zooSymbiosis, Swarms, & Sensational Synergy:
A New Approach to Collaboration

If you work in a "zoo" and think it's a "jungle" out there, it's time for a new approach to collaboration. Drawing inspiration from relationships in nature, this high energy workshop will stimulate new ideas for energizing teaching and learning across the curriculum. While reading, writing, and mathematics are tools for understanding and expressing ideas and information, curricular areas such as science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education inspire students to be active and creative. From books and blogs to GPS and video projects, this workshop stresses practical strategies for collaborating with students and teachers across the curriculum to address standards, as well as promote a passion for learning. To survive in the "wilds" of today's schools, your classroom, computer labs, and school libraries must bring learning alive. Leave this session with a set of collaboration strategies that will bring the joy of teaching and learning back into your school.

Do you play well with others? It's time to get organized and develop strategies for collaboration. Think about your clients, resources, and services. How are they evolving? How is your classroom, school, technology lab, and library media center changing? What's your virtual presence? Go to Joyce Valenza's virtual library for an example of today's library. Let's engage learners and learn with learners! Let's get organized!

What's Collaboration?

In the past, we thought of teachers collaboration and student collaboration as different things. We had teacher teams and students teams. As we move from Teacher 1.0 (the sage on the stage) to Teacher 2.0 (guide on the stage) to Teacher 3.0 (cadre of collaborators), we see all members of the learning community as collaborators.

Start with teacher-teacher collaboration. This may mean connecting within your own grade level or department. You may reach out to the technology coordinator, librarian, or other teachers across the curriculum.

"Collaboration is a trusting, working relationship between two or more equal participants involved in shared thinking, shared planning and shared creation of integrated instruction. Through a shared vision and shared objectives, student learning opportunities are created that integrate subject content and information literacy by co-planning, co-implementing, and co-evaluating students’ progress throughout the instructional process in order to improve student learning in all areas of the curriculum... Attributes of collaboration identified in the literature such as friendliness, congeniality, collegiality, reciprocity, respect, propensity to share (shared vision, shared thinking, shared problem solving, shared creation of integrated instruction), trust, flexibility, and communication are essential in varying degrees for each models to be effective... Collaboration has the potential for creating a renewal in education by combining the strengths of two or more individuals in productive relationships that can positively influence student learning." - Toward a Theory of Collaboration for Teachers and Librarians by Patricia Montiel-Overall in SLMR

Think about ways that teachers and young people can work together collaboratively. For instance, young people become cogntive apprentices. Teachers model reading and writing across the curriculum.

What's your definition of collaboration?
What is your approach to collaboration?

Collaboration and Web 2.0

Explore examples of Web 2.0 resources that can be used in collaboration.

Read Characteristics of Effective Collaboration (PDF) for ideas that can be used when creating collaboration assessments.

Check out the following resources to expand your exploration:

The Long Tail

The Long TailHow are your clients (children and educators), resources, services, and products evolving? How does this impact programs, collections, and collaboration?

The theory of The Long Tail is that "our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail...One example of this is the theory's prediction that demand for products not available in traditional bricks and mortar stores is potentially as big as for those that are." When applied to school classrooms and libraries, this means that rather than just focusing on tradebooks books, textbooks, and traditional content areas, we're moving toward exploring many niches across the curriculum using a wide variety of local and virtual resources.

The Long Tail

The Long Tail refers to the yellow part of the sales chart on the right that shows a standard demand curve that could apply to any situation. The red shows the traditional market and the yellow shows the new growth in "niches". For example, the GPS device is a niche tool that might be not be used by all teachers and students, but may be extremely valuable in particular situations such as mapping a local history walk through your community.

According to Anderson, "people gravitate towards niches because they satisfy narrow interests better." In schools, we refer to this as "understanding the individual interests of children" and differentiating the learning experience. We also talk about teacher's needs in specific content areas and differences in teaching styles.


For more ideas, go to High Tech Learning Spaces

To learn more, read The Long Tail FAQs. Also, check out the Wikipedia entry for The Long Tail.

What are your niche collaborations? Are we collaborating across grade levels and content areas? Are we meeting the needs of all our young people? What's the most unusual thing you have in your collection? What unique ways do you bring people into your center? What do you check out? Do you check out GPS devices, laptops, cameras, harmonicas?

The Collaboration Game: Relationships and Connections

What's your indispensable role in your school? How can we bring the joy back to teaching and learning? While reading, writing, and mathematics are tools for understanding and expressing ideas and information, curricular areas such as science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education inspire students to be active and creative. Think of your center as a learning laboratory. What are the possibilities?

“Like it or not, standardized testing has become the 600 pound gorilla of education. Project-based learning, curricular innovation, and practice with new forms of authentic assessment have taken a backset to increased emphasis on traditionally taught basic skills instruction.” - Doug Johnson

Our job is to help teachers envision life beyond the standards through virtual and face-to-face collaborations.

Glass Bead GameLet's play a School Library Media Program collaborative learning game.

Bernie Dodge (father of the WebQuest) suggests combining graphics organizer software and thinking for an engaging activity called The Glass Bead Game. Check out Bernie's example at Gliffy.

Based on the Nobel Prize winning book The Glass Bead Game by Hermanne Hesse set in the 23rd century, the members of society's intellectual elite have developed a popular mental rather than physical sport that kicks-off with a theme. Players then make connections between concepts. Points are scored based on the quality of the idea thread. Analogies are often used to build connections across all disciplines. This classic work of science fiction literature has deep philosophical, political, and social themes, but it can also be seen as a cool idea for a game. Many modern online gamers trace their roots to this book.

The basic concept of The Glass Bead Game can be applied to any body of information and is a great way for students to create elegant connections among concept, support their approach with evidence, and share their understandings. The game is also a wonderful way to show young people that all things are connected. If they've played "Seven Degrees from Kevin Bacon" they'll get the idea immediately.

OklahomaExplore the HipBone Game and HipBone website.

Intermediate Grades Example

Symbiosis: Partnering

RhinoSymbiosis involves the interdependent relationship among creatures. The more connected you become to each teacher in your building to more likely they are to seek you out for collaboration.

Nurture partnerships

Promote Your Strengths

Seek out strategies for creating relationships with each teacher. It's not always easy. Consider how you can match your strengths with the needs and interests of your partner.

Curriculum Leader. Connect quality resources and activities to specific curriculum needs. Not just the resource itself, but quality activities.

Information Scientist. Many of our students and teachers are technology literate, but are they information fluent?

Resource Consultant. Many students and teachers prefer to "google" than carefully select the best resource for the job. Promote a variety of resources from books and videos to web resources and videos. Place emphasis on addressing different intelligences through a variety of materials. For example, audiobooks promote oral fluency. They're also a great tool for reluctant readers and those who spend time in the car or bus.

Technology Specialist. Encourage the use of a variety of communication tools from blogs for journaling to video information dissemination.

Literature Specialist. Contribute your knowledge of literature and reading.

Digital Developer. Share your expertise as a website developer.

Community Collaborator. Facilitate activities with community resources such as the public library, museums, nature centers, government resources, and online resources to build "real world" connections to subject areas. For example, the photo on the right shows one of many community members participating in a community development project that involved Indiana students sharing their work. The students, teachers, library media specialist, and community members collaborated to make the project a success.

"Big Picture" Thinker. You have a cross-curricular perspective unlike anyone else in your building. Help teachers see connections among standards across content areas. Build relationships between language arts and math/science/social studies and information skills.

Are you perceived as a proactive member of the learning community or as a passive observer? Explore ways to actively build diverse partnerships.

Connect to Classics and Comfort Sources

Bring the traditional and new information and communication "classics" to each content area. Ask yourself:

Pathfinders. Create pathfinders to help your people find the best resources. In addition to specific topics, also provide "starters":

Teacher Tap: Digital and Virtual Field Trips
Teacher Tap: Digital and Virtual Libraries
Teacher Tap: Digital and Virtual Museums
Teacher Tap: Educational Portals and Starting Points
Teacher Tap: Lesson Plans
Teacher Tap: Content Rich Sites
Teacher Tap: Primary Resources and Real-World Data

Collect Your Own Content. Get students involved in connecting their own life experiences and original content with classic information resources. For example, not just a "report on nutrition," but an original investigation of vegetarians through quality information and original interviews.

cartoon worldHistory: Fact or Fluff? Start with The Cartoon History of the Modern World by Larry Gonick. Ask students to select and scan a series of panels related to a specific event in history. Then, verify and expand the information. Why did the author choose the visuals selected to convey this aspect of history? Compare primary source documents, photographs, and other historical materials to those presented in the book using sources such as Internet of History of Science Sourcebook and MacroHistory. How accurate is the book? Related ideas:

Identify a subject area. What are the classic print resources, database materials, website resources, and other information and communication resources for this area?

Swarms: Teaming

swarmLike swarms, teams are cooperative groups working and moving together to achieve a common goal.

Build Teams

Uno's Garden

Theme Teams

Looks for ways to promote cross disciplinary projects. Consider the creation of "theme teams" that bring the entire school together to promote reading, safety, energy efficiency, local history, or other topics of mutual interest.

Ecology Theme. Look for books that could provide a focal point for grade level or subject area projects. For example, Uno's Garden by Graeme Base has an environmental message along with social studies, science and math applications. Many other books could be used as part of center activities, literature circles, and other themed reading experiences. Seek out ways to make "touch connections" using online resources such as PBS Math Book Recommendations.

A Dozen Shared Skills. Themes Teams allow teachers to reinforce key standards that cross disciplines including information skills. Select a few key critical and creative thinking skills and match content area standards and activities. Find examples at the Partnership workshop.

  1. Identify main idea
  2. Identify relationships and make connections
  3. Sequence events
  4. Identify details
  5. Distinguish fact from opinion
  6. Identify cause and effect
  7. Compare and contrast viewpoints
  8. Defend a position
  9. Identify the problem and solution
  10. Make predictions
  11. Make inferences
  12. Draw conclusions

Univeral Tools. Seek ways to promote the use of general information and communication tools for questioning, notetaking, organizing, and project creation.

  1. Teacher Resources - Marcopoo, 4teachers Tools - thinktank, rub ric maker, postermaker, persuasion project
  2. Citation Tools
  3. Art & Music Tools
  4. Reading and Writing Tools - ReadWriteThink Student Materials
  5. Calculation Tools - Young Money, Discovery Health, building, floor plans
  6. Mapping Tools - Google Maps, Google Earth, Yahoo Maps
  7. Online Graph Makers - Create a Graph
  8. Online Concept Mapping - Gliffy and Thinkature
  9. Shared Documents - Google Docs
  10. Comic Tools - HyperComics
  11. Blogs - Blogger, Scrapblog
  12. Wiki Builders - wikispaces

Synergy: Community Building

Synergy occurs when two or more elements work together to produce an impact greater than the sum of their individual efforts. Consider all the possible communities that can help you promote synergy: school, local, regional, global.


Octavian NothingThe "learning community" must wrestle with the following essential questions (Inquiry Learning Through Librarian-Teacher Partnerships by Violet H. Harada and Joan M. Yoshina):

Reach Beyond the School

Authentic experiences and choices are keys to motivating learners. For example, reading The Long Tail as part of a Chamber of Commerce business-school-public library collaboration is motivating because young people see reading modeled in the local community. Finding others online who are interested in reading and discussing an unusual or narrowly focused book like Octavian Nothing can also be motivating.

Think Different

What makes collaboration work? (Inquiry Learning Through Librarian-Teacher Partnerships by Violet H. Harada and Joan M. Yoshina):

Build on the past… Find new niches… Identify the next new thing… think "over the edge."

For example, check out the Flat Stanley page. Rather than just posting photographs like most Flat Stanley projects, we published a Flat Stanley e-comicbook!

Developed by Annette Lamb, 2/07. Updated 11/07.