Teaching Collaboration

Posted by Pine Crest School on February 15, 2019 at 11:12 AM

By Vicki Spitalnick, Innovation Specialist

Collaboration is a necessary skillset for any career path. At Pine Crest School, students begin learning to collaborate in pre-kindergarten and continue to work on this skill through a variety of hands-on projects, peer editing, and more.


Teaching collaboration is challenging but essential. Sometimes, students in a collaborative activity feel that they do not have a voice with a group or partner and that they are not being heard. On the other side, some students choose to sit back and allow others to do the work for them.


Neither are examples of true collaboration.


Recently, eighth grade Design Thinking students were tasked with building a marble track using KEVA planks. The goal of this Marble Maze project was to build a track on which a marble would travel from the beginning to the end without assistance. The students were paired off and each pair was responsible for a two-by-two square section of the track. The pairs immediately began construction. Here is what I noticed:


  • The pairs only talked to each other.

  • Each block was being built individually without conferring with those before and after.

  • Tracks were not aligned, and heights varied.

  • Students focused only on their individual build.


I knew that for the track to work, changes had to be made by the students, and it was my job to facilitate the collaboration.


I waited a week before reintroducing the assignment to them. Upon entering the Mintz Family iLab, students were excited to see the materials out again for the Marble Maze activity. Automatically, students regrouped with their original partners and were asked to discuss problems with the structure of the project as well as the execution.


The problems were listed and diagrammed on the design tables and shared with the whole group.


After troubleshooting with the whole class, partners were switched and locations of builders rearranged. Despite frustration with the new arrangement, the students got to work. The difference was obvious.


After reframing the assignment, students:

  • discussed and documented their plan before building began,

  • figured out how to align their tracks before building, and

  • adjusted the height based on the final square.


Ultimately, students learned that to achieve success, plans required collaboration between all of their groups. They needed to be receptive and flexible to changes and suggestions from groups designing the blocks before and after them for the track to align.


As I teach my students, I too am reminded that iteration and testing provide valuable insights!


At the end of the assignment, students were proud of their success and accomplishments, and I was too. It reminded me of the importance of reflection and the allowance for a second attempt at success.


Vicki Spitalnick is an Innovation Specialist in the Mintz Family Innovation Lab (iLab) on Pine Crest School’s Boca Raton campus. Vicki has been a self-proclaimed “crafter” since her days in summer camp where she honed her skills with any and all materials available. Project based, hands-on learning has been integrated into her classroom curriculum for years. Prior to joining Pine Crest, Vicki was a first and third grade gifted classroom teacher at Poinciana STEM Magnet school where she integrated technology and maker projects into her regular curriculum. 

Topics: Innovation, Student Life, Admission, Middle School, Design Thinking, Innovation Institute, 2019