Tips and Tricks for Collaborations


Getting Started in the Gateway Café #4

In my previous posts, I gave tips on how we got started developing a small node of Teen Science Cafés in the St. Louis area.  Once we jumped in, it became very clear that we needed to figure out quickly how to work efficiently and effectively.  Here are a few things we learned along the way.

Take a team approach.  For the Gateway Teen Science Café program in the St. Louis area, we have three partner institutions (Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, St. Louis Academy of Science and St. Louis Science Center) that offer the same program at different locations in the region.  The team approach promotes lots of creative ideas and brings many diverse skills to the project. You are likely partnered with similarly skilled people with special strengths, as I have been. Capitalize on each other’s strengths, and make sure that no one is left on their own. We formed sub-committees for the different components of the café program, each with adult leaders from each partner.  This made everyone’s workload a little lighter and played to our strengths, while maintaining networks of support; we thus avoided designing every detail in a large group.

Look to the Network for help. The Teen Science Cafe Network is made up of creative and hardworking people dedicated to helping each other succeed. Talk to us! We have often faced the same issues you are or will be facing. The Network also offers a compendium of resources (documents, event outlines, etc.) to help you get established.

Trust the teens. I have taught in a classroom and have worked with hundreds of classroom teachers. I know how difficult it can be to let go and give students creative control. We’re used to being the star of the show, or at least making ourselves crazy trying to facilitate it. Be there for support, but otherwise let the teens take control. Some groups may need more scaffolding, with more of an adult presence toward the beginning and less of one as time goes on, but the groups I’ve seen so far have been able to direct themselves. They’ve compared prices, made phone calls for donations, and lined up venues. Not every group will start off that way, but if a teen wants to try something (like calling a local business), pass the reins. I have been impressed with our teens’ drive, energy, initiative, responsibility, and imagination. They’ve moved this idea forward in ways that would have taken me years.

Open a Google account. Gmail not only allows you to import and send mail from all of your other email account  it also supports instant messaging and 1-to-1 video chat. Starting a Google account opens up an entire suite of Google Services:

Use Google Docs to organize, collaborate on, and share documents. We have used this free service to collaboratively create forms, fliers, lists of scientists, and even PowerPoint presentations. Although the software is more limited than the Microsoft suite, it allows you to at least share the basic content. If you choose not convert to the Google format, documents can be shared much as they are in Dropbox.

Google Calendar is a great way to share calendars and make a group calendar. We use ours to record and keep track of when trainings, meetings, and cafes are planned.

Google Hangouts are a great way to meet without having to travel. The service is much like Skype, except that you can see everyone at any given point, you aren’t as limited with your number of guests, you can share documents through Google Docs, and you can see what’s on other peoples screens (if they’ve enabled the screenshot feature). Although face-to-face meetings are recommended for an introduction, you (and your gas tank) will be happy to have invested the time in learning an easy method of communicating online. This is also a great way to connect distant groups of teens!

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