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Collaboration Castle

Collaboration Castle

On Friday, April 25, Opal 4 participated in a Gift Ceremony.

The gift ceremony is a tradition at Opal School.  Every year, the children think about what gift they can give to their community, and then they ceremonially give it.  By the time children are in fourth and fifth grade, many of them have been giving the same gift each year, and the intention of the gift seems to shift.

This year in Opal 4, gifts became part of our group discourse after a couple of Opal 4 students invented a construct they named, “The Group Brain.”   This is a snippet from a conversation in November of 2013 when the idea of a whole class brain, a group brain, and the role of their invented role of the predictor was first mentioned:

KG:  Your brain moves because you’re in a group.

NT:  The feeling of the group is moving.  How a group moves along in their environment, how they think of things and work together.  If your group has one idea it moves the idea along.  When you add on to the idea, it makes the circle bigger.

BC:  The group brain is all the brains going together.

QS:  They are thinking about the same thing; groups think about the same thing.

BC:  They get everybody involved and it thrives.

KG and LH:  We invented a new (Group Dynamics) role, the Predictor

LH:  It’s kind of a bystander, intervener and protagonist. Here is the class’s brain. They are all agreeing.  This is the new idea – they are partly agreeing with the brain they are kind of being a follower doing whatever they are supposed to do or not, but they think in their own brain.

LH: You always have your own idea.  I was being a bystander and a predictor at the same time.  You’re not in your own brain, you’re in other people’s brains predicting.

BC: You’re in your own brain thinking about other people’s brains.

KG: And the predictor has a little sliver into the class’s brain, they know what the class might be thinking

HG:  The predictor is being metacognitive for the other these other people.  Thinking about their brains but they don’t know it.  It’s kind of weird.

NT:  You keep on saying that it’s a bystander and a protagonist in your head, but you’re also saying that it’s a predictor – you said that the bystander is part of the predictor’s job.

Later, in February of this year, the class wondered about the role of the group brain in collaboration.  Is that where collaboration happens?

As Opal students do, the children used metaphorical thinking to describe their understanding of the group brain, how one gets there, and what role gifts play in supporting this kind of collaboration.  In this conversation, the children were invited to draw their thinking on large paper on the floor while they talked:


Levia:  MG said we all have our own ticket to get in to the group brain, and LH and KG are talking about this solid – that is so curious to me.  Anyone want to jump in?

IM:  You get money to build a building and then the bricks are the ideas then the thing that holds the bricks together is the gifts.

AI:  And that becomes solid.

Levia:  What’s the solid?

AI:  It’s what Isabel is talking about  – active gifts put all of the gifts together and then the wall becomes solid and strong.

BC:  It becomes a wall.

LH: Once you get past the mental link, the wall builds up stronger and you go in your own trail to get there.

MG:  Is it a wall or a building?  I am picturing a building with different floors.

DW:  And they are the different levels.

MG:  I probably didn’t understand this before, but how I felt is the building is representing the group brain and the different floors are the different ways people get in.

AI:  It’s not like there’s a wrong way, it’s just that everyone’s different.

HG:  The foundation is the collaboration like KG said, I put windows on the building for the gift.  There are two doors, physical link and mental link as ways to get in.

BC:  Adding on to HG’s, I think when a certain person goes into what they feel is right, like a physical or a mental link, they open the door and then there’s a bunch of doors in front of them and they choose the one that’s theirs and their door is the way they get into the group brain and it leads them in all these different paths to the group brain.

LH:  Yeah, it’s kind of like the trail thing

BC:  You know which door is yours just by looking at the words on it, but the words are not your name, they’re just some — you know that that’s your path.

MG:  You don’t know, you just find it.

BC:  Did you write that down?

HG:  Your gift is your special trait.

EL: Yes, it’s what you give to your community.

RD:  It’s your Rory factor!

KG: People can watch you and find your gift

BC: Your window in this whole castle, you look out of it and you see other people through your eyes and you see it how you see people and you can see – if your gift is seeing how people feel, you can look through your window and you can see that person over there, he feels really sad about something.  You can see it in your own way of seeing it.  And there are all those other people –

LH:  All of those other people and you can only see it through your eyes.

DW:  The other day we were writing down gifts we know and now you’re saying we can’t know our gifts.

MG: I just wrote down playing soccer.

BC:  That’s a talent, not a gift.


OD:  I drew everybody bricks to represent somebody’s gift.  Some of them are shaded in really lightly so those weren’t really in the group brain and some were colored in really black and they’re really into it.

LH:  Is what your trying to say that in the group brain it doesn’t have to be really big?

BC:  And it doesn’t always have to help.

Levia:  But you keep giving it!

EL:  This guy is flexible. This guy is an intervener. I’m not sure if that’s a gift.

RD:  A gift is something about you that helps when you collaborate and an idea is something that you share to get it started.

BC:  If there were no mirrors in the world, your gift would be what you look like.

TP:  The castle is where we are.

VR:  The gifts make the ideas bigger.

BC:  Your gift is like an invisible shadow, but it’s like a living shadow, a living shadow of you, but it’s invisible and you can’t see it.

MM:  If gifts make ideas bigger, then they take us to the group brain.

TP:  Is it really your shadow?

BC:  You can’t see it.

LH:  I thought about it, and I think the group brain needs more of gifts than ideas because to make a group brain — your brain needs ideas, but to make a group brain, you have to use all of your gifts.

AI:  And ideas. You need ideas for the brain part and gifts for the group part. I was thinking that you go through the doors and then you use your gift to help you go through the hallways to get to the room with the ideas.

Levia:  So gifts help you navigate?

MM:  First it’s collaborating and then it’s the gifts and then it’s the group brain, like a food chain.

SK:  Your window connects to your room and your room has everything in it that you need to make your gift better.

LH:  Your room can be used to help you check back in.  And you have to take a risk to come out.

MG:  You have more than window in your castle.  There are two things you can be thinking.  The castle is your brain and the group brain is where you want to go.

LH:  It’s preparing in your room to take the risk and draw what you thought.

SK:  Inside your little room you have a pen or a pencil to draw with and once you’re ready, you draw your own way out of the castle.

RD:  Like Harold and the Purple Crayon!

MG:  When you’re inferring for someone, when some people are stuck in their castle, some people need a physical link to get out, but some people can just think about it and get out, so they might think, ‘oh, my friend might like to get out,’ so you would come to their door and knock on it and tell them to come out there.

BC:  Those are all the different ways!  For some people you can draw it out, for me it’s the window turning into the door,

MG:  Some people have easier ways for getting out of the castle

SK:  Each person has their own way out.

A small group of children worked together with Julia, our Arts Specialist, to design what they were seeing based on all of this metaphorical thinking.  They designed the Collaboration Castle.


The students worked for weeks on their rooms in the castle


My room helps me relax and chill.  -RD

My room is quiet and calm and there aren’t too many people around.  I can hear nature sounds.  -MC



The floor is real grass.  When I’m outside I can breathe.  -LH

My room is magical.  There are sparkles everywhere.  -TP

and the children had the opportunity to create a 3D element out of Sculpey that they wanted to include in their rooms.

Just before the ceremony, children worked together to put the finishing touches on the Castle.



And finally the day of the ceremony was upon us.

For me, the teacher in the classroom, setting intention for the ceremony is paramount.  We kicked off the celebration with the sounding of the atecocolli, the ancient, sacred conch shell that calls the energy of the group together.


Then each child was called to the stage one at a time with the “brick” upon which they had written their gift that supports collaboration in the Opal 4 Group Brain and a tulip stem.


After everyone was on the stage, we read the following quote together:


and we thought about the role of receiving.  I asked that throughout our gift giving ceremony everyone think about staying open and receiving what everyone was about to give.  The students were asked to feel the energy of the group around them and step forward to give their gift, brick and flower when they felt like it was their turn to go.

One by one, the giving began.


I give the gift of taking ideas and explaining them more clearly.  I am open to ideas.  -EL


I think out of the box. I share good ideas.  -KG


I am a consensus building protagonist.  I lead by example. -SL


I give the gift of being a flexible-er.  I am not a stubborn person.  -OD


I am a protagonist of truth.  I take other people’s perspectives and share those truths with the community and let them see it too.  -AI


I am a truth speaker.  I am not afraid to say what I think.  -AE


I give the gift of being the idea librarian.  I give and predict ideas. -IM


I give the gift of being a problem solving intervener.  It’s easy for my partners to agree with me. -CB


Then we reflected as a group on what the ceremony felt like.

MM:  I was in one of those pauses so I was wondering at what point I should pop in and I just went in.

BC:  If someone stepped in and then another person stepped in second the second person just went away and let the other person go and share their gift.  People were encouraging.

RD:  When it was silent it felt like April Fool’s Day.

Levia:  What did that silence feel like?

AI:  It felt good.  The whole community was still interacting.

BC:  We were all doing a big chat, like a big, silent chat.

KG:  And only one person talked at one time.

LH:  And everyone kind of went along with that person.

MM:  AB and I went at the same time and then we both stepped back and then I was silently greeting him in to go back in.  That happened with a lot of people.

AI:  I was nervous to go in, but RD encouraged me to go.

SR:  I could tell SK was about to go, but I went first.  I could tell by how she was moving forward.

NT:  It felt sort of awkward to me.

BC:  She waits a long time thinking about what she should do.

SR:  At the very end of each discussion Nisa is the one who talks.

With our vase of tulips full and our gift bricks lingering on the fabric, we celebrated in the way this community loves the best – with a group challenge!  The challenge was for the entire group to cross the line and touch their foot to the ground at exactly the same time.






How did we collaborate to meet this challenge?  What did you need to find your way into the group brain?


Gift Bricks on the castle and some sneak peeks into the various rooms:









Come visit the Collaboration Castle in our classroom!


 How will the Group Brain reveal itself in what comes next?