Factors to Successful Collaborations

by Kelsey Kinnison

While taking an elementary education science methods course at the University of Nebraska, I had the opportunity to take part in a Lincoln Community Learning Center. The Lincoln CLC consisted of an after school program science club that occurred once a week for five weeks at Huntington Elementary with K-2nd grade students. The following post is about my journey collaboratively working to create and teach a science unit on penguins within a CLC and the knowledge and professional growth I gained from this experience.

Five of my classmates and I worked collaboratively to create a penguin unit. Four of us each created and taught a lesson, while one performed the role of a videographer and used community resources to create an educational video on penguins. I began the unit by creating and teaching a penguin introductory lesson. In this lesson, students first listened to the nonfiction text, Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere! by Bob Barner. The use of a trade book allowed students to be placed within the engage phase of the Learning Cycle. Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere! was used to create interest and generate curiosity on the topic of penguins. Through this text, students gained knowledge on the characteristics, lifestyle, and types of penguins. Misconceptions were also addressed as students learned that not all penguins live in the cold and snow. After listening to the nonfiction text students collectively completed a KWLQ chart. They shared and discussed what they know about penguins, what they want to find out, what they learned, and questions they have. The KWLQ chart was used as a tool to guide the remaining lessons of the unit because it provided information on what the students know and what they want to find out. For instance, one student questioned if penguins have ears. Knowing what they want to learn and the questions they still have allowed us to get an understanding of what we should teach and address in the following lessons; the characteristics of penguins and whether they have ears being one of them. The KWLQ chart was also built upon with each lesson. Each of us using the chart with our lessons was a great tool in working together and it built on students’ interests and knowledge as well as focused on the lessons. Also, by the end of the unit students were able to visually look at the KWLQ chart and see their growth in knowledge. The first day there was only a handful of statements students knew on penguins and by the end the entire poster board was filled with what the students now knew and learned about penguins.

Collaborative planning and teaching is what contributed to the success of this unit. As a group of teachers we were able to use each of our experiences and knowledge to create this unit. The factors to successful collaboration among our group were: strong relationships, strong purpose and commitment to goals, shared responsibility and participation, and high communication. To begin, we were able to initially sit down and choose a topic. Once the topic of penguins was agreed upon we began brainstorming the key concepts that we wanted to teach the students. These included: characteristics, habitat and warmth, feeding and food chain, family and species. Each person was then assigned to cover a specific concept by creating and teaching a lesson over it. However, at this point it could have gone two ways; a divide and conquer method could have been used or collaborating and working as a team. As a team we were really able to bounce ideas off one another when creating each lesson within the unit. Also, after each person taught we would share our experiences so we had a better sense as to what the next lesson needed to consist of. Each week there was also always at least two of us teachers present at the CLC which allowed for a co-teaching type experience. As teachers we built relationships with one another, had high communication, worked collaboratively, and all strived to achieve the same goal while teaching the unit. As a result we were able to provide students with a fun, beneficial and educational science experience.

While taking part in the CLC we also had the opportunity to work with a biomedical engineering class. Five engineering students were also a part of our penguin CLC team. However, although collaboration was high among my classmates, it was not a strong factor between the biomedical engineering students and us and there were difficulties in working with them. They could have made a unique educational contribution when teaching about how penguins stay warm. They not only would have brought a different perspective into the CLC for both us teachers and the students but they also could have been used to break stereotypes students may have on scientists. When you ask a student to describe a scientist to you a high percentage will share descriptions that include a Caucasian male in a white lab coat. What students don’t realize is scientists are much more than someone in a lab coat with goggles and a bubbling beaker in their hand and this is something that could have been addressed if the engineering students had a role within the CLC. The engineering students are scientist and I believe that in itself would have been a complete lesson and eye opener to the students. Overall, the potential was there; and although working with the engineering students did not work out, I feel there were still benefits that came from this experience.

Having the opportunity to take part in a Lincoln Community Learning Center was a beneficial learning experience and it made me grow as a professional. Collaboration and working together was a huge aspect of this experience and I learned a lot from it. Majority of the time I am independently creating and teaching lessons so to have the opportunity to work as a team to teach students was a great new experience that I saw a lot of benefits from. Having relationships among us teachers, being committed to the goals, sharing responsibilities, high participation, and having strong communication are what made up the collaboration and made the unit the success it was. I plan on taking what I have learned from this experience and apply it when I am an elementary teacher. Working collaboratively with my classmates now is very similar to working with the same grade level teachers as a team in the future. And although the opportunity to work with the engineering students had its difficulties I have learned the importance of using outside resources. You have to look beyond the walls of a classroom and you see all the outside resources that can be brought into your classroom to provide students with an even better education. I along with my classmates were able to provide the students with new knowledge and did that by giving them a fun, beneficial science experience that they loved and needed and that is something important to achieve for future students as well.

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