Wednesday, March 22, 2017

#WeirdEd Week 142- Super Secret Group

On Monday I sent out a tweet saying that the first five #WeirdEd regulars to DM me were going to be part of a special something. Once I had five I put them in a DM group together and said "WELCOME! FATE HAS DRAWN YOU FIVE TOGETHER FROM ALL CORNERS OF THE GLOBE!
And then I left them alone to figure it out. One person had to bow out because we're all crazy busy, which was, of course, totally cool. I don't think I need to spell out the point to you, you're smart people.
This is what they came up with.


When Hollywood presents collaboration, we get buddy movies, road trips, and super teams. They have, or are given, an objective and they’re off. After a few setbacks, the heroes find, capture, evade or achieve their goal. In the real world, it isn’t always this easy. Students won’t band together to defeat Voldemort, and reaching a conclusion takes more resources than a box of Scooby snacks. What does it take to assemble a good team and to make it operate like a well-oiled machine that produces the desired outcome?

INTRO!: #WeirdEd Introduce yourself and tell the group who is your favorite book or movie ‘group’. Extra points for visuals!

Lord of the Rings:
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Fellowship was formed literally to make the world a better place, full of hope for the future. Like the Fellowship, many teacher collaborations start strong, full of life and energy. Each teacher brings their own vision, their passion, their hopes (“and my axe!”).

However, as time passed the Fellowship broke apart. In any team dynamic, forces work to pull a group apart. Assignments need grading, work piles up, orcs are at the gates. All of which sap the energy of the team.

Sometimes it’s internal problems that push the group to the brink. Competing visions, different methods, ill-defined roles and responsibilities, squabbles about who should carry the One Ring, etc. Is collaboration always the best form of group/teamwork? Are there better options for teamwork? What differences of good intentions can break up the best of fellowships?

  1. #WeirdEd q1  Is collaboration always the best form of group/teamwork? Are there better options for teamwork?

  1. #WeirdEd q1 part 2: What differences of good intentions can break up the best of fellowships?

Monty Python and The Holy Grail & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, we see a parody of a classic epic, in which a group of knights band together, undertake a glorious quest, and choose the classic ‘divide and conquer’ to complete the project. Actually, our group did that, so there’s something to be said for that method, after all.

Of course, we didn’t choose our group, as it was chosen for us. (*cough cough* Doug) When students choose their groups, the reasons behind the choices are less ‘work-based’ and more ‘fun-based’, and the seed of the threat to the ‘point of the project’ is planted.  When teacher choose groups, there are many more skills being taught (hopefully), but invariably there ends up being the four classic group work students in each group, as we see in Monty Python.

  • The Leader: (A.K.A. the bossy know-it-all, the A student, the “I’ll do it since nobody else will step up and do their part”, King Arthur)
    • King Arthur was obviously the ideal person for this job, being king and all, even if he wasn’t voted for by the general public and was instead chosen when some watery tart lobbed a scimitar at him. He spoke for the group when God arrived to give the mission, without checking with the others. The Leader is usually a type A personality, and though their intentions are often good, their companions may either resent the behavior, or not learn as much as they would otherwise.
  • The Minion: (A.K.A. Sir Bedevere)
    • Sir Bedevere was the first knight to come to the aide of King Arthur in the movie, and for that alone, he was allowed to stay with him for the duration, even surviving to the end of the movie. (Yes, it was probably in the script that way.) The Minion will be the student who convinced the teacher to be in the group with the Leader ‘because they work so well together’, and generally is the first to go along with the Leader’s ideas, since they will be around that person the most and will have to deal with short term disagreements in the long term if they don’t help.
  • The Sloth: (A.K.A. including quiet, shy, unpopular or just generally different and not-as-vocal-about-it students, Sir Robin)
    • Sir Robin wasn’t exactly lazy, but he was a scaredy-cat. He wasn’t particularly vocal about getting or staying out of trouble, or about better choices if those even existed. This one is tough. In a three-person group, this is the person who just is along for the ride, no matter how they handle it. They may simply not input, or they may go so far as to not do the part they are assigned by the Leader. They are the one that will resent that they were GIVEN work by a fellow classmate, but may not have the confidence to speak up, or perhaps they are the student who simply does not care enough to fight about it, though they would have much rather collaborated.
  • The M.I.A.- (Sir Not-Appearing-in-this-Film)
    • In a group of four or more, there is almost always a student who wasn’t there the day it was assigned or the day it was due, and the group has to catch them up, or cover for them, either way. This puts stress on students, as it did in the movie, as Sir Not-Appearing-in-this-Film got the accolades for being part of a successful project, but all he did was show up the day they did headshots for the movie poster! (Citation: my own theory)  
This is not, of course, such a complete list that we can always tell who is who, and depending on the projects, the positions may change. A student who is experienced in artsy things may take the lead on the diorama group project, while a student who already read the book might lead the plan when it comes to the making of a theatrical scene on the most recent reading.

We as teachers must simply do our best to create guidelines for jobs so that the students can play to strengths while still requiring all to participate, no matter their type, especially when we choose the groups.

We also must have a plan for when groups cannot stick to the guidelines due to personality conflicts. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the ‘group’ wasn’t exactly chosen, but Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian were piloting the Heart of Gold with its Improbability Drive, and we saw an example of when one person thinks they are the Leader, acts like the Leader, and makes decisions like a Leader, but is an idiot. Trillian even reflected on the fact that Zaphod would seem to sometimes feign stupidity rather than risk being wrong about something, and though she thought that was even more stupid, she would have to guide him through to logical choices, which he would then throw out for something much more ridiculous.

In relation to group work, this means that sometimes the person leading the group is not always the best choice, leading us back to the concept that a teacher may need to provide very careful guidelines in regards to the best ways as a group to split up the work and hold themselves accountable. If you as a teacher have any Zaphod Beeblebroxes in your class, you are aware of this necessity.

Questions based on this section:
  1. #WeirdEd q2 How do you as a teacher help facilitate group work? Split jobs? Assign roles?

  1. #WeirdEd q2 part 2 How do you help the students when it doesn’t go as planned?

Sister Act:
It’s great when your team has an even distribution of exactly the skills and personalities you need to get things done.  But life has a way of throwing you into ...unexpected collaborations.

In Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg plays Dolores, a lounge singer whose witness protection placement is as choir mistress in a convent.  Like Dolores living among the nuns, you may find yourself having to take on new identities in your teamwork in order to get the job done.  And sometimes the new habits chafe.

How has collaboration made you stretch yourself?

In the end, Dolores saves the day- and the choir- by helping everyone in the choir find a way to bring their own identity to their singing.  When the singers embrace their own voices, their music draws crowds!

Although my students are under intense pressure to narrow their studies, I encourage them not to limit their curiosity.  I came late to my college major and even later to teaching, but there’s very little I have learned that I haven’t put to use somehow, even if it lay dormant for ten years.  You never know which of the ideas, skills, memories, experiences, passions, and trivia you have tucked away will come in handy.


#WeirdEd #q3 How has collaboration made you stretch yourself?

#WeirdEd #q4 What’s an unexpected contribution you’ve been able to make to a collaboration because of your own skills or experience?

D2: The Mighty Ducks
When Gordon Bombay is approached to coach Team USA in the Junior Goodwill Hockey Games, he sees an opportunity to collaborate with his former team, the Ducks. Led by team captain Charlie Conway, the Ducks are fresh off a Minnesota State Peewee Hockey Championship and looking to capitalize on their fame and skills. Faced with new teammates, a brighter stage, and tough international competition, will they be able to collaborate and win gold for Team USA? Can they play with new teammates from different cultural backgrounds and different styles of play? Or will they fail to come together as a team and reach their potential against the hard hitting Iceland team?
D2: The Mighty Ducks is a modern day classic (if you were a child of the 90’s) that demonstrates the power of collaboration. In the movie, Coach Bombay (Emilio Estevez) is faced with the dilemma of being overconfident in his abilities. While struggling to manage new or challenging situations, he also resists the help of others. How many times do we as educators find ourselves in a situation where we could use the assistance of others but are unwilling to even ask for help because we feel we should be able to remedy the situation ourselves? It’s not until Bombay sees his team quit and the dream of winning gold slip away that he realizes he needs to ask for help.
The assistance that Bombay seeks come from his mentor, his girlfriend (team tutor), and the very players he coaches. These archetypes also show up in most educational settings, however we often don’t think of them as potential collaborators. Mentors or experienced colleagues can be a source of great knowledge and information for new or even experienced teachers. Rather than work in isolation, teachers can gain valuable experience from the expertise of older teachers, staff, or administrators. While collaboration is often a forced concept, voluntary collaboration opens up a world of learning opportunities. While many educators often look to their spouses for reprieve from their day jobs, a spouse or significant family member can be an excellent collaborator in order to get an outsider perspective on what’s going on in the classroom. Often teachers get too caught up in the classroom to see the bigger picture and those without the lense of education often. And lastly, the very students we teach are perhaps our greatest contributors. When was the last time you asked your own students for help or seek their guidance regarding your teaching? Perhaps the ones we are responsible for teaching are the very ones who end up teaching us the most.

  1. #WeirdEd #q5 How can you best collaborate with others that are not in your content area or profession?
  2. #WeirdED #q6 How can you collaborate with students to improve your teaching?

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