Last month I had the privilege of teaching a class of primary two and three students, and the subject matter was teamwork.
I divided the class into teams of four and asked them to design and build a cardboard city.
They were to include in the project a hospital, a school, a police station and a couple other buildings, but aside from that, they had free rein on what should constitute the city.
Initially, I was not so sure if my students, being so young, would be able to work together and complete the task, but they all surprised me.
First I discussed several important Cs that they would need for the project:
Courage. They were to work with people they might not know well and there was the temptation to let one person “run the show”. But the students were encouraged to have the courage to speak up and share their ideas.
Consideration. Since members of a team had to work together, they should have the consideration to listen to other people’s views.
Compromise. Team members had to come to a common decision, and so they were asked to compromise, to “meet in the middle”.
Creativity. They were asked to “think out of the box”, to try new things.
Communication. Perhaps the most important thing for effective teamwork was for members to talk and listen to each other. Everyone must be able to speak clearly and calmly.
With those five Cs, the teams began their planning and building. And their processes and products simply blew me away.
One team erected an electricity tower with wires connecting all the buildings so that they could all be powered by electricity. Another team had an MTR station that could “bring you to any country in the world”. Yet another team established a healing center that housed a machine with an advanced technology that would enable a patient to be healed in just one minute by walking through it.
One team had a “meat store” and a “fish store”. When asked where people could buy vegetables, they answered with nonchalance: “Vegetables aren’t important for us to eat!”
Another city where I thought I’d enjoy living had a ski slope with a supermarket at its peak so people could buy groceries and then ski down to the city. (They couldn’t find any other spot for the supermarket!)
As much as some of their concepts of a city and buildings sounded ridiculous, it’s amazing to see the courage of these students to try out new ideas, and their creativity shone in the way they designed the structures and implemented their ideas.
I witnessed how they communicated, compromised, and engaged in problem-solving. They also had to learn how to plan, strategize and execute within a limited time.
Those were some of the thinking skills that they used and grew in. But another beautiful thing I saw was the sense of ownership and camaraderie that developed among them.
Students came to class excited about building their city. They brought items from home to add to their cities and took such pride in showcasing their project. And in the process of working together, they developed a sense of belongingness.
Through the process, I also learned a couple of things. First is not to underestimate kids. They have so much potential. We just have to provide them with the opportunities to try, and to believe in them in the process.
I also learned that the best way to learn is to learn by doing and doing by playing. The way the students were excited to be part of the class made it easy for them to focus and participate.
And lastly, I learned that we have to give our kids a voice. They have the ideas and the creativity to implement them. But we need to give them a platform to voice and share their ideas without belittling or putting them aside.
Will you build a city with your child?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 16
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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