It was just another day in my class as students were preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse. Students were tasked with creating a plan to turn the entire school into a sustainable community that could survive a zombie invasion for five years. This project was just a large metaphor for the fall or the Roman Empire and the creation of feudal Europe. Students were currently struggling with understanding the caloric and nutritional needs of young adults and what farmable food sources would meet their needs. From one corner of the room came a girl yelling “NO! NO! NO!” I walked over to see what was the matter. One team member looked up, “We had a plan to raise cows so that we could make hamburgers. But our school doesn’t have enough farmland to grow food for people and cows.” The upset girl turned to me and said, “We’re going to have be vegetarians!”
THE HABIT: Synergize
This is the Habit where all Habits meet. “Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Covey, 1989, p. 134). This is not merely teamwork. Synergize is the idea that through the connections of parts, team members, through personal communication greater opportunities arise. When there is true synergy, there is a unified spark that can empower people to achieve the incredible. Synergizing could be called creative cooperation.
It is the truth the creativity and collaboration are both a bit unpredictable. This unpredictability isn’t for everyone. Many people need structure and clear boundaries. It is nice to predictability and the mundane routine. We want certainty and consistency in our lives, our work, and in our Starbucks Mocha Caramel Frappuccino. Covey states that “unless people have a high tolerance for ambiguity and get their security from integrity to principles and inner values they find it unnerving and unpleasant to be involved in highly creative enterprises” (Covey, 1989, p. 135).
We would all like to believe we could work at Apple, Pixar, or Google, but not every can. These companies thrive of Synergy. The connective power between individuals and groups is what makes these companies world famous institutes that foster creative problem solving. Too many of us have our “Force Fields” up. We like working with people, but we have our walls, barriers that prevent collaborative communication. We are still stuck in a level of dependence. I have to imagine that what sets a Google employee apart from a DMV employee is that a Google employee has intra-dependence. The Google employee has embraced Covey’s Habits.
TEACHING THE HABIT: Project Based Learning
Project Based Learning creates real-world experiences in the classroom. I am no expert in PBL but have read several books on the subject and believe myself to be successful in creating engaging student learning experience. For me, project goals are to have students learn both the curriculum and the 4 Cs. Through learning communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, the 4 Cs, students learn to work as a team to reach a solution, create a product, or present their findings.
To be honest, I call what I do PBL -Lite, as authentic projects require a presentation to an authentic audience. The truth of the matter, it is tough to get administrators, parents, and community members to attend a student presentation. That being said, the rest of the process is very true to the rigor of PBL. Allow me to explain. On the first day of the project student teams are give the first challenge, a role and goal sheet, and rubrics for content the challenge will produce. As teams successfully finish the challenges, they move on to the next challenge. A typical project will have between eight to ten challenges. Teams must work together to solve the challenge. Weekly students are practicing the habit of Synergize.
This process is not a “follow-the-steps, ” and there are no worksheets. Students must work as a team to complete each challenge in order to complete the much larger project. My role is as the guide, the Chris Gunn to the students’ Project Runway. The challenges are tough and require students to create solutions. Many challenges require a skill or ability to be demonstrated, like using Google Maps to calculate the amount of usable land on our school's campus. Student teams then must work on their own to achieve this goal. Students learn about Google Maps and how to find the area of a polynomial. They learn how to learn, too. Past projects have included “Early Humans On-Line Test for Parents”, “Create an Ancient Roman-themed Board Game”, and the very famous “Help the School Survive the Zombie Apocalypse.”
Covey, S. R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Simon and Schuster.