Friday, March 2, 2012

Defining Cooperation

By Mark T. Burke

Cooperation...the core of every musical performance.  Players must cooperate during, before and after performances in order to create a lasting, musical experience. Cooperation is such a powerful byproduct of musical education that we count on the benefits to justify our programs and their place within our schools. But how do we teach the concept of cooperation?  Generally we just tell students to "do it."  "If your group would have cooperated, you could have finished the project on time."  Sounds familiar, doesn't it?  Cooperation is a difficult concept to conceptualize. In fact, cooperation is difficult to recreate at many levels.  What is real cooperation and why is it so hard to explain, teach and model?

Those who know me know I am a TED lover. TED, Ideas Worth Spreading (, has been a idea sharing forum since 1984.  TED = Technology, Entertainment, Design.  This week, TED 2012 took place.  Joining with 178 other communities, I took part in TEDxWilliamsport, a live, one day webcast of TED 2012.  Those in attendance viewed the webcasts and shared the new ideas, talked about our perspectives, and began forming ways of harnessing those ideas through new COOPERATIVE opportunities.  Cooperation seems hard to some.  Maybe it's the musician in me that simply doesn't understand why that is, but when I see something that exemplifies cooperation, I really get excited.  When I see something that can help me explain to others what cooperation is, and even better, how we may be able to TEACH cooperation, I get even more excited.  This presentation by Vijay Kumar...well, see what you think.  Especially important is the section that begins around 8:21...but, to understand the technology, start from the beginning. 

During his talk, I thought how powerful this video would be in a classroom.  The cooperative relationship between the robots helps create a visual representation of the concept of cooperation.  The concept of non-centralized control in a group always blows my mind.  How many band directors have tried starting a group and just letting them perform...tricky right?  But for groups that achieve this level of!

Vijay's TED Talk lays out a few fine points that help define true cooperation:

1.)  Non-centralized understanding of the task at hand.
2.)  Proximity awareness
3.)  Non-specific neighbor interaction
4.)  Defined parameters of action and reaction
5.)  Neighbor to neighbor task completion awareness

What do these terms mean?  Ask students to watch this video and have them define each.  Then, ask them to apply these same terms to what they do in their music ensembles.  What a great way to teach cooperation.  Imagine the benefit of taking this approach as compared to continuing the same old expectations each day...that kids will just COOPERATE.

I'll leave you with this.  Each and every day, I look for ways to learn more about how to educate.  I feel strongly that teachers should and must be connected to resources such as TED.  As music teachers, we can bring great benefits to our students when we seek and interact with resources beyond the music room.  Another great talk from TED 2012 delivered the lesson of "Fear of failure is a good thing.  Without failure, we never go beyond what we can do."  I want all of my music and general ed teacher friends to experience the thrill of trying something new, of failing, of asking more of themselves in order to deliver more to their students.  While it saddens be to meet tons of new and old friends who still remain unconnected to great communities of learning through technology, I have hope and see growing evidence that some are coming on board.  I want to see more sharing though, more creation of content and original ideas, more application of resources typically thought to be irrelevant.  I want to see more appreciation for the abstract so that our collective, collaborative minds can unite.  We must get our kids thinking, sharing and solving the complex issues of our time.  We simply must. 

Cooperation....a beautiful thing.

1 comment:

  1. What then does it mean to be an educator? Does it signify something different than the assigned job title? What I have learned through my work in higher education is that becoming an educator is not an automatic process. Everyone who is teaching adult students is not functioning as an engaging and highly effective educator. However, it is possible to learn how to educate rather than teach and that requires making a commitment to the profession.