Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Collaboration Builds Equity: STEAM Roles

This is a dynamic model for the design process. One I hope to embed in our STEAMwork.

I must admit that I've never been a big fan of Literature Circles as I felt the roles were too contrived and got in the way of the quality of a good, organic literary discussion. Perhaps I never gave the structure enough time, or maybe, I was reaching the goals I wanted to reach in reading without those roles. While I didn't embrace those roles, I know that many teachers did and still do use those roles successfully today.

Now that I'm working with colleagues to develop our STEAM efforts, I've been struck by the need to develop students' ability to utilize the design process with optimal collaboration and teamwork. In fact, I like to call it STEAMwork, and say to students let's maximize the TEAM in STEAM.

Our last STEAM Theme Day, a day focused on creating Rube Goldberg-like marble mazes, was a terrific grade-wide day of design and creativity, but I desire more. I want students to better be able to maximize their design efforts, collaboration, and presentation. As I've thought about that, my thinking has been impacted by a system-wide professional learning event related to STEAM, the advent of of a number of upcoming STEAM Days, collegial discussion, the desire to make math class more inquiry based and collaborative, and recent presentations and research I've done.

Last night I had the chance to view a dynamic art invention project created by seventh grade teacher, Peter Curran, from the school system where I work. I really liked the design process this talented art teacher used to promote student invention, creativity, and collaboration. I listened carefully as the Superintendent presented the teacher's work as I watched the video of a recent school committee meeting. Peter welcomes people to view his art website and recent presentation for an ArtEd Conference. Also, as I read Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets, I was struck by her research and vignettes related to the relationship between collaboration and learning success. Boaler demonstrates how some students simply don't know how to collaborate or don't have an open mindset towards working with others. She relays an effort where students where deliberately inspired, taught, and invited to collaborate, and how their success grew. She lends this, in part, as an example of how to build greater equity in our teaching/learning environments.

I have witnessed how the lack of collaborative skill or openness has hindered STEAMwork, therefore I read Boaler's suggestions carefully. As she discusses the work at Railside, the name she gives to an urban school in California where she conducted studies, Boaler states, "Part of the reason students worked so well at Railside, was that multidimensional mathematics was taught and valued, and the teachers taught students to support each other's learning." STEAMwork (science, tech, engineering, art, math) invites students into problems that have multidimensional solution paths, so this is a natural match to the inquiry based, open-ended learning problems involved in our STEAM Theme Days. Boaler also supports the use of roles to help children by providing some advantageous structure to the effort to help students learn to collaborate in ways that matter.

As I considered the roles she presents, I knew that I wanted to match our STEAM roles a bit more tightly to the design process. I also wanted to include the great Stanford University design path, the seventh grade art teacher used. Further, I wanted to create roles that would fit well with our upcoming STEAM explorations--roles that laid a path to collaborative success.

I came up with the following drafts:

First, one issue I have with roles is that they can be too tight and not allow all students to experience every aspect of project/problem work. Hence I first created an introduction to STEAM Teams:

Next I outlined each role. Ideally I'd like to print these roles, cut them out, and place them in badges with lanyards to make them official and easily identified. I can imagine our team meeting with groups of same role students as well as groups of mixed-role, project group to help them plan and support each other with their STEAMwork. We might even survey students about the roles they desire most and make teams based on the surveys.

Finally I created a roll-out chart that demonstrates what each student in each role would do during each phase of the design process:

The principal has given our team a half-day of release time to review our STEAMwork with greater depth. We also have a PLC planned to support our efforts.

As I wrote this post this morning, I was reminded of the great IDEO video about the design of better shopping carts. This may be a good film to share with students:

Bringing good structure to our STEAMwork will make the work more equitable and successful for all. I'm looking forward to developing the project in this wa