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Working as a team can be the biggest challenge of all

By Hui-Hui Wang

What did young people on the Engineering Design Challenge teams this past year learn from the experience? Notably, one main takeaway for youth was that building a team can be as challenging as building a Rube Goldberg design.

At the end of the first season of our engineering design challenge recently, we asked each member of the 22 teams about the experience. What did they learn? What obstacles did they overcome as they built their Rube Goldberg Machine together?

Here are some quotes from the youth participants in this year's challenge:
"Some challenges we faced as a team was at first we all came with our one idea, and a lot of us weren't willing to compromise ... but we did overcame that challenge by learning to compromise, and everybody had a voice in this machine, so it was lot of fun." "I was also like that there were ideas, like you would think in a totally different way for some of them. But then, their idea would work much better in that situation, so it's more of a teamwork thing than single person thing."

"We all problem-solved and agreed on every step, so it was a team decision. We had to compromise on some things, but in the end, we got what we wanted, I think."

"Yeah, there were some problems ... like we sort of didn't know who would pour the water into the cup, so we were like, 'who could do that?' So we found out we could take turns. "To design and build their machine, the teams needed to learn how to work together, which means they need to respect other people's ideas and compromise sometimes. From my observation and talking with adult volunteers, teams can spend months figuring out how to work as a team.
Teamwork is never easy, even for adults. Youth get frustrated when others don't do things their way. To help youth work as a team, one strategy that adult leaders can take is to ask the youth to take turns presenting their ideas, and then choose together which one of them they want to work on. What other strategies have you used to encourage youth to work as a team, such as in the engineering design challenge?

-- Hui-Hui Wang, former assistant professor and Extension educator, STEM education

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  1. Thank you Hui-Hui for opening up this conversation around teamwork. I am passionate about providing opportunity for youth to practice decision making in both individual and group opportunities. MN 4-H Cook-off programming incorporates decision making via working in a similar team structure. A higher level of intentional learning can happen when youth are challenged to not only present their ideas, but weigh the pros and cons of each idea when coming to team decisions such as in the group process class of the consumer decision making judging program. What do you think are the pros and cons of "letting it happen" vs. providing a decision making model of "steps" to complete when supporting work in teams?

  2. Carrie,
    I totally agree with you. Weighing options and making decision are two very important components in engineering design. In science and engineering area, youth should reason scientific evidence to weigh options and make decisions. Youth need to practice these skills, such as how to conduct an experiment, interpreting data and selecting the right data, to make decisions. So, I think providing a decision making model at first to help youth practice to make decision, then letting it happen probably fit my teaching model.