Thursday, December 18, 2014

# Why Brains Are Not Everything

Yesterday I had a chance to observe the “finale” for the team project that the third grade class of my daughter was working on in December. The experience was both hilarious and educational for me and prompted me to reflect on how important it is to encourage other traits in our kids outside of pure academic skills.

## Team-based “Candy Factory Project”

My daughter was talking at home about “Candy Factory” all December. Her class is studying multiplication concepts and arrays, and "Candy Factory" was their main math activity for an entire month. The students were divided into 6 teams of 4 to 5 people. Every team had a candy factory producing boxes of candy and was given a number, for example, 36. They were expected to name their team, make “boxes” of candies with this number or its multiples, make a poster for their “company” and a price list. All that was done before yesterday. On the last day of the project, each team split into shoppers and shopkeepers (switching between 2 roles after about 20 minutes). Shoppers were given \$30 in play dollars each and asked to buy as much candy as possible for their money. Buyers were expected to write receipts, give out their boxes of candy (rectangles with candy “boxes” written as multiplication problems), and give proper change.

## Why “the Math Team” Did Poorly

Smarty’s teacher did an interesting experiment grouping kids by their math ability. Smarty’s team had 5 strongest math kids in class – three boys and two girls. When Smarty told me who is on her team, I joked that these strong mathematicians should certainly find a winning strategy for both pricing their wares and maximizing their candy.
I couldn’t be more wrong. Here is what went wrong for Smarty and her very bright classmates:
• They couldn’t cooperate with each other. Each child had his or her own idea of the “right way” to approach this challenge. Instead of selecting the best ideas, they decided to accept every idea and to let everyone do what he or she wanted with very minimal coordination between participants.
• They didn’t listen to instructions. The teacher shared with me while we were watching the trading that this team completely missed the fact that they were supposed to get a “candy number” from her. Instead they wasted a lot of time debating which number is a “good one” until Smarty finally realized that there was “something about Mrs L giving us the number in the beginning”.
• They couldn’t express their ideas on paper. Their poster was a frightful mess done in #2 pencil in comparison with colorful posters done by their more artsy classmates. I wish I could share it here, but my phone decided to run out of power while I was in the classroom.
• They “over engineered” the solution. For the life of me, I wasn’t able to figure out their price list. It was full of little inside jokes and discounts, but it was certainly not helpful to the shoppers who came to their shop to buy.
• They canceled each other out. They spent so much time bickering and doing “their own thing” that in the first cycle only one person went shopping instead of 2 or 3.

## Which Team Did Best?

Another half of gifted cluster was also grouped together – it was three girls and one boy. In my experience with them, all three girls are bright and cheerful, with more aptitude towards languages. The boy is very mild mannered and a good listener. Their whole performance was noticeably different.
• Their poster was colorful and well organized.
• Somewhat underpriced but logical price list – with prices scaling correctly with number of items (buy more, pay less per unit).
• Pleasant behavior towards each other and to their “customers”.
• Clear roles and responsibilities between team members.
• A brilliant strategy of “pre-launch excitement building” – apparently, the girls spent days talking to their classmates and convincing them to buy in their shop. Considering that these girls are (rightfully) popular anyway, their shop was always busy.

## The Thoughts I Took Away

• Last year we were “inches away” from pulling our daughter from this public school. Now we are glad we stayed. Smarty is having a fantastic year with her third grade teacher in her somewhat unruly gifted cluster.
• We have to focus more at home on listening. Smarty is very anxious to talk and we need to work on her becoming better in listening to others.
• Even the smartest person cannot succeed in group settings if he or she does not know how to work with others. Emotional intelligence is such a huge key to productive friendships and successful careers. I am very glad that Smarty is having to work in groups this year and, hopefully, increase her ability to cooperate and compromise. It’s not easy for her, especially if the group is more than 3 people, but I think that these “soft skills” are going to help her as much or more in the future as her considerable academic talents.

Do you have any tips on raising team players? If you are a blogger and have a post about that, feel free to leave a link in the comment section.

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maryanne @ mama smiles said...

This is an excellent post! I tried to pin it, but Pinterest will not pull your main image for me for some reason. Academic intellect is only one piece of the puzzle that is needed for success in life!

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

It's interesting that the teacher experimented with the groups this way - very insightful. Did she discuss her the "what went wrongs" with each group?

shelah moss said...

What an interesting post on team building.

Cassie Osborne said...

Working together is very important. My girls are learning this by working with each other.

min said...

They've done studies on this. EQ tops IQ in terms of success. The homeschool kids seem to do similar activities (making, selling, buying) during park days. They've been selling mostly things made with rainbow loom bands. One child did awesome marketing (labeling, branding,etc.) and was great at selling! I was totally impressed.

min said...

When I did my graduate studies, cooperative learning was the newest, latest thing. There was much push for learning in groups. Each child was given a role in the group so the group would function better. Each group had to present what they've learned. It all sounded good until it was time to grade. There were debates over whether each child should be graded individually or as a group.

After reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain, I have a new perspective of what we consider cooperative learning. I think there is a time and a place for it.

What I've learned is that children model a great deal from adults around them. They are great imitators. Teaching these "soft skills" work best when the children have older kids or adults who can model appropriate behaviors. Whenever I had a student with exemplary social skills, I discovered that the parents was especially adept socially as well.

Natalie PlanetSmartyPants said...

Min, I have mixed opinions about that. Leaving kids entirely to sort out their relationships by themselves will probably lead to something from The Lord of the Flies, but I still think that they need to learn to work with groups without adults constantly hovering (er... modeling) the expected behavior. I happen to believe that this team-based activities are extremely valuable specifically for gifted students who have sometimes too much self-confidence.

min said...

What I meant was that many times than not, children learn these behaviors from home. Typically, they model after their parents. These parents didn't "hover". Modeling and hovering are two different things.

Strange, the gifted kids I know tend to be very self-critical and extremely self-aware about how they present themselves. They pick up on subtle nuances and are sensitive about not offending others.

min said...

min said...

Here's another study on gifted girls and confidence.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/8979868/

The girl who painted trees said...

My experience with my own daughter is like this (how you described your daughter's group). She wants everything done her way and has a hard time compromising. We are constantly working on it. I would love for her to have more opportunity to work in teams like your daughter is getting in her third grade class but have yet to find a homeschool activity that would. Although, I could certainly start something. Thanks for sharing the experience.

Ticia said...

I wonder if part of the trouble book smart kids have is they are used to being right so they don't really take the time to listen to other viewpoints because they are used to it being wrong.