I narrow down the thinking? Difficulties and challenges keep us alert and enable us to make more connections.

As in my previous post, I will place the activities in a timeline although we all know learning is always more chaotic and messy.

1. Provoke them – Tower Challenge


Divide the class in groups – there are many ways to do that (by colors, by numbers,favorite singers or bands etc).

Choose two-three students – who will be the Observers – without the knowledge of their peers and inform them what their job is: to observe and write down what they see, withholding any judgment.

Task: Using straws and tape challenge each team to build the highest structure they can within 20 minutes.

Increase the pressure by counting down (at the end) – how teams work under pressure is different sometimes. Group dynamics change and tension begins to build. This is important so students can later discuss this aspect.

End: Have the teams show their product. Listen, as a whole class, to what the Observers noticed. Ask team members to self-evaluate according to a chart and rate their work as a team. (see photos)

Have a reflection sheet so students can reflect individually, too.


2. The shortest story ever: Everybody Wanted…

We sat in a circle. I put the “No Hands Up” sign and asked the kids to just listen and think.

Slowly, I add each story sentence so it could “sink in” (I assure you, this little trick has a different impact than if I had the full text from the beginning). Kids begin to blink, rub their chins, raise their eyebrows – aha, I hooked them! They understand.


Imagine that these few sentences stirred a lot of discussion. But hey, we can use our thinking even more – let’s write down key concepts that they can associate with this story. They began to pour (“blame”, “giving up”, “teamwork” etc). Can we do even more? Sure we can categorize them: Positive (“collaborative”), Neutral (“Function” – How does a team work?), Negative (“blame”).

Push their thinking more: what is the big idea of the story? Formulate it in a sentence. Our most votes were for Niki’s (“People should help each other even if they are not told to.”)


3. A Team Player…IS/ SHOULD/ DOESN’T

Divide the class in three groups and give each group 10-15 minutes to brainstorm: what qualities a team player has (A Team Player Is…), what (s)he should do and what (s)he never does. Share with the class.

*For those involve din the PYP, this relates a lot with the Learner Profile elements.


Student choices?


4. How to NOT Be a Team Player

Writing and doodling? You bet! Individually now, show me what a non team player does. Use your experience – Were you bossied around? Were you shouted at? Did you have to do the hard work all the time? Then put it on paper.

Share and let the kids giggle – the doodles and the fact that we approached the topic from a negative perspective makes it more interesting an activity.


 5. Central Idea(s)

Looking back we have a pretty good idea of what this inquiry unit involves. Let’s try writing the central idea ourselves. What is difficult about this process is that the Central Idea should be relatively abstract and universal, so it can drive conceptual (not factual) thinking.

The kids were great – some of their ideas resembled mine!

People get a great result if they work in a team. (Andrei)

A team is not a team if only one person is working. (Elenis)

In a team it doesn’t matter who you are but HOW you are. (Stefan)

Communication and teamwork can
help you in your life.

You can do everything if you have a team. (Eliza)

Somehow a team is like a family. (Alex)

Working in a team will bring you many challenges. (Ioana)

In a team you have to be good. (Alina)

Communicate with each other in a team. (Maria)

6. Hey, I have a question!

At this stage we apparently know a lot about the topic – what on earth can we inquire into? But let’s go below the iceberg. The kids do still have questions. They will research and find answers by themselves (research implies relying not only on paper and digital resources, but people and locations, too!)


7. Creative Thinking Time

Metaphorical thinking is yet another way to encourage the development of thinking skills. Move away from analytical thought and put it in..metaphors and colors!

What would “teamwork” be? (beehive, anthill, puzzle…)

What color would it have? Why?

Turqoise – because it is a combination of colors and in a team you have to cooperate. (Iustin)

Yellow  – because it shows happiness (and I am happy in a team). (Niki)

– because it expresses the light of friendship. (Elenis)

White – because the team shouldn’t argue and white shows “calm” (Andrei).

Green – because it shows good things and teams do good things together. (Stefan)

Pink – because when things get worse the members need to think “optimism”. (Eliza)

– because you have to be kind. (Ioana)


8. Digital Poster

Let’s use our photo editing tools and some Flickr CC photos and illustrate the concept of teamwork. Easy peasy!


8. Some Doing 

While we inquire individually and try to find anwers to our questions, how can we best show that we grasped the Central Idea? By doing something together as a team! You mean…we get to choose what to do? By all means, kiddos. I will be just an observer during this week. You can choose anything – from a digital project (i.e. a blog, a wiki, a movie) to something tangible.

So here the kids decided – after a lot of brainstorming and crossing out ideas:

team 1: Will build a house for the kindergarten (yes, a real house)

team 2: Will assemble, paint and varnish a table and chairs for toddlers

team 3: Will make cookies and lemonade, sell them and donate the money

team 4: Will make toys, jewelries and artwork, sell and donate the money, too


I know my students are enthusiastic little creatures, but to bring everything they needed right the next day? Now that is what I call organization – I think we need them as managers in our community, really :).

If you think we just started without any plan, you’re wrong. Each team blogged about the entire process:

Essential Agreements (“rules” they have for their team), Responsibilities (what each member’s job is), Materials (what resources they needed), Steps (what actions are planned), Timeline (when they will do what), People (who might help them), Advertising (how will they let the community know about their projects?), and Location.


They also have a Reflection Journal where they reflect daily – what obstacles they encountered, what exactly they did on that day, how they got along with the other team members etc. The journal has a very simple format – blank pages stapled together- so they can use doddling, typography or plain writing.


They share these reflections with their team members – I encourage openness in communication. Kids understand that it is beneficial for the entire team to know what everyone is thinking and feeling (thus, potential frustrations or conflicts can be resolved). Also, it helps each kid understand how (s)he is viewed within the team – image that may or may not be similiar with what (s)he thinks about him/herself.


9. Video time!

I always use videos and photographs to make a lesson more powerful, stir thinking and encourage discussion. For this unit I chose the movie Apollo 13 as it reinforces the idea of teamwork. I used I See / I Think / I Wonder strategy from Visible Thinking , stopped the movie three times so the kids could write on post-its and then discussed.


10. PLN help

Finally, I posted an interactive link yesterday on Twitter asking people (thank you to all who contributed!) what word comes to their mind when they think of “teamwork”. We will discuss the answers today in class.


All in all, I think we thought and did quite a lot for four weeks (one hour per day). Obviously, this inquiry can have many variations depending on student age, their own questions etc. As these are second-language learners, I had to take into consideration the language factor, too (for native speakers, the activities can be much more complex).

*I will add the video tomorrow as I am at school right now and I don’t have enough time to edit it.*