Implementing 4C’s Series: Collaboration

One of the biggest issues in education is that we fail to prepare students to effectively work in collaborative situations when they leave school. This ability deficiency that is unintentionally created is incredibly unfortunate as collaboration is not only critical to our future workforce, but imperative to become a successful innovator and leader. An incredible foundation for collaboration and teamwork is developed in the earliest years of school through play, collaborative tasks, and development of social skills; however, that development ends abruptly as content becomes more prevalent.


Collaboration is a skill that needs to be taught. A survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that more than 80 percent of midsize or larger employers look for collaboration skills in new hires—but fewer than 40 percent of them considered new graduates prepared to work in teams. Once you learn the skill, you need to continue to hone and tweak the skill as it becomes more second nature and you become better at using the skill.

Example 1:

Think about a football quarterback. Most quarterbacks are taught how to throw a football early on in their life. In pee-wee football coaches work to better that skill. In high school, coaches work on mechanics to better the players ability. In college, coaches continue to work on mechanics and footwork, always trying to better the player. Even when a quarterback gets to the NFL, there are specific quarterback coaches on the team who continue to work with the player on the skill of throwing.


Example 2:

Imagine or think back to growing up and learning an instrument in school. Some students became very good at their instrument. If you stopped playing and practicing and learning that instrument, would you be able to play as well today? Professional musicians continue to hone their craft and get “coached” by experts. Do you think professional musicians never asked B.B. King or Carlos Santana or Peter Townsend for tips and help?

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 9.08.46 PM
Check out coding with music from Made w/Code Google!

To implement “Collaboration” in the classroom we need to actively teach strategies, hone the craft, and explicitly call out the lessons so that students can connect the actions to their understanding. Collaboration can’t be relegated to the first week of school, when we are making/reviewing the class rules or expectations and ignored the rest of the year. It has to be worked on throughout the year strategically. This doesn’t mean you stop teaching content to just teach collaboration; but to use opportunities when collaboration is modeled, utilized, is effective or ineffective to further develop the skill.

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning, this month released a report breaking down three main aspects of collaboration that need to be taught: communicating with others, resolving conflicts, and managing tasks. Here are a few ways to build Collaboration in the classroom through the teaching of these three main aspects of the skill.

Communicating Effectively with Others


  • Using Visible Thinking Routines
    • Harvard’s Project Zero has a focus on helping students make their thinking visible. These “Visible Thinking” routines and strategies are great to model and in turn have students utilize in their collaborative groups.
    • “What Makes You Say That?” is one of the routines which promotes evidential reasoning and invites students to share their interpretations. This also helps open students minds to different ways of thinking from group members as it encourages students to understand alternatives and multiple perspectives.
    • According to a 2016 HBR survey, only 9 percent of respondents believe their team members make an effort to understand different perspectives.
  • See my post on Implementing 4C’s Series: Communication for additional communication strategies and ideas.

Resolving Conflicts

  • Creative Abrasion
    • How often do we allow students to brainstorm and they stop after the first “good” answer? How often do students fear of sharing ideas as to not “look stupid”?
    • Creative Abrasion is an idea developed by Nissan Automotive in the 1980’s and has been used by likes of Apple, Dell, and GM. The short definition is exploring ideas that really rub against each other productively as opposed to destructively.
    • Model and prompt your students to brainstorm around time limits, not idea limits. All ideas: the good, the great, the crazy, the “eh” ALL get questioned and challenged. Typically, students automatically “accept” a perceived good idea because of the source or the fact that it will “work”. They only really challenge the perceived “bad” ideas. We need all ideas to be challenged, which will lead to even better ideas; or the realization that a crazy idea may actually be the best idea.


  • Purposeful Conflict
    • Let students know that disagreements among group member are not only par for the course, they also provide valuable opportunities to debate a wider range of ideas and to develop important skills, such as listening, mediation, and compromise.
    • Project Based Learning
      • PBL lessons and activities force students to work in situations where there is not ONE right answer, but the group has to decide on courses of action. The more you allow students to work through these realistic work environment situations, the better they will get at the PBL process and at collaborating in all aspects of their schooling.
    • Debates vs. Arguments
      • Students need to understand that constructive debate is helpful to a project, but destructive arguing is not. There should always be time for alternate opinions, but structures in place to not allowing dwelling on group decisions.
      • Model healthy debate through Socrative methods and strategies such as The Fishbowl Discussion strategy or Socratic Seminar strategy shared by These are both great ways to build debate skills within students to minimize conflicts and overcome them in collaborative groups.

Managing Tasks

  • Minimize opportunity for “Free Riding”
    • Mary Burns shares “When students complain about collaborative groups, it often has to do with the free riding of one member who lets others do all the work and then benefits from the group grade.”
    • Design meaningful and intellectually challenging team roles that relate to the content and to the task. Roles like time keeper are episodic and don’t intellectually engage students in the content, and this can encourage free riding. In contrast, more meaningful roles such as manager, monitor, and leaders for each subtask of the activity give students ownership in the process and allow the teacher to assess students based on successful completion of these roles.
  • Pause Rubric Reflect
    • Jessica Vasquez shares a great strategy to help students develop their collaboration (as well as other 4C’s) skills through a metacognitive process called “Pause – Rubric – Reflect”. This strategy requires students to explicitly reflect and revise STEM behaviors and dispositions as a group during and after collaborative tasks.
Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 9.23.06 PM
Click here to download…

Implementing 4C’s Series: Creativity

Edward de Bono, one of the greatest thinkers of our time, states that “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” Creativity is about possibilities. Suspending preconceived notions. Opening the mind to a change in perception and thinking.


A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. However, America has been in a significant creativity crisis for over a quarter century. Since 1990, even as IQ scores have risen, creative thinking scores have significantly decreased especially with our youngest students in kindergarten through third grade. Educational psychologist Dr. KH Kim has been studying the creativity crisis for years, Newsweek even making a cover story in 2010, and her meta analysis and research shows that from 1966 – 1990 creativity was thriving in our students, but since 1990 we have only seen dramatic decreases.

Why? There is no singular reason. In the mid 1980’s, America shifted into an age of insecurity, which has contributed to American’s decrease in creativity. People were afraid to fail which led to a lack of innovation. In the late 1990’s, standardized testing became “the” initiative leading to policies like No Child Left Behind; which focus on a singular correct answer. Some people, without solid research, want to blame television on the lack of creativity in students. Regardless the cause, we need to address the problem.

Creativity is the bedrock of innovation. To solve the problems we face on a global scale, we will need new ideas, new solutions, and new thinkers; so how do we develop creative thinkers?


4 ways to build creativity into the classroom:

1. Change the Meaning of the Word “Fail.”

  • Failure is not an end result unless we make it that way. Every day we fail at things but we don’t quit. Spilling coffee on our pants doesn’t stop us from drinking more. Missing an appointment doesn’t mean you don’t reschedule. In real life we are so used to failure being part of life that we created programs to  move us forward, like speallcheck… I mean spellcheck.
    • Use the design process in your classroom and allow students multiple attempts to succeed. It took James Dyson over a 1,000 prototypes to perfect his cyclical vacuum system, yet we hold students to only one attempt.
    • Preach that failure is only when you stop trying. Help students believe in themselves and that fail is iterative.
    • Use real examples… Pixar is one kids connect too.
      • The first reaction test audiences had to “Monsters, Inc.” wasn’t the bottomless sense of wonder drummed up by most Pixar movies: It was boredom. After about fifteen minutes, people began checking their watches and asking what is this movie about. And so it was back to the drawing board. – Director Pete Docter
      • Check out Kahn Academies lesson on how the Pixar Storytelling process can help unlock creativity.

Image result for monsters inc

2. Allow Students Multiple Ways to “Brainstorm”

  • Science shows that group brainstorming can activate a neurological fear of rejection and that groups are not necessarily more creative than individuals. Brainstorming can actually be detrimental to good ideas.
  • “Forget quality; aim now to get a quantity of answers. When you’re through, your sheet of paper may be so full of ridiculous nonsense … You’re loosening up your unfettered imagination—making your mind deliver.”Groupthink by John Lehrer – The New Yorker
    • Steve Jobs used a practice called Creative Abrasion where ALL ideas, good and bad, are productively challenged forcing people to truly evaluate their approach and thinking. In your classroom, with this approach you don’t stop at the first good idea like many times students do, but only stop when a time limit or ideas are exhausted. Prompt students to discuss thoughts about all the ideas shared, the thinking behind one idea may lead to an even better idea.
    • Use homework as individual brainstorming time. Give students the basics for the prompt ahead of time and let them brainstorm alone at home. Use google forms or padlet to capture anonymous ideas. When students come into the classroom, all ideas can be discussed without fear of personal ridicule.

3. Encourage Student Voice and Choice.

  • Giving students a voice and a choice on how they apply or present information allows them to practice creative thinking. In the business world, innovation is seen in how information is presented. Powerpoint for many years was innovative, however now 1-take videos, Flipgrids, Prezi, emaze, and Nearpod are being seen as todays next step. Allowing students to explore their own voice through choice helps them build their creativity while developing skills in using all types of tools.
  • The arts give content a way to connect to real people through emotions and passion. Giving students the opportunity to use their creativity, especially through the arts,  builds students understanding of how to connect their ideas to people in the real world. Think about this, do you connect to history better from:
      • Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…
      • or Lin Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton
    • Check out the Hamilton Education Program which is coming to 13 cities in the 2018-19 school year; and the FREE content developed to help use Hamilton in instruction. What a great connection to Creative Abrasion and debating all ideas.
      • FYI – Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, DC, Ft. Lauderdale, Hartford, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh, Tampa.
    • Instead of laying out options for a students voice and choice, just limit what they can’t use. Instead of saying “for this assignment you have to use one of these three ways to share,” state “for this assignment share your thinking back with me in any way you choose except through…” This approach allows true choice and helps build student creativity. They are allowed to try new mediums, fail, and try again. Just remember that rubrics are CRITICAL to help show understanding and learning.
    • Institute Genius Hour into you curriculum. Allowing students some time to test things out, explore their passions, and try new things helps them understand the different options they have in presenting their own voice.

4. Set aside room for a classroom Makerspace… time to visit the school Makerspace.

  • Makerspace’s are havens for curiosity, creativity, and innovation. Let students take apart old machines to see how they work. Encourage them to build/design concepts they explored in class or during Genius Hour.
    • Need help implementing a tool or craft within your Makerspace? Check out Instructables; free courses and directions in developing “Makerspace-esque” skills. Learn about arduinos, how to weld, how to sew, etc…
    • Check out Dr. Jacie Maslyk’s book and blog on implementing STEAM Makerspace’s. She created a great A-Z list of items to help you implement a fairly inexpensive Makerspace in your school or classroom:
      • A – aluminum foil, acrylic paint, art supplies
      • B – beads, brass fasteners, buttons, balloons, beans, battery packs
      • C – cardboard, card stock, cotton balls, crayons, clothes pins
      • D – duct Tape, dowel rods, drafting tables, Dot and Dash robots
      • E – Elmer’s Glue, Energizer batteries, egg cartons
      • want the rest… find it here: What’s in your makerspace? From A to Z


1 –
2 –


Implementing 4C’s Series: Communication

The world has changed greatly since Sputnik jump started the idea of STEM education back in the late 1950’s. Technology has given humans the power to instantly connect with information and each other from almost any spot in the world (and in space). Communication has become more than just conversations, but the axis of information exchange. If you wanted to get more information about Sputnick back in the 1960’s, your only setting beyond a school for technical information would be the library. You would have to hope that your library had the information you wanted or accessing the information could take quite some time. Libraries, of all places, exemplify how communication has changed information access. Michelângelo Mazzardo Marques from Viana Systems created this graphic to help grasp the exponential change that has occurred in information access:


Access to information became predicated on how quickly and how often we could connect to each other. Communication shifted from slow-temporary mass systems (newspapers) and fast-temporary individual systems (wired phones) to fast-eternal mass systems (social networks and websites) and fast-differentiated individual systems (cellphones and video chats). As the world changed what communication looked like at an exponential rate, the education system mostly ignored the changes until most recently.


The days of formal and informal penned letter writing are dwindling. There is still a time and a place for these forms of communication, however, how we teach communication in schools has, for the most part, not really changed. Social media is not a fad, it is a way of life and how many people communicate. Are you teaching your students the positives and negatives of utilizing social media? Are you teaching students how to interact and communicate with others? Are you teaching students how to use social media to make change? to contact experts? to share ideas and information?

Social Media

Five ways to build communication into instruction:

  1. Have them communicate.
    • Ok, I know this sounds ridiculous, but all too often we have students create, explore, and ideate; but never actually share what they learned to others. Build time into lessons for communication. Call it out explicitly and give them opportunities to communicate in different ways:
      • Build infographics
      • Give sales pitches
      • Share presentations (ppt, keynote, etc…)
    • The best resource a teacher has is his/her own community. When we have students present, often the audience is just to each other. There is time for those type of presentations, but at some point you have to “send them up to the big leagues!” Utilize authentic audiences by reaching out to the community or even your parents to listen and give authentic feedback from local experts.
  2. Model and utilize social media effectively. 
    • Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool. Creating an account on any platform can be a great way to share information with students and parents. Remember that time you were out and about outside of school and thought, “I wish I could share this with my students,” now you actually can!
    • Twitter is great to teach summarizing, a critical communication skill in many businesses. Check out this STEM Strategy that Works from the Discovery Educator Network community called “Tweeting Home” by Holly Gerlach. This strategy can be used by kindergarteners or high school seniors. The idea is to have someone in the class summarize the day or weeks learning in 140 or 280 (up to you) characters. This builds a repository to review later for students and gives parents something specific to ask their kids at home about the day!
  3. Have student create 1- Take Videos. 
    • Dr. Lodge McCammon developed a high-tech/low-tech way for students to practice their communication skills he calls 1-Take Videos. This strategy requires students to “hit record, present their material, then hit stop – and the product is done.” This simplistic style of video creation is something that any student can start using tomorrow in order to create, share and reflect on content. Show students how cell phones can do more than consume content, and have them create content-rich videos in the classroom and then watch them back to instantly evaluate their own work.
  4. Take part in The Flame Challenge.
    • Professional communication isn’t just about knowing and talking about content, but about knowing how to talk about content to the person in front of you! What has made Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye so successful is their ability to talk about high level content and bring it down to the level of their audience. In 2012, Alan Alda started The Flame Challenge for scientists to speak at the publics level. He posed this question as the first challenge:
      • Would you be willing to have a go at writing your own explanation of what a flame is — one that an 11-year-old would find intelligible, maybe even fun?
    • The twist to this challenge is that entries that are deemed scientifically accurate are judged by thousands of 5th and 6th grade schoolchildren from around the world. Register your class next year to be judges OR hold your own Middle/High School Flame Challenge, having older school students explain a concept where they are judged by elementary students in their explanations!
  5. Utilize Student STEMbassadors to tell the story of your classroom. 
    • Think about the “story” of your classroom and how you want it told. Visitors are often thought of as a nuisance, however you can turn them into opportunities for communication building. When visitors come to your room, they only see a small portion of your day and are not privy to many of the STEMtastic things you and your students do. Student STEMbassadors help visitors see the “big picture” of your class and give student a chance to develop authentic communication skills! Student STEMbassadors learn how to become story tellers, question probers, and your own mini-media relation directors.

Just because we are always talking and sharing in our classrooms doesn’t necessarily mean it is being done so effectively. As educators we need to take an active role in developing our students communications skills for their future endeavors. In the Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum communication was integral to four of the top ten skills our workforce need to be successful moving forward. What does this truly look like and why is it so critical in the world outside of school?


Implementing 4C’s Series: Critical Thinking


“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

This line as part of a commencement address by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 is the exact idea educators need to embrace today. Our world is changing at an exponential rate where no one knows what tomorrow will look like. If it feels like the education system is always playing “catchup”, that’s because it is. As a system, education looks out the window and strives to prepare students for “today”, unfortunately only a small percentage (approximately 2%*) are going into today’s workforce. As educators, we need to start to look to the future and be proactive in preparing students for a future that is unknown; and if we can’t see the future, we need to provide students skills which are critical in any future.

In what line of work is critical thinking not important? Almost every career path requires individuals to think on their feet and make decisions which can impact their work and success. No matter where you come from or where you are going in life, we all have seen the importance of critical thinking skills. In the Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum ranked critical thinking as the second most important skill for our workforce behind complex problem solving.

What does this mean for our classrooms and schools? It is time to shift the focus from ensuring our students have all the content knowledge possible, to ensuring our students understand content knowledge AND have the skills to apply the knowledge.

WorldEconomicForum FutureWorkSkills

Many educators believe they are building critical thinking in their students when they ask them to solve problems. However, a long-standing misconception is that critical thinking and problem solving are the same thing. Problem solving is something we do on a daily basis and involves using our own experiences to solve a problem. Critical thinking is looking beyond our own experiences and points of view, gathering multiple solutions, and determining the best pathway forward. Problem solving focuses on a single situation, critical thinking focuses on the broader impacts and circumstances leading and post the situation.

Five ways to build critical thinking into instruction:

  1. Ask students to find Multiple Solutions to problems. Instead of settling with the first “good” solution, ask students to keep brainstorming. Often a better solution presents itself after spring boarding off a good solution.
    • Example: Have students design three or four egg-drop challenge vehicles instead of settling on one. There may be some overlap, but there will also be a visible progression in their thinking. Often, they can tell you which one is going to be the best because they understood how their own thinking evolved! Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 12.17.30 PM
  2. Reflection has been proven to be vital to students building their understanding of content. Start a practice of “Critical Thinking Reflection” in your classroom where you take the last 2-3 minutes of the period and ask students to reflect upon connection questions.
    • Examples:
      • What was the most important thing you learned today?
      • How does what you learned apply to your own life?
      • Why is what we learned important to your community?
      • How would you have done something different?
      • Would this lesson be important if you lived somewhere else?
  3. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who is better known under his pen name Lewis Carroll, is credited with being the first to create “Logic Puzzles.” Logic puzzles give solvers the opportunity to apply knowledge to multiple problems at once. These logic puzzles were transformed over the years into logic grid puzzles which force critical thinking and complex problem solving to coexist in order to find the solution. A famous version called Einstein’s Puzzle, or the Zebra Puzzle, is said to be one of the most difficult as it pushes critical thinking to the limits. It is said (most likely a made-up fact) only 2% of the population could actually solve the puzzle. Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 11.49.00 AM
  4. At times, present Conflicting Points of View to students, asking them to make their own decisions. By giving them conflicting information, they must think their way through the information, analyze the why and how, and form their own ideas. This is great for social studies, ELA, and inquiry-based science.
    • Examples: 
      • The United States entered WWII at the right time/too late.
      • It is better to have love and lost or better to not have loved at all.
      • The best type of energy is solar power/electrical power.
  5. Project Zero from Harvard has been doing some amazing work at building thinking strategies to help students communicate and develop metacognition. Visible Thinking takes an approach emphasizing three core practices: thinking routines, the documentation of student thinking, and reflective professional practice. Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 11.47.25 AM

The key to each of these is to not use them randomly and without any context. Students need to know they are building their critical thinking skills. Explicitly calling out the skill helps students understand the “why” and see they can develop these skills. Many students have personal perception deficiencies when it comes to STEM. The “I’m not good at math” syndrome or “I’m not creative” idea needs to be wiped away. As students build this skill, they begin to see that they are good at it, building their self-confidence and understanding of their own future possibilities.