Help! Beyond Zoom Breakout Rooms, how do I help students collaborate?

This is the challenge an elementary teacher came to me with last week.

Lots of innovative teachers are facing the same struggle. But there’s a dead easy way to remedy it:

Empower students to collaborate on their own- ASYNCHRONOUSLY.

As facilitators of learning, our job is to set up a few simple systems and frameworks for students to collaborate, model how they are used, and then watch the magic of self-directed project management unfold. Here are 5 dead easy tech tools and how you can use them to foster student collaboration in your projects.

1. Google Jam Board: Brainstorming and Ideation

Google Jam Boards are dead easy to use, and are best for the early stages of a project. Use them to come up with ideas, and color coordinate according to ideas with a similar theme. As a facilitator, you might set up a few simple provocative questions and then have students ideate around them. Below, an elementary group ideates ways to build awareness around their newly formed NGO, ‘Plastic Seas.’

2. Padlet: Task allocation and Time-lining

Padlet is a simple and slick tech tool that allows you to set up canvases for groups to collaborate within. Provide a Padlet for each of your project teams and use it as a one- stop shop to either divide tasks, determine possible final products, or timeline the scope of the project. You can even link each padlet to other project teams so students can get inspiration/share ideas. Below two student groups demonstrate the versatility of Padlet as a collaborative tool.

3. Mural Boards: Mapping out Projects and Design Cycle

No matter which way you slice it, projects are messy. But it’s always nice when that beautiful mess comes together in beautiful work flow to demonstrate how students moved from beginning to end. That’s what ‘Mural’ boards are good for. You can setup different canvases for each stage of the process project with embedded activities, frameworks, and tools that help students move seamlessly from ideation, to final exhibition. Below is an example of how a design project is laid out on a Mural Board from stage 1-5.

4. Trello: Task Collaboration/ Division and Product Feedback

How do help monitor progress of10-20 projects happening simultaneously? You don’t. You set up a simple virtual ‘scrum’ board and let students manage it themselves. Trello is a dead easy piece of software that lets you set up ‘Boards,’ and divide them into individual cards for project groups to allocate tasks, upload work, and set up deadlines for completion. Below, secondary students use Trello to help manage their CoVid ‘Make a Difference’ Projects.

5. Microsoft Teams: Asynchronous/Synchronous Collaboration from Beginning to End

After working with a number of schools in all kinds of digital environments, I can say with confidence, that Microsoft TEAMS is the best tool for full team collaboration. It allows you to chat offline, meet virtually, work on shared documents, keep a running notebook, set up project calendars, and integrate a whole host of apps including 2 of the 4 listed above. As a teacher, you can seamlessly facilitate the progress of your project groups by setting up individual channels. Any files needing to be shared with the whole class (ie. hyperlinked project handouts, supplementary resources, due dates, etc.) can be placed in the team folder, while project groups can collaborate and submit assignments within their designated ‘channel.’

Yes, collaboration online will not be the same as it is in the classroom.

You aren’t going to have the same buzz, energy, and excitement that you see in the classroom with students working together side by side.

But that doesn’t mean collaboration can’t happen. And in some ways, it’s better.

Online, there is a digital footprint of collaboration that you can easily track.

Collaboration can happen in asynchronous intervals, with time for processing and improving upon work.

And with the right structures in place, groups will have more tools at their disposal to self- manage.

And you, the PBL maestro, will have more tools at your disposal to facilitate.