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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Norms of Collboration & Students - A Real World Example

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


October 17, 2016

A seventh grade science teacher in Upstate New York exposed his students the Norms of Collaboration. In particular, he wanted to teach his students the importance of Paying Attention to Self and Others and Presuming Positive Intentions when they are engaging in Collaborative Conversations. The vehicle he chose for the conversations was the NASA Exercise: Survival on the Moon.

The directions for the NASA Exercise read like this:


You are a member of a space crew originally scheduled to rendezvous with a mother ship on the lighted surface of the moon. However, due to mechanical difficulties, your ship was forced to land at a spot some 200 miles from the rendezvous point. During reentry and landing, much of the equipment aboard was damaged and, since survival depends on reaching the mother ship, the most critical items available must be chosen for the 200-mile trip. Below are listed the 15 items left intact and undamaged after landing. Your task is to rank order them in terms of their importance for your crew in allowing them to reach the rendezvous point.

The students completed the fifteen-item ranking on their own first. Then, they were placed in groups and engaged in a collaborative conversation. They had to use data, knowledge of the moon’s surface and related science, and conversation to navigate the conflicts and differences of opinion to create a group ranking. The instructor talked about different ways the students would have to pay attention to themselves with gesture, facial expressions, body language and tonality as they dialogued about the scenario.

During the debrief, students talked about the two focused norms and how they tried to remain mindful of them. They also pointed out the importance of other Norms, like pausing and providing data. This class has not yet learned to paraphrase one another, but that is next on the class’ agenda.

At the 2014 Thinking Collaborative Symposium, Bill and Ochan Powell did a presentation on The OIQ Factor: Raising the Organizational Intelligence of Our Schools. During their presentation, they used a similar ranking for a collaborative conversation. Their fifteen-item list was called the “African Safari Survival Simulation.” No matter what the topic of the ranking, the findings were very similar to the seventh grade science class’ conclusions. In all of the groups, the group ranking score was better than the individual ranking scores. So, we really can be smarter together.

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