Teams for Middle School STEM projects

In STREAM, students group in teams of three to four to solve problems. Often, especially at the beginning of a new term, I let these teams be self-selecting.

Here are the roles that team members may fill (often taking two or more):

  • Builder: The kid(s) who are going to put the project together. Often, other team mates may be called in to help.
  • Blogger: The chroniclers, journalists, editors. These kids tell the story of how the
    The team blogger, taking pictures of table testing.

    The team blogger, taking pictures of table testing.

    team solved the project. They are not to just give step-by-step directions. They are to tell of the hurdles encountered, and the solutions that the team thought up. These kids photograph the work as it progresses, and create a blog, Power point, or Keynote presentation for the project.

  • Skeptic / QA: The kid(s) who double-check that directions are followed and goals are being met. They are the kids with rulers, levels, squares, and so on.
  • Researcher: The kid(s) who look for ideas on the internet or through other resources such as the media center.
  • Machinist: The kids who like to work with power tools, hand tools, and can follow specifications. They generally aren’t bothered by noise, can cut a straight line, and have good fine motor skills.
  • Requisition: These are the kids who are resourceful. Our budget is not huge. These kids dumpster dive (we discuss safety & respect for property & privacy!). These kids go to other teachers with lists of needs. They know where the maintenance office is.

The prompt: We’ve talked about STREAM and how we’ll approach projects as teams. What are your strengths as a worker? What do you think you will bring to the table?

The first day of class, I explain the concept behind teams, using Apple Computers early years as an example. Pared down, Jobs was great at coming up with ideas for gadgets and caring about how they looked. Wozniak was a great engineer. They needed an adult to make them feel more official. Both Steves had a tendency to be socially precarious, so they needed a good schmoozer to help them get money to fund, etc. etc. I’m amazed at how many kids know a lot of the story, and want to discuss the finer points, but it’s important to keep the concepts to teams.

On that first day, I ask kids what they feel DSC_0751they bring to the table. This becomes a journal entry. I have a dream that some day, a kid who doesn’t like to work with tools will say “I need to work with someone who likes tools.” It hasn’t happened yet. I’m not sure if it is because they see no connection between the strengths journal entry and the establishment of teams, or if it is just because this is middle school, and it’s simply more important to be with your friends.

It is always interesting to see the criteria by which students band together. It may be based on gender, maturity, socio-economics, or shared interests, like sports. Socio-economics usually trumps all, at least at the outset. Over the course of a term, though, teams morph: sometimes because I assign it; other times because students realize they need an expertise that they don’t have, and can’t do without. When a team change comes about as a result of the team recognizing a need, I count that as a great success.

I make a strong connection between the ability to focus and be productive, and future success in the workforce.

DSC_0755The habits and qualities of productivity, care, planning, respect, and so on, are not attached to a job or a project, they are attached to the person who has them. And so, if team members aren’t getting along, I sometimes refuse them a change.

The journal prompt: "There is a relationship between how you contribute to your team and how you will contribute to a job in the future. What habits do you think will carry over into your adulthood?

The journal prompt: “There is a relationship between how you contribute to your team and how you will contribute to a job in the future. What habits do you think will carry over into your adulthood?

Learning to work together is key. Such discussions about this are part of the STREAM DSC_0757class, and are often the subject of journal prompts. I think they have a strong effect, and I often sense relief when I make a team change. I think this is because at the middle school age, it is hard to branch off without implying friend-disloyalty.