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The Ideal Teammate Activity

Pro Tips for helping students work better in teams.

How Students Become Ideal Teammates by Jorge Valenzuela

Like anything else in the project-based learning (PBL) classroom, effective teamwork needs to be modeled, learned, and reflected on. Often, I find that teachers new to PBL struggle with helping their learners assemble teams and also with establishing a culture of good collaboration and communication.

Students already collaborate and communicate with one another — unfortunately, it is not always so positive — and that is where we educators can use a few simple steps to reframe how they do so.

We enlisted the following four steps for establishing a collaborative culture of interdependence.

These are the steps we took with students:

Since the project focused on enhancing the CT and coding skills of students, for more authenticity we created the roles of software engineers (project managers), software developers, and programmers for each team.

After ensuring that they understood each of the roles well, we helped them select the project managers, then the software developers, and finally the programmers. Each of the teams had at least three teammates, but no more than four.

The meetings were chaired by the project managers, and all team members read the contract together and agreed to listen to one another, do their best work, complete work promptly and to ask for help from the adults in the room when needed. Since the document also allows for additional agreements, the students were given the option to refer to the “ideal qualities” list they brainstormed in the ideal teammate activity.

To assist them with their team work plan, we did a mini-lesson on the responsibilities of each team role:

This new information assisted the students with understanding their specific roles and would remain in place for future computer science-themed projects.

After the team-building activity we provided them the rubric and instructed the teams to read through the indicators together and provide us three things they did “at standard” and three things they did at either “below standard” or “approaching standard,” along with a correction plan for future group work. We then engaged them in low stakes/fruitful dialogue by allowing each of the groups to share-out and provide how they would improve their collaboration skills throughout the project.

Sometimes our students will come to us needing as much help with their collaboration skills as they do with the content we teach. Taking time to help them learn basic success skills through intentional strategies lays the groundwork for our classroom/school culture, helps them capture the content, and develop into better citizens.

My sincerest gratitude to Robbi Moose, Jason Vest, and Mike Dunavant of Henrico County Public Schools for this collaboration.

You can connect with Jorge @JorgeDoesPBL via Twitter and Instagram to continue the conversation.

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