Last year I wrote about using a BreakoutEdu box with my ninth grade orientation, and this year I carried on the tradition with a couple changes to the puzzles. If you want to know the specifics of the breakoutedu work, you can find it in my original post.
The more that we can have students collaborate with each other, practice working in a group, attempt creativity, the better our students will be. They need the creative stimulation. They need to be pushed to try new things; to not rely on a sage on the stage teacher. They need to practice talking with others and reflect on what it meant to work in a group.
During your opening days/weeks, group communication and reflection building habits should be the focus of the work in the classroom, in my opinion.
One of the things that I changed up in my box was I added a logic puzzle. I always let the groups try things before fully rotating and giving them encouragement. Each time I rotated to the logic puzzle group, I saw them talking about their work, perhaps a few penciled notes on the big 11×17 paper that had a logic puzzle grid of boxes, but nothing was entered into the grid space. So, I stopped and showed them how to use the grid to track their work.
One, this gives me hope that our students still have problem-solving and creativity in them because they were trying to figure out the puzzle. Though, two, it alarms me that a grid that took up over half the paper was going to sit there empty while they tried to solve the puzzle. Yes, they didn’t need to use the grid to solve it; there are other methods. But, I know for the next few classes, I should put an example on the page so they hopefully, independently figure out why a grid would be present and how it can help them.
I haven’t fully determined what students’ interacting with that logic puzzle reveals about their characteristics as students.
Reflection is a Must, not an Afterthought
At the end of the breakout this year, because I was given more time by the ninth grade teachers, students got the chance to reflect and share out with their classmates about what they learned about the library and then a strength or challenge faced by their group. Last year, I was probably consumed with the “what” and I realize that reflection is necessary in these collaborative pieces. While some students will naturally think about their work and group work, it’s not always a given. Especially for our more task-oriented students. Stopping to help them reflect will lead to students who will begin to see that it’s not always just about a task in their academic work.
Besides some teacher mis-steps, I think the biggest thing that revealed itself was the communication piece that students who were new to each other had to practice. All students need a chance to practice communication, fail at it, succeed at it and reflect on how they can communicate next time.
There was a breakdown from not talking to each other.
One group, had a set of coordinate points separated on two pieces of paper, which by talking to each other, they would realize that they had different plot points. Every time I stopped in with their group, I said “Have you shared all your resources, together?”. I probably said that phrase 10 or more times over the span of 20 minutes because I could tell they hadn’t actually talked as a whole group. The final time, I told them “I can tell by your papers that you haven’t shared your resources. I’m going to repeat: Have you shared all your resources together?” Finally, they looked at each other, compared the grid point papers and realized they weren’t the same.
There was a breakdown from literally not listening to your group member.
A group of four boys hovered around the breakout box, certain they had solved the combination. One vocal, strong leader kept trying to put the code 740 into a three-digit lock. I heard one of his group members say “it’s 741.5. that’s the call number”. I looked at him and gauged his confidence to speak louder and bring the other boy on board and urged him to try his guess. (Because I knew he was right. But, even if he wasn’t right, he should try it.) When he broke open the lock, the other boy was excited and realized he hadn’t been listening. Our students need the time to practice and reflect on what it means to be a leader and what it means to be a contributor to the group. They need the space to fail at it, too.
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