Bringing Collaboration Skills to the Classroom

Home E CES Stories E Bringing Collaboration Skills to the Classroom
Article Author: Martha Maloney
Publication Name: Collaborative for Educational Services
Article Date: 1/30/2017
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Inge Kuhlka moves throughout her 8th grade math class checking on her students, who are working collaboratively in small groups. A quick review of one group’s progress and a few words to another group keep the students focused on a sunny day. The students had completed standardized testing in the morning, so were more easily distracted after a morning of intense quiet; but Kuhlka keeps a watchful eye on all, the students keep their focus, and they successfully complete the day’s work.

Kuhlka has been with Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield for eight years. She began her work as a math-specific paraprofessional. “In school, math was always my favorite subject, my go-to class,” says Kuhlka. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science from Purdue University, Kuhlka began her career working for food companies in quality control management.

The teachers she worked with at Pioneer as a paraprofessional encouraged her to grow in her role. Kuhlka knew other teachers who had taken courses in the Licensure Program at CES, and felt the time was right for her to do the same. “I had to go for this!” said Kuhlka, who signed up for the Initial Licensure program at CES.

“I had heard great things about the CES classes,” said Kuhlka. She found that the courses were taught by highly engaged instructors who were immediately responsive to questions. The licensure classes she took were a mix of traditional classroom courses and online course work.

Adults learned to work together on assignments. “Collaborating for adults is often out of our comfort zone,” says Kuhlka, but she enjoyed this as well, and now incorporates this vital skill into her teaching at Pioneer.

Kuhlka took classes during the summer and during the school year. The timing of her licensure pursuit ended up being perfect for her – her own children were in middle and high school at Pioneer and were very proud of their mother’s goals.

Now, when asked by her eighth-grade students about their future use of math, she tells them that their math studies are connecting the right and left parts of their brain, and as they grow in their math classes, they will find that they are moving from concrete rules to more abstract solving of problems. Kuhlka knows that in her class, they are not only developing deeper understanding of math skills, but also learning how to work collaboratively with others and building skills that will carry them to varied careers in adulthood. “There are always new ways to get to an answer,” says Kuhlka. “Students aren’t pigeonholed into only one solution. I provide the basics from foundational work, and they pick up and proceed with methods that work best for them. One student consistently came up with all her own methods, and she was right every time!”

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