Collaboration is vital in the world of education from both the teaching and learning perspective.
As I reflect on my first 5 (and 3 months) years of teaching, there are so many interactions with colleagues I am thankful for. There are so many co-workers and friends who have, because my collaboration with them, led me to be a better thinker, learner and teacher.
The ability to collaborate is one that is held in highest regard in the workplace (and in the classroom), yet I don’t remember at all being taught how to collaborate. This could be because I have a horrible memory of my childhood, or because when “we were kids” collaboration came more natural for whatever reason (I blame technology and the ability to be enthralled with an individual activity or in front of a screen). This year, I have tried to have all of the sections I teach (5th grade science, 5th grade math, 6th grade science and 6th grade math) all be centered around the nature of collaboration.
This was not as easy of a transition as I thought.
Little did I know, I had to teach my students how to collaborate effectively. I like to think with enough time to plan and enough resources (and time to study the material myself) I can teach just about anything. Then the first few days of school hit and I realized, well, this is new. I wanted my kids to work and learn together almost ALL the time, but I had to teach them how to do that. I had to take a step back and think about what my goals for collaboration were, and how slow was I willing to go content wise these first weeks of school to build the collaboration aspect of our learning community.
Thankfully, my school district was a step ahead of me. Our district adopted a new math program for 6th-12th graders that is TOTALLY focused around team learning and collaborative groups. CPM might have saved me. CPM is a math program based out of California, and they envision a world where “mathematics is view as intriguing and useful, is appreciated by all and where powerful mathematical thinking is an essential, ,universal and desirable trait; and where people are empowered by mathematical problem solving and reasoning…”. Their program is based around students working collaboratively in teams (because 4 brains are better than 1) and provide teachers with more tools, professional development and guidance than I could ever imagine to help embed collaboration in each and ever lesson. I will admit, I was apprehensive to make such a strong overall shift in classroom structure (we have always worked in teams problem solving, but that has not typically been the DAILY structure or expectation in class), but I have never been more thrilled with the progress a group of students has made in the first 3-4 weeks of school as I have seen with my current group of 6th graders. Each and every one of them is now committed to working as a team.
The great thing about this curriculum switch, is that it made it even easier for my other class periods (especially the ones with my 5th grade– I can tell them “I just want you to be prepared for 6th grade) to take on more of a collaborative learning approach. While we still have a long way to go, I am so proud of my students in how quickly they have learned to work and learn together in ways they are not used to. I am energized and excited to see what the next 7-8 months have in store for my team of learners (including myself)!