Collaboration Leads to Student Engagement

Written by Maria Toncray: High School Science Teacher and STEM professional

Whether you are an educator, parent, or STEM professional, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to start a collaborative project – keeping up the daily grind of everyday work and family duties is challenging enough; adding another task can seem quite daunting. The beauty of collaboration is that no additional duties or curriculum are needed – you just instruct differently! Collaboration allows you to tap into the resources right in front of you: fellow teachers, parents, and acquaintances. And who couldn’t use a few more resources these days?

Collaboration is often the key to relevance for students. When subject barriers are broken down and students are shown how subjects are interdependent upon each other, the potential for depth of understanding is dramatically increased. For example, at my school we hosted a “Plague Day.” For one day, all teachers taught the sophomores about the Black Plague from their subjects’ perspective. The students made note cards in each class and then produced a final group project tying all the information they learned together. The students had a blast writing songs, making videos and creating fictitious news reports. Students surveyed said they loved the project and felt they learned more effectively through this collaborative method than traditional teaching. One hundred percent of the students wanted to do more collaborative projects.

Collaboration does not have to be just between students or teachers. Tap into the experience and talent of parents. Do you have that mother in your classroom that loves to bring in cupcakes, cookies and other baked goods for almost any occasion? Ask her to come in and bake with the class! What a great project to teach measurements in math, chemical reactions in science, and trade in social studies – to name just a few! 

Another avenue for collaboration is to reach out to other local schools. Educators are enthusiastic and excited to share best practices with each other. It is so enlightening to see creative techniques used by other schools. The collaboration “light bulb” really got turned on for me when visiting another local school and the administrator highlighted the importance of the teacher workroom. Teachers were sitting together, bouncing ideas off each other and coming up with collaborative projects! This experience really showed my fellow teachers and me the importance of having planning time together. 

Students gain a love and enthusiasm for learning in collaborative projects because they can see the relevance of lessons coming together and they acquire a teamwork approach to problem solving. The students learn teamwork directly through group- based projects, but also indirectly from watching the adults working together to give the collaborative lessons. Teamwork is one of the top skills that make a 21st century employee successful.

When getting started on the collaborative path, start with the resources in your own back yard and branch out from there.Networking will occur naturally and increase your resource base of contacts.

By registering in the NGCP Program Directory, you can look for an organization, group or individual that you can combine resources with to create meaningful, relevant activities to get your female students enthusiastic about STEM education and careers!