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Solving Problems Together.  Part 2

Purple Bunnies ‘Collectively'

Better Together

Be sure to read Part 1

Would you be more motivated by a $1000 bonus or share the $1000  equally with 10 colleagues that helped you earn that bonus?


The problem-solving tunnel and Purple Bunny model embraces a collectivist approach to problem-solving.  In fact, students are consistently pushed to practice getting out of their own thinking to consider the concerns, ideas, and feelings of others.  We explicitly teach about empathy and the importance of overcoming the challenges of playing and working with others.


Many of America’s cultural stories present a lone hero who prevails over obstacles to conquer an opponent.  They strive to perfection and turn away those who offer aid.


While this can be inspirational, this portrayal does not reflect how most challenges are overcome.  It could help a person for whom there is no support group but in today’s connected world a lone champion is as difficult to find as a Sasquatch.


There is no basketball championship won by one, lone baller.  No matter the skill and options a quarterback has, he can’t make every touchdown. Even our tennis, golf and race-car athletes who operate ‘alone’ have a team, a coach and a support group behind them. So, if there weren’t any scientific proof, my friends, this means that people benefit from solving problems and tackling challenges together. 


We are taught that children start off with an egocentric world view.  Then over time can expand that

world view from self, to family, to community and broader from there. Abraham Maslow’s presented a

hierarchy of needs; Physiological (food, shelter, water, etc.), safety,  belonging, esteem, self-actualization.  


Recent theory and study argue an idea that, actually, social comes first.  In fact, from the moment we

are born, we begin reaching out to others to meet our basic needs.  We know that babies who lack

adequate human contact suffer irreparable changes to their development and future success. (Social, Lieberman 2013)


When we work to solve problems together, we each bring a different perspective to viewing the problem.  We bring different skills and approaches to solving the problem. We can share the solution with a wide array of stakeholders.


                                                              We know that good classroom instruction involves students sharing ideas with one another. 

                                                               Classroom dialogue that teaches students how to build on other’s ideas and politely challenge

other’s thinking leads to more engagement and better retention of content.   We also know that this type of instruction reaches a more culturally and neuro- diverse audience of learners effectively. (Hammond, 2015)





Neurotransmitters and hormones even prove the importance of working together. Solving small challenges brings us dopamine.  And when we share those accomplishments alongside others we get an added boost provided by serotonin because we feel like we are an important part of a successful team. (Psychology Today)


Oh, and that $1000 bonus. I had recently been tipped off to the idea that people have more activity in the rewards section of their brain when they are offered an opportunity to share an external incentive.  So, I tried it out in my classroom. I had a student who was a reluctant participant on the few days he attended school. I took advantage of his presence one day and ‘noticed’ a slight bit of effort in the ‘right’ direction.  I nonchalantly and very quietly let him decide to keep a reward for himself of 5 of our school ‘tokens’ or give one token to each person in the class. He chose to share his reward, even though no one knew that he was the cause of the sudden ‘gift’. Turns out, people feel better when they have an opportunity to share a reward than just keeping it for themselves.(Pearsall, Matthew J.,Christian, Michael S.,Ellis, Aleksander P. J., 2010)  How will this alter incentives in your classroom?


One can earn Purple Bunnies when we solve little problems, build skills, and overcome frustrating challenges. Students do need to understand how to take a big problem and break it into parts to avoid being overwhelmed.  But they can also learn to take a big problem and share the parts with others. When we build skills and tackle tough assignments together, we feel even better. 


Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students.

Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why our brains are wired to connect.

Pearsall, M. J., Christian, M. S., & Ellis, A. P. J. (2010). Motivating interdependent teams: Individual rewards, shared rewards, or something in between? Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(1), 183–191.

pair share
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