Better Teams: Just Add Six Cups!

24 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will be challenged to hone their communication and teamwork skills in a time-based competition against other teams. Teams with fastest time for completion of task wins!

Big Idea

Successful teams employ a variety of traits and strategies, chief among them are effective communication, trial-and-error learning, and perseverance.

Learner Goals

Note: I recommend that you first check out this resource in order to get the most out of this lesson!

With regard to this particular lesson, I am working to instill a class culture that will carry throughout the school term. I need to rely on students working together, persisting through problems or difficult tasks even when not immediately successful, and to think flexibly as we investigate biology.

In high school I took several drafting classes and, for a while, I had hoped to become an architect. With respect to planning instruction and teaching, I feel that I can still live out the detailed approach to building something intricate and complex even though the product is a lesson rather than a certain "built environment".

The lesson planning document that I uploaded to this section is a comprehensive overview of how I approach lesson planning. This template includes the "Big Three" aspects of the NGSS standards: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science Practices. Of course, there are many other worthy learning goals, skills, instructional strategies, and assessments that can be integrated into a class session. I don't feel compelled to check every box but, rather, use it as a guide to consider various options and tailor the lesson in light of these.

I hope you get some value from my work! Please find the more intricate details of this lesson plan there.

Anticipatory Set ("Hook")

5 minutes

The sequence of this lesson is outlined in the attached Cup Stacking Challenge file. As you begin this lesson consider the following:

(Slide 2) (Brainstorm) Pose the following prompt to students- "What characteristics or qualities separate an average team from a great, highly-functioning team? In other words, what makes a great team?"                                                          

Student response: THINK:  On one's own, consider the prompt. PAIR: Turn to a table partner and take turns discussing the possible responses to the prompt. SHARE: As a class, discuss various student's answers to the prompt.

Instructional Input/Student Activities

45 minutes

(Note that this lesson is typically done in the first several days of the school term)

1. I explain that it is important to set some foundational blocks into place in terms of how teams ought to perform in class. Teamwork will comprise a substantial part of class activities, especially in labs. I inquire about what students think are important ingredients for successful teams. Make a list of suggestions given by students where they can see it.   

2. I then introduce the concept of Habits of Mind (HOMs) ( and briefly identify and describe each.   

3. Next, I focus on the following three that pertain to the lesson and the characteristics I want to imbue to my student teams: persisting, thinking flexibly, and thinking and communicating with clarity and precision    

4. Inquire with the students how or why these three attributes might prove useful for a team of unique individuals working toward a single goal. 

5. (Continued on Slide 3 of PPT) Explain the context of the Team Challenge, the objective (stack all six cups while following the rules in the shortest amount of time) and its two rounds (trial-and-error and final round). These are the rules I apply:

  • each member must operate their string
  • if during the stacking of the cups one or more falls, teams don't need to reset them into the     cluster of six cups as they were when they began.

6. (Slides 4-5) Provide students with all necessary supplies and allow them some time to get a feel for how the rubber band apparatus works and how to move cups using it.

7. (Slide 6) Provide a trial-and-error round for teams to work out kinks, learn to use specific cues/prompts from partners that will be used for the final round. (I usually give 15 minutes). Encourage teams to record times for each attempt and try to improve it each successive attempt during the practice round. Refer to Student Problem Solving (1) and Student Problem Solving (2) who are working through the trial-and-error round to perfect their technique!

8. (Slide 7) Begin the final round by having teams attempt the challenge in a part of the classroom that is visible to everyone. Make a big deal of this and really celebrate each team's accomplishment (even if their time wasn't the top of the class). This process usually takes 15-20 minutes for me as I have eight teams, each of which could take up to two minutes although many do it much more quickly. The shortest time posted for any of my teams has been about 30 seconds.

9. Gather supplies and have students return to their teams/tables/seats.

10. Gather Feedback: Solicit feedback from students about what strategies/cues they saw to be especially helpful. Write these observations on the board or somewhere visible to the entire class. Conversely, inquire about what strategies did not work so well. Transition back to the three target HOMs. This is where I directly and concretely connect the HOMs to how teams of scientists work to solve problems. Specifically, the culture in my classroom should reflect these three (and later on I will add others).

Closure: What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

5 minutes

1. (Slide 8) Direct students to fill out a peer & self-evaluation form regarding the Team Challenge. I apply a P-M-I format (Plus-Minus-Interesting) as a construct for feedback. This can be projected on the screen (and students create the table on their own half-sheet) or pre-printed on half-sheets of paper. What I am focusing on is specific details that can be used as a platform for future growth.