“My kids can’t work in teams.”
This is the number one objection I hear from teachers regarding group STEM challenges.
There is confusion. Sometimes there is crying. There can also be chaos.
And not just the lower grades! Upper elementary educators are experiencing this tendency also.
Nothing gets done. Some kids fool around. Many don’t follow directions.
Have your experiences with STEM team challenges been less than inspiring? Or maybe you have been reluctant to even give them a try? You are not alone.
So, what’s a teacher to do?
Well, you could sigh and shake your head and wonder how many days till summer break.
Or, you can dig in your heels and get ready to take the actionable steps below.
WHY SHOULD I EVEN CARE ABOUT THIS?
The nature of work has changed. In the past, people frequently worked alone, performing the same job over and over from day to day and year to year. Today, many of those jobs are automated or obsolete. Workers are expected to possess multi-dimensional abilities, which rely heavily on people skills. Employees from all over the world can and do collaborate on projects. Working in teams, especially in STEM fields, is a crucial ability for employment in the 21st century.
WHAT IS A TEAM?
A team is a group of people working effectively together to achieve a common goal. Dividing and seating kids together doesn’t make a team because the “working together effectively” part is where it gets tricky. This is true for adults, as well as children, and the reason team building in business is a “thing.” Some companies go as far as hosting team building weekend retreats – at resorts – in tropical locations … but I digress.
Assuming your school district isn’t sending you or your students to a resort for team building anytime soon, we are going to have to take a look at other options.
Let me reassure you there are some proven strategies which can allow you to smoothly transition to successful STEM teams.
WHERE SHOULD I START?
Although STEM challenges are ideal for team building, and team building is perfect for STEM, that is not the recommended way to start! STEM Challenges are complex and by developing and reinforcing some social skills first, you will have a solid base from which to begin.
Initially, assess your students’ abilities to share/take turns. You may assume these skills were mastered in preschool, yet teachers are often surprised. Children tend to be inherently self-centered and may need some extra practice.
AGREEING, DISAGREEING AND COMPLIMENTING
Encouraging peers and giving effective compliments also goes a long way when working in groups. However, for most, this does not come naturally. Like all skills, praising and admiring others, needs to be taught, practiced and reinforced. You can find great suggestions for teaching kids to give and receive compliments at Social and Emotional Workshops.
Conversely, children (and adults!) often need to understand how to disagree politely. Most will unintentionally blurt something rude or just remain quiet. Edutopia has an informative post on appropriate ways students can share different opinions.
PLAY SOME GAMES
Playing team building games and activities is an enjoyable way to first approach working with others. Camouflaged as fun, kids begin to develop fundamental team building skills such as trust, listening, problem solving, communication and cooperation in a stress-free non-academic situation.
Once they have had some experience, you can move on. Don’t expect or wait for perfection as kids will be working on these team building skills for years.
You are now ready to take the plunge and divide your class into teams. Decisions about how you will split them will depend on many factors including your grade and number of students. Regardless of how you do this, avoid the drama and do not, I repeat DO NOT, allow the kids to choose.
Once your teams are determined, you will need to decide how long your groups will remain as teams. Some teachers re-team their students for each STEM challenge. I prefer to keep mine together for at least a quarter. This gives them a more realistic experience and allows for additional pre-STEM Challenge activities. I also give them roles to perform.
As soon as I have assigned teams, I like to give them a “Get to Know You” Ice Breaker Activity, followed by time for them to name their group. I also like to provide an opportunity for them to create a team flag or crest. These community builders get kids interacting, participating and feeling like part of a cohesive group.
The time has finally come for you to bite the bullet and begin STEM Group or Team Challenges. If you are still feeling a bit reluctant, or overwhelmed with the choices available, check out my STEM products in my TpT Store or HERE in my website. All of them work well with groups.
My Back to School Bridge Team Building, Apple Tower Team Building, and Marble Run Team Building (also available as a TEAM BUILDING BUNDLE) were all designed not only for designing and building, but also to get your students collaborating, communicating, and problem solving.
Team building does take some work, but the results are so valuable. Not only will they ultimately make your life easier, but they will become the foundation for skills your students will utilize for life.
Thanks for stopping by!