Monday, March 11, 2013

Café Mix: A Cross-Pollination Activity to Gather and Exchange Ideas, Reflect and Connect

A teacher shares her completed Cafe Mix.
It's Café Mix!
It’s musical chairs, speed dating and a healthy snack break all rolled into one. It's a fun way for people to quickly share ideas, gather insights and talk to a variety of people in a short period of time. 
It’s a response from our instructional coaching team to the need for more cross-pollination of innovation across our district.  

Expanding the Bright Spots
We have bright spots: incredible teachers, projects and strategies happening in classrooms across our district. But teachers have limited time to share and collaborate with colleagues at other schools and hear new perspectives. We know that often the best conversations and inspiring ideas come from spontaneous interactions in the hallways, at break times and “accidentally.” Frequently, the most valuable part of professional development or attending conferences, isn’t the formal instruction and learning, but the informal exchange of ideas between educators and forging new connections. As we designed our ReThink K4 Professional Development dates, we wondered, how might we intentionally add more “informal” into our “formal” agenda? How could we bring the spirit of "spontaneous interactions" into our activities? How might we embrace the concept of Steve Jobs's Pixar atrium space in our iLearn Studio to include opportunities for teachers to converse and spark creativity?

Our Solution: Café Mix
Each table receives a container of treats to
add to their Café Mix goody bag. 
We came up with Café Mix: A thirty-minute activity that allows for teachers to discuss ideas within a short period of time with a variety of people. Our goal: An engaging afternoon activity to increase interactions amongst teachers from different schools and provide a structured approach for teachers to listen and talk, to share and be inspired, all teacher to teacher. Oh-and we threw in some food too! Because food (especially chocolate) makes everyone happy! With the addition of the Sand Timer app and its upbeat tunes-we had a plan.

Curious about trying Café Mix with your class or at your Professional Development? 
Check out the video of Café Mix from ReThink K4  in the iLearn Studio.
Recipe for Café Mix

1.     To start, all teachers sit at a table of three to four people.
2.     Each teacher has an empty Café Mix goody bag. Each table has a container of items to add to their goody bag along with a spoon or ladle. (We include pretzels, raisins, nuts, peanut butter M&Ms and plain M&Ms. Needless to say, the chocolate is a hit!)
3.     We project the Sand Timer App on a screen and set it to three minutes. Kami Thordarson and Karen Wilson like “Lemondade Pie” and “Whistling Kisses.”
4.     Before starting the timer, we provide the topic. Our topic: Share an innovative idea that you have implemented in your classroom or would like to implement in the future.
5.     Start the Sand Timer. Teachers start talking, serving treats, eating treats and sharing ideas.
6.     When the timer is up, they’ll hear the music. It is their cue to choose one person to stay at each table. This person is responsible for starting off the conversation at the next round by quickly recapping the prior conversation.
7.     Everyone else dashes to find a new conversation table before the music ends. Expect lots of traffic near the tables with chocolate!
8.     Reset the Sand Timer for three minutes. The person that stays at the table provides a brief recap. Inevitably, this recap prompts a new dialogue with a new group of people.
9.     Repeat Steps five through eight approximately three to four times.
10.  A debrief or wrap up at the end is optional. Allowing teachers to eating the yummy snack during the entire Café Mix is preferred.

Cafe Mix builds connections and
jump starts conversations.
We Café Mixed (can it be a verb now?) three separate days and each day the Café Mix brought smiles to teachers’ faces. Some chuckled as the music came up, strategized over which table (and goodies) to visit next and rushed to sit down before the music ended and the timer started once again. I’ve never seen some people move so fast! This activity was an energy booster for our afternoons. Since it involved movement, listening, talking, and interacting with multiple people, the energy in the room increased. Teachers reflected, debriefed and bounced ideas off of each other. They were able to discuss, share and connect with colleagues across the district. One third grade teacher held up her Café Mix bag and told me “This was the best part! I love this!” A fourth grade teacher shared that she went back to her class and her students brainstormed ideas for treats they could have in their own version!

Café Mix Isn’t Just for PD!
How about in the classroom, for book studies, conferences or staff meetings?
If you are looking to have more cross-pollination and ideas shared within a group, and want to avoid formal presentations and whole group sharing, I recommend Café Mix. It engages people and helps fill the room with ideas. The process for shifting and sharing can be implemented in many settings.
Laura Wiley, kindergarten
teacher from Gardner Bullis
 with her Café Mix creation.

Café Mix for Math: Students could quickly share math homework solutions and problem solving strategies. When the timer is up, students move to a new group of peers to discuss a new problems. 

Café Mix for Literacy: How about specific guided questions for each round to structure Book Club talks or reading comprehension debriefs? 

Café Mix for Staff Meetings: Kami Thordarson experienced shorter versions of Café Mix for ice breakers to kickstart staff meetings at her school in Colorado. What a fun way to connect with a bunch of teachers who’ve been busy in their classrooms all day! 

I can’t help but think that there would be more learning and exchange of ideas, if people “mixed it up” a bit during meetings, lessons and conferences. Café Mix allows more voices to be heard and more ideas to be shared.

Ellen Kraska is the Technology Integration Instructional Coach within the Los Altos School District. She is passionate about edtech, creativity and collaboration within innovative learning environments.  You can email her at and/or follow her on Twitter @kraskae.

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