Collaboration – An Essential Skill for Back to School

By Kerri Sosnowski, NIU STEAM Educator

It’s August. End of summer, back to routine, back to school. And this year, back to in-person learning! Our students are ready to be back full time with their friends and teachers. Remote learning, while it was helpful during the pandemic, has set many students back not only academically, but in basic skills as well.

If the young people in your life have had the same pandemic experiences as mine, they’re probably out of practice with a lot of these basics – playing nice, communicating, collaborating, sharing space and toys or tools. (We don’t need to go into dressing in real clothes – surely our house is not the only one whose laundry is filled with only pajamas and bathing suits?)

NIU STEAM has identified what we call Essential Skills. These are skills needed not only for STEAM learning, but for all learning as well as college and career readiness. Many of these skills have suffered due to social distancing requirements – and I think the one that has probably suffered most of all is collaboration.

Collaboration is a difficult skill even for adults. But it is so necessary in the workplace and in school! Like any skill, it is learned and needs to be practiced. So, how can you help your child develop this skill? We have created some activities that are fun, quick and designed to do just that!

Here is one game to try at home:

  1. Gather enough small puzzles for each person playing to have one. These can be laminated magazine photos or cereal box fronts cut into six to eight pieces. We suggest 3 or more players.
  2. Mix all the puzzle pieces together. Keep them hidden until gameplay starts.
  3. Discuss the rules.
  4. NO talking or noises of any kind.
  5. You can only GIVE a piece, never take a piece.
  6. You cannot touch anyone else’s puzzle.
  7. EVERY person should end up with a completed puzzle.
  8. Brainstorm ways to go about completing the task while keeping the rules in mind.
  9. Dump the puzzle pieces in the middle of a table.
  10. You can set a timer for 5-10 minutes if you want more of a challenge.
  11. Once the game is complete, ask some reflection questions.
    • What went well?
    • What were your frustrations? How did you handle them?
    • Can you give an example of when you had to have patience?
    • What would you change about how you worked in the group?
    • How does communication help collaboration?

If you try this collaboration activity, we would love to hear from you!