STEM collaboration can allow you to be a better teacher and enhance learning experiences for your students.
Collaboration is an essential 21st century skill that we encourage in our STEM classrooms daily, but as educators, are we being good collaboration role models? Rather than teaching in isolation, we should be reaching out to other teachers for support. If you take the time to look around your building, you will see that each person has a unique set of strengths and talents that could expand the connections you make in your classroom. All it takes is a chat, email, or lunch!
Why should you collaborate?
Traditionally, students are taught each subject or content area independently from one another. Is this the way it is in the real world? Of course not! Everything in the world is interconnected, and this should be in the case in our classrooms as well. STEM collaboration in particular captures the curiosity of our students by creating powerful cross-curricular projects.
If you still aren’t convinced, here are a few benefits for you as the teacher:
• Share expertise: Each person has strengths in some skills or content, and weaknesses in others. Collaboration can help both of you become more effective by combining these skills. Collaborate with an English teacher for persuasive writing techniques or a Social Studies teacher for the politics behind atomic bomb testing.
• Share resources: Are you tired of scouring the Internet or Pinterest for ideas? STEM collaboration allows you to expand upon lessons that have been put to the test and modified over the years.
• “Two brains are better than one”: Stuck on how to engage your students in a learning objective? Talk about it with a collaborative partner. Often just talking about it will spur some great ideas.
How to get started
• Open your door! Welcome teachers into your room and start conversations in the hallway. Most of my collaborative projects have been a result of a passing teacher noticing student work in the hallway. With an open door, they came inside to talk to me about it and the rest is collaborative history.
• Find commonalities and mutual goals with the other teachers in your grade level or building. At the next team meeting, discuss upcoming units and any connections that exist. STEM collaboration does not need to include all subjects, but maybe just two to start. Take steps to create a project that fosters these connections. Your students will be shocked (and engaged!) when you bring up the novel they are reading or equations from their math unit as part of your lesson.
• Include your students in brainstorming and planning. Ask them what topics they find interesting in their other classes, or what they would like to learn more about. This can often be the inspiration for your next cross-curricular exploration.
• Reach out to the arts teachers in your school. They are usually able to be more flexible with their lessons and this will bring a new creative aspect to your STEM collaboration. Think outside the box to include music or graphic arts.
Once you have a project and partners in mind for you STEM collaboration, it is important to establish and maintain strong relationships. Without this, the project may fall apart. Here are some things to keep in mind:
• Share responsibility and delegate work according to each person’s strengths. This will ensure that the workload does not get left to one person, causing tension and resentment.
• Plan during a time that works for everyone in the STEM collaboration. If a mutual planning time is not provided or available, communicate virtually using email or Google Docs to create lesson materials.
• Check-in daily, whether at lunch or in the hall after school. It will make sure you are on the same page with things moving forward as planned.
• Be prepared! Always come to planning times with your materials ready. Even if it is just a brainstorming session, come with ideas and be ready to listen to others. Whatever the goal, come prepared with something to contribute.
Managing and Assessing STEM Collaborative Projects
Once a plan is in place, it is time to move forward with your cross-curricular project. If technology is available, utilizing Google Docs or another collaborative program is a beneficial way to monitor progress by all the teachers involved. Sticking to a timeline is more important here than in other projects, because the other courses may be dependent on the work completed in your classroom.
STEM collaboration projects are best assessed by separate rubrics designed to meet the objective for each course. For example, you may use one rubric addressing science content, and an English teacher may use a separate rubric addressing writing techniques. This may result in two separate products, or an assessment of the same product by each teacher. This will ensure that the student has mastered the content and skills in each course.
STEM collaboration is not always easy, but you will see that it has benefits for all involved. Your students will have meaningful learning experiences that are relevant, while you become a stronger educator with the support of the relationships you have developed.
Alexandra D. Owens
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