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Assessing value as catalyst for creativity here, beyond

Claire Vecchioni, Meera Rothman, and Greg Zapas

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For senior Aliah Walls, one group project stands out in particular.
During last year’s policy project in Advanced Placement English 11, clashing ideas caused the simple project to spiral into chaos.
“When it came down to it, I felt as if every little decision was an argument,” Walls said.
Not only did problems occur in the planning phase of the project, they spilled over into the presentation itself.
“On the day we went to present our project in front of the class, I noticed that the design of our presentation was completely changed,” Walls said. “To me, this was the last straw.”


In spite of students’ mixed reviews of collaborative assignments, they’re a reality in high school, work and college. What’s more, two new books discuss the benefits of collaboration—Steven Sloman’s and Philip Fernbach’s “The Knowledge Illusion” and Agustin Fuentes’ “The Creative Spark.” The former argues that collaboration has fueled major humans’ greatest inventions, including the wheel and the iPhone. The latter maintains that collaboration – and its power to produce creative works – is what makes us human.
While students cite pitfalls and challenges of group projects, senior and Sequel Magazine editor Jason Fontelieu praises collaboration as essential to the success of “Kiss the Bride,” last fall’s dinner theater production, which he wrote with four other creative writers here.
“There are so many things we thought of—just spewing ideas we wouldn’t have created if we were at home on our separate laptops,” he said.

Students like junior James Pentikis find collaboration essential outside of school. He noted that collaboration helped him and a fellow guitarist in their band the Fallback Plan.
“I was helping out Michael [Cheng] figure out a guitar riff because he was playing a little differently than I would, and we bounced ideas off each other, and it got to where it is,” he said.
Business teachers Jamie Bare and Pat Holt work together frequently to generate new teaching ideas.


Bare recalls how she and Holt fine-tuned the “Shark Tank” project last year, a collaborative assignment for students that Holt has been doing for years. As a result, the project evolved to be more feasible and time-efficient.
“We looked at it and broke it down into smaller pieces to make it more manageable for students to complete, instead of giving them the whole project at once,” Bare said.
Sequel advisor Meekah Hopkins shares similar success and said that collaboration plays an integral role in her classroom.
“Sequel is designed for this purpose: artists and writers working together to produce a collaborative product,” she said. “Nearly every assignment we set within the classroom has some aspect of collaboration.”
Science department chairman Stephen Shaw also regularly embeds group work in his classes.
“Instead of one teacher, I really have a class full of teachers,” he said. “What the research points to is that you’re going to master material far more if you’re interacting with it.”
Science teacher Marty Stranathan maintains group work merely improves collaboration.
“There’s tons of research showing that group work doesn’t help teach students individually, but it does help them work together collaboratively,” Stranathan said. “If you want your students to individually understand, group work is not the way to go.”
Still Advanced Placement Psychology teacher Kendra Swam sees promise in group work.
“Group think happens when the desire for a unanimous decision overrides an individual’s appraisal and critical thinking,” Swam said. That’s not all.
“Social loafing occurs when people will sometimes exert less effort if individual contributions are not possible to identify.”
Physics teacher Peter Sykes labelled keeping student groups on task a great challenge.
”The best way to keep students involved is to chunk and stagger the work so students can work on different things while I help other groups and still have everybody arrive at the same point at the end of class,” he said.
Maddie Wilson, a 2016 graduate just done with freshman year at the University of South Carolina said collaboration matters in college.
“We had a final group project and one member was AWOL,” Wilson said. “We never really heard from him ever again after that initial planning meeting.”
But grades weren’t harmed, she said.
“Our professor had us complete group evaluations, so it was abundantly clear that our fourth member had absolutely no part in the final product.”

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