Tuesday, 27 October 2015

What does 'collaboration' look like in Big Projects?


This week I am asking our project guides to scaffold opportunities for students to reflect on the quality of collaboration going on in their projects.  But what does collaboration actually mean?  Why is it considered a "soft skill"?   How do you assess or make judgements about collaboration? 

The term collaboration is defined very simply as working with others for an intended outcome.  Often this is producing something such as research, art, products, events, presentations, etc.  But true collaboration should mean more than this - not just working with others, but working in ways that enhance the experience and outcomes for everyone involved.  In recent years I have heard the term 'soft skills' used when talking about collaboration in the classroom.  Soft skills are the top skills employers are looking for in their business or organisations when recruiting new staff.  These skills are not assessed in a traditional school curriculum, even though they are more in demand that ever before.  But our curriculum does acknowledge the importance of collaboration, as the Key Competency  'relating to others' and teaching this needs to be more explicit in our secondary schools.  A thought provoking blog to learn more about what makes effective collaboration is from the Social Change Collective - in particular a blog written by Robyn Lui.  Her narrative on working together and what hinders and helps teamwork is well worth a look.   Another resource is this inspiring Ted talk by Tom Wujec  "tell me how you make toast" which looks at the power of people who contribute to a team when it comes to projects and/or making change 

Something I am pondering...

Most teachers will think they know how to collaborate effectively - it involves communicating with others in the team, supporting them, doing your fair share, etc etc .. but how to we make sure all our students are actually doing this in their projects? More importantly, how do we make sure that they all improve their collaboration skills, to become a more valuable member of a group as each project comes to completion? How do we help structure and scaffold project learning activities that develop these dispositions rather than just let it 'happen' as they move from project to project?

In a recent survey of our HPSS students (completed after their Big Project in August), most felt they had learned team work skills as a result of their projects.  But how did they learn these? What aspects of the Big Project process taught them skills that made their abilities to work in a team seem greater?  This is something worth exploring further and I hope to do so in the near future. 

Students respond to a question about teamwork  - over 80% felt Big Projects helped them develop teamwork skills

Collaboration is assessed by the students themselves...

At HPSS, our students are the ones responsible for assessing the ability of their peers to collaborate effectively in Big Projects by making judgments and evaluating how effective their peers are.  I have generated a rubric on collaboration which is shared with students.  They then reflect on their team members ability to be collaborative during their 15 week project and award a SOLO grade. 

Collaboration: Working effectively with others to contribute to positive project outcomes.

The process involves
 - Students are allocated another member of their team to complete the collaboration report.  
 - Students then collect feedback from others in their team about how well that person has been collaborative during the project - it is strongly connected to perception.  
- Students use that information to fill in a 'google form' that creates a collaboration comment and identifies a level that students are working at.  
- Students receive this feedback in their 'end of project' report. 

I use this 'meme' a lot in my role at HPSS - trying to get students to think more critically about the way their team members are collaborating.  

Big Project team members share a common goal with a common plan to ensure this goal is met.   Collaboration is an important part of that process and the rubric helps unpack for students the different components of high level collaboration: 

role responsibility            communication              purposeful                responsive                critically reflective   
Unpacking the rubric gives us an understanding of what we are looking for when students are completing a group work project.  Students need to take responsibility for tasks, be relied on and take ownership of an element of the project.  Teams need their members to show initiative and be responsive, especially as the project evolves, problems arise and solutions are needed.  Teams work well when members are purposeful and fulfill a range of roles, not just those allocated for a successful project outcome.  But teams also need to be critical and reflective, about the project and with each other, helping team members grow and complete tasks more effectively through constructive feedback and feed-forward.  
Source: Robin Lui 

Moving forward, in 2016, I am thinking that students should generate a 'project team contract' (similar to the one BIE have developed HERE)  whereby the components of collaboration are unpacked and related to the specific context on a team project and the different roles that have been identified.  Student can then see what positive collaboration looks like and aim to work towards what has been agreed on.  Watch this space....

Can students make valid judgement about their peers?  

The simple answer is that many can, and some cannot.  Most students relish this opportunity and take it very seriously, collecting team member voice and thinking deeply about how that translates to the collaboration rubric.  Some students, often working with friends, are rose tinted in their perception of the contribution their team members have made.  There is also a small group who can be overly critical of their team members, focusing on one particularly bad event, rather than the overall contribution that has been made. 

Here is an example from 2014 of a student with the ability to give positive feedback and feed-forward as well as some constructive criticism.  I smile every time I read this because they really get to the heart of the matter - why collaboration is so important.  

Student A, you didn't do much, but did help out with setting up the sound equipment and working together with Student B and C. One thing that you did well was help create the sound track for Save The Epilobium, your part in the Epilobium video was good and it made the video better with the music you added. You should come to the school show rehearsals next time so you can know what we need to do and what we don't need to do, so you can fill in for the people who weren't here. In your next Big Project you need to stay on task and not procrastinate, because that lets the team down and means we have to do more work.

There is still more work to be done in this area - it's important that students all understand the rubric and what collaboration genuinely looks like at each SOLO level.  This is something we are continuing to focus on as we grow project learners in our school.  Unpacking the rubric, with a guide, in relation to a specific project context will prove much more powerful than looking at collaboration in a general way. 

So, what do our guides need to do? A challenge for this week...

Google Doc HERE
This week I have asked our guides to create an activity or scenario whereby students feel confident and secure enough to provide honest and meaningful collaboration feedback to their peers.  For relational and extended abstract collaboration, purposeful feedback needs to be generated and acted on.  Creating a situation or environment whereby honest and constructive feedback can be given, will allow students to see this happening and can be acknowledged when evaluating their peers.  

There are many different ways this could be approached and I intend to share successful activities in this blog as the week progresses - so watch this space :) 

FINALLY - Other helpful places to find insight
Edutopia - http://www.edutopia.org/blog/nurturing-collaboration-5-strategies-joshua-block

Teaching Channel - https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2014/03/25/deeper-learning-student-collaboration/

Monday, 26 January 2015

Our first sustainability project at HPSS

Tackling sustainability through project based learning

When I think of the understandings and concepts our students need to know to face a 21st century future worth living in - I always think of sustainability first.  The problems of finite resource use, exponential population growth and climate change must be tackled by this new generation, they have no choice.  As educators we have a responsibility to provide them with skills and knowledge so they can make decisions that will prepare them for a world we do not fully understand yet.  Luckily we also have a curriculum that identifies environmental sustainability - as a value and as a future focus. Yet as students move from primary school to secondary school, often this concept is forgotten, replaced by NCEA workload that could engage students in meaningful learning about contemporary, local and global sustainability issues, but often doesn't - favoured instead by old, more comfortable topics, that teachers are familiar with.

Big Projects has three key themes, based on curriculum values and future focus - enterprise, citizenship/community and sustainability.  These concepts will be explicitly explored through our project learning programme (not  overlooked).  We launched our first sustainability project in the middle of last year, with some really great successes.  This blog is about sharing them with you.

B3 - Bring Back Biodiversity! 

One component of Big Projects is to have everyone working towards a common goal/outcome/challenge, but doing it through different pathways to ensure personalised, engaging learning experiences for all students.  The goal of B3 was to take action that would increase or support the biodiversity living in Hobsonville Point.  How students accomplished this was through a wide range of projects which included:

  • Designing and building a 'native garden' for a local resident.  This garden can then be used to educate and encourage other new residents in the area to plant native plants in their gardens to attract native wildlife.
  • Tackling a major pollution incident in a local mangrove inlet, being resilient when picking up thousands of plastic bags, making a website and a film to promote their positive actions to others in the community.
  • Helping to raise awareness of the plight of an endangered plant on Hobonsville Point - Epilobium.  Creating flyers, a Facebook page and a short film on YouTube, students have begun to raise awareness in the local community.
  • Monitoring storm-water pollution in our local retention ponds, recording data and sharing it with local council and creating a website to inform local residents about pollution issues in our waterways.
  • Making a short 5 min documentary to highlight the issue of protecting biodiversity in Auckland .  "Epilobium" won a sustainability film award (Outlook for Someday).
"Epilobium can be found on YouTube

A reflection of each projects work and student learning has been collated together on this website: https://sites.google.com/a/hobsonvillepoint.school.nz/hpss---bring-back-biodiversity-b3/

Making it authentic and 'real world' 

The 15 week projects were all co-constructed by the students with support from their project guides (who did an amazing job at encouraging their students).  But they weren't working alone.  B3 was a project created in partnership with the Auckland Council who are strongly involved in environmental protection of the area.  Experts from the Biodiversity and Biosecurity teams worked with our students to help develop actions and plans about what could be achieved in the project time frame.  Experts from Waicare and Sustainable Coastlines were also on board to give help and support.

This Big Project was in partnership with Auckland Council

The Big Project structure

With all Big Project learning experiences, there is a structure and framework to guide students through the process (see early Blogs for more detail).  Each project starts with the Kickoff.  This 'event' involved the whole school taking a 'walk' to the local pollution event and seeing for themselves the devastation of what thousands and thousands of plastic bags can do to the local environment.  It was a 'silent' walk, students in single file.  The Auckland Council worked hard to ensure the site was safe and accessible to our students which was fantastic.  The Kickoff was a success in many ways - no one fell down the cliffs and most students thought the bags were terrible.  However, I underestimated the 'city kid syndrome' whereby the students were so far out of their comfort zone, just walking along a muddy track, that the extent of the pollution event was missed by many. Some were so busy trying to keep their sneakers clean, that they didn't quite have the capacity to even see the bags around them.  Regardless, it was a wonderful way to launch a project aimed at protecting the environment.. actually getting students to be in a natural environment, even for 60 min was worthwhile :)

Mary from Auckland Council talking to our students about the rubbish

Our students off on a wilderness walk - a real culture shock for some!

Planning and Action stages were all varied and involved experts of some description.  Steve Mouldey engaged the support of a local 'landscape architect' to evaluate the garden plan the students created.  Sally Hart and Bryce Clapman worked with Mary Stewart from Auckland Council to take the best possible action to clean up the pollution in the local inlet.  Cindy Wynn worked with Chris Ferkins to help the students understand the biology of Epilobium.  Jill MacDonald worked with an ecologist, Marnie from Waicare, to learn about the wildlife in our local stormwater ponds and streams.  Pete McGhie facilitated our film students, collaborating with musicians from House of Shem to create the music for their Epilobium short film.

Action Packed with Plastic team really making a difference - Image courtesy of Sally Hart

Showtime was an exhibition event, co-created by our wonderful design teacher Liz McHugh.  Members of each project group were selected to summarise the key actions of the project and 'share' these in an exhibition board, to be seen by members of our local community and Local Community Board Members from the Auckland Council during a school show event.  Students talked to parents and Councillors about their projects and shared what they had learned about sustainability and hopefully, a little about biodiversity.  The boards sit proudly in our school entrance way even today.

Annie talks to Nick, Green Party local candidate about Epilobium - Chris from Auckland Council on far right.

Action Packed with Plastic exhibition board- created by Jalen and now stands in our school entrance way 

Cindy Wynn and Matthew stand with Ivy and her husband, the local residents who requested students design and build their native garden.  They were very very happy clients! 

A local paper reports on the efforts of our Epilobium team.  

Final look was a student reflection on the project and what they had accomplished.  I will blog about this soon with some 'data'a and 'pretty graphs' to show student reflections :)

Final Reflections for 2015

In my opinion Environmental Education is a fundamentally important component of a child's education. Every young person MUST leave secondary school with a solid understanding of what it means to behave and consume in a sustainable way.  They need to understand that we are dependent on our environment and our environment is dependent on us.  Did our students in B3 walk away with the best possible understanding of biodiversity and the importance of protecting it?  I know that they certainly developed a new perspective.  Did they show personal and social responsibility - definitely.  However, we could engage our students further with increasing the exposure they had to outside  experiences and expertise.  More trips and interactions with similar successful projects or role models would have really helped inspire our students even more.  Giving more time to engage with the community and encouraging other groups/residents to take their own actions would have also been meaningful.

As we develop Big Projects and the structures that underpin student learning experiences, explicit learning objectives from learning areas related to the projects will occur.  The NZC provides wide scope to do this in a wide range of learning areas.  It's about guides and students exploring the curriculum and finding the links to what is being done and building a more rigorous approach to making curriculum connections.  We know that learning is actively taking place, but we perhaps need to be more explicit in how we facilitate, monitor and evidence it.

In 2015 we are planning a sustainability project around the challenge of "growing good food" with the aim of creating a project around promoting local gardens, food for bees, buying local and supporting local businesses trying to make a difference in the community.  We will be partnering up with Kai Auckland and the Auckland Council again for this project...