School Group Projects

Economic historians tell us that, in the beginning, people used the tools and consume the products they could produce. In due time, society evolved, and trade became the primary source of acquiring products for the daily life: the shepherd would exchange his wool for the farmer’s oil, so that they could both eat and keep warm. Up until the 19th century, this was the golden rule of the market and most companies would try to manufacture what it took to provide products or services to customers in-house. However, the 20th century brought massive changes that altered our ancestors’ perspective on outsourcing.
Outsourcing is what happens when a company buys their means of production from other companies. The consequence is economic and productive interdependence. Today more than ever, companies rely on a network system to provide goods and services to their customers. It is often stated that social media connects everybody everywhere; more and more, however, economic necessity brings us closer than anything else. However, what is the link with education?

Truth is, economic interdependence seems to have reflected upon it: more and more we need our colleagues’ help in performing tasks we do not excel at in order to ensure that our deliverable is the best possible. Team work is no longer a desirable quality on an employee: it’s a necessity. And the best known way to improve youngsters’ behaviour as a team is through group projects. The aim of this essay is not to argue whether group projects are beneficial for students, but trying to understand how these groups should be constructed in order to excel their performance.

In any school, the act of learning can be structured under three different goals: in a competitive learning structure, students compete against each other, their goal being to stand out when compared to everyone else; opposing to some extent, in an individual learning structure, students set out goals for themselves unrelated to those of their peers; contrasting both these structures, we find a cooperative one, where students work together to achieve common goals. Group projects fit into this last category. However the simple act of joining two (or more) students will not result in automatic successful group work (Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 2014). There are conditions that need to be filled in order to accomplish true cooperation. According to the authors, these conditions are positive interdependence, individual accountability, promotive interaction, social skills, and group processing (Pennsylvania State University).

Positive interdependence means that all members share a sense of personal responsibility for the success of the group and realize that their individual success depends on the group’s success. Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (2014) argue that this type of cooperative learning tends to result in learners promoting each other’s success. One way to accomplish positive interdependence is to divide the work into small parts and assign each of them to a student so that every member of the group takes part in the final work. This is called the Jigsaw Method.
As to individual accountability, we can look at this requisite as a follow-up of the first. It means that each member of the group is assessed individually based on his share of the finished work. The goal of this feature is to impart responsibility in students by making them accountable for their actions. Once it is shouldered by all members of the group, individual accountability guaranties that every student commits to the team and the group does indeed become the sum of all its parts (Anderson, 2007).

In theory, this would ensure that everybody does their fair share of work. Instead, what we see happening in classes everyday are substantial gaps in group projects’ motivation caused by this division in tasks. More committed students present elaborated pieces of work while less motivated students show poor output. As a consequence, dedicated students feel less motivated to engage freely and open-mindedly in group projects, while less driven students feel even less motivated in face of their peer’s hostility. How to fix this raging problem?
According to an article by Yee (2013), a second-grade teacher explains that when she first started teaching, her classroom was a handful: her faster learning students would finish their assigned work very quickly, get bored of waiting for the other kids, and misbehave, while students who took longer to understand the subjects would feel frustrated for taking longer than the others, and act out. Trying to solve this problem, Mrs. Sears, the teacher, divided her class into smaller groups, according to each ones’ abilities. She would teach the same material using different approaches which, in her words, drastically decreased classroom problems.

Dividing a classroom in smaller groups according to individual abilities is one of the most controversial subjects that modern education has yet faced. During the ’80s and the ‘90s, a number of books, essays and studies were published ensuring that this division did more harm than good. This idea was based on the assumption that teachers would focus more on higher achieving students than on those thought of as less able, not providing them with positive enough learning environments (Oakes, 1985).
Nowadays, however, more and more published studies show that the opposite is also true. When divided in groups, less struggling students push each other into going further while not making their struggling peers feel inadequate. There are growing theories supporting this division, and most of them defend themselves against discrimination accusations by agreeing that these groups should be fluid and altered if need be.

And yet, mentality is, as history has taught us, the most difficult characteristic for a society to change. This means that, instead of dividing classes, most education theorists still stand for promotive interaction among the member of the group using their developing social skills and group processing, rather than their physical separation.
Promotive interaction is what happens when students share with the members of their group their knowledge, essentially through dialogue. According to Wong (2001), promotive interaction presents a number of opportunities for students to confront ideas, develop listening and understanding capacities and, most importantly, learn to accept criticism.
The fourth condition to successful cooperative learning are social skills, intimately connected to promotive interaction. Through debates, discussions and presentations, students will see their interpersonal relationships improve. According to Wong (2001), after being exposed to successful group projects, students registered positive growth in tolerance, ability to listen, respect for others, as well as in terms of decision-making. Communication and presentation skills have also been known to improve with resource to group projects.
Every once in a while, students should also objectively analyse their strengths and weaknesses inside the group and as a whole – group processing (Pennsylvania State University). This means that at some point in every group project some time must be taken to reflect upon what has been done, what has worked, what didn’t work and what can be improved. Through individual and collective feedback, students will then reflect upon their share of the work and set new goals, improved ones from which they will further develop their skills and abilities.
Once again, though, it all comes down to the co
mposition of the group. Conditions like promotive interaction, social skills and group processing weigh more personality-wise than positive interdependence or individual accountability. Children who are shy are less likely to actively engage in a peer discussion, even if they don’t agree with what is being said.

There are, of course, contradictory theories about extrovert versus introvert directed classes. In her book, Cain (2012) states that, as opposing to what happened in pre-20th century school, classes nowadays are structured as to prepare children for the competitive work world, forcing them into oral presentations and debates. While this may not be a problem to more extrovert children, she believes that this leads introverts to regard their personality as an obstacle to overcome, making them self-conscious and, therefore, even less open to class participation. The author then presents a solution to this problem based on the numerical composition of the group. Essentially, she suggests that instead of large groups, students should be paired. If there are just two people in a group, they will be forced to socialize, share ideas and communicate in such a way that they don’t feel pressured by their peers or their teachers (Cain, 2014).

Classrooms are not only a place where children learn but also their first sociologic secondary group. Nonetheless, it is primarily the place where children learn. According to the data gathered on the topics of positive interdependence and individual accountability, students should be grouped according to their abilities and achievements since, more often than not, disparities in abilities inside one same group can result in personal conflicts and demotivation of all involved.
As to the group’s composition, it results from the information that there is a link between the size of the group and the personalities of its members: if the groups are small in size (only two people, for example) then there should be a mix between extroverts and introverts, since they will both push each other into learning how to deal with different types of people; however, if the groups are bigger it would be best to separate extroverts and introverts, since, in big groups, introverts tend to shy away, and extroverts tend to forget about them.
Only through careful group organisation, commitment and effort from both teachers and students, will the latter enjoy taking part in school group projects and learn to appreciate team work, such a necessity in today’s highly technological and specialized world.

About the author

Leonor Frade
Leonor Frade (18) participated in the “My Europe” Workshop in Lisbon in 2014. She has since then been a member of the working group on Gender Equality and now writes for the Education group. She is a Law student and enjoys discussions about politics, education, employment, science and philosophy. She presents the result of those discussions in short essays and hopes you will enjoy them.

1. Anderson, D. (2007). Up your business!: 7 steps to fix, build, or stretch your organization. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.;
2. Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Crown Publishing Group;
3. Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (2013). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3-4), 85-118;
4. Oakes, J. (1985). Keeping track: How schools structure inequality. New Haven: Yale University Press;
5. Pennsylvania State University. Five basic elements of cooperative learning. Retrieved from;
6. Teachnology. Does grouping students by ability work?. Retrieved from;
7. Wong, T. T. S. (2001). Group work in science learning – International scenarios and implications for teaching and learning in Hong Kong. Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, 2(2);
8. Yee, V. (2013, June 9). Grouping students by ability regains favour in classroom. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Europe’s youth must stand up against populists

Now it has also reached Germany. The fact that a right-wing populist party, the AfD in Germany moves into the Bundestag with official provisional results of 12, 6% is another warning for Europe. Everywhere in Europe, tendencies to close the borders, return to the nation state and abolish a common currency can be seen. The leaders in Europe have been warned sufficiently to take populists seriously and to do everything to ensure that Europe remains a one-of-a-kind entity. Europe’s youth in particular is called upon to take a stand against all positions of populists and clearly choose a free Europe without borders. We do not want to lose all the advantages that Europe has given us in the last 50 years and return to nation-states. We want to continue to be able to travel freely within the EU, pay in a common currency and be able to communicate with all people. Our goal is to maintain a free Europe and to give all people equal opportunities. That is why we launched the initiative European Youth Marathon with the slogan ‘I’m a part of Europe’. Join us and fight for the unity of a free Europe.


About the Author:

Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl is CEO and founder of My Europe 2100 e.V.. Additionally, he is founder of the future think tank Frankfurter Zukunftsrat, founder and Deputy Chairman of the European Association for Banking and Financial History (EABH) as well as of the Institute for Corporate Cultural Affairs. In 2011 he was awarded with the Verdienstkreuz 1. Klasse of the Federal Republic Germany for his charitable commitment in the European banking and financial sector. Read more… 


Everything seems impossible until it is done

Who are supposed to be the ‘climate-change refugees’? ‘Climate-change refugees’ or so called ‘environmental migrants’ are people who are forced to leave their home towns either temporarily or permanently due to sudden or progressive climate changes which compromise their well being and secure livelihood.

These changes may include increased droughts, desertification, sea revel rise, disruption of seasonal weather patterns such as monsoons, etc. Human activities like burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests contribute to global warming because they release greenhouse gases. Rising temperatures associated with global warming cause glaciers and ice caps to melt, which lead to droughts and desertification – the transformation of arable land to desert. These effects make it completely impossible for people in the region to feet on the crops and they are forced consequently to roam the world to look for better lives.    

Unlike the refugees who flee their homes due to conflict or political oppression, ‘climate-change refugees’ are not protected by international laws and may face greater political risks.

Unlike the refugees who flee their homes due to conflict or political oppression, ‘climate-change refugees’ are not protected by international laws and may face greater political risks. You have to admit, the word “refugees” should not be used in consideration of these people. It’s not them on whom we have to put the blame, because that is nature which caused it.

Nowadays, the problem of migrants is causing a great deal of wrangling in the whole world, including Europe. The European Commission has taken a comprehensive approach to tackle the refugee crisis in Europe, drawing on the various tools and instruments available at the EU level and in the member states. The European Commission gathers periodically at the summit to discuss these contemporary issues and to take corresponding measures. Statistics indicate that the number of migrants crossing Europe illegally by land and sea in 2015 has passed over one million. Of course, not all of them can be called the ‘climate-change refugees’. Some of them may migrate due to social instabilities, such as the terror attacks and the wars in the central and the Western Asia, although some people are migrating, simply because of the climate changes.Then what are the biggest challenges that ‘climate-change refugees’ are facing?

Firstly, wherever people happen to land, there would be significant traditional, cultural and religious differences. To adapt to the afterward circumstances, they would need sizeable amount of time. For example, if one has moved from Western Asia to Eastern Europe, traditional customs will have changed, from greeting others to food culture. This would affect everyone including youngsters and the next generations, trying successfully or not so to integrate into their new cultures.

Another challenge could be finding suitable jobs or finding themselves a place in the workforce.  Currently, migrant workers accounts for 150 million of the world’s approximately 232 million international migrants. Migrant workers contribute to the growth and develop in their countries of destination.
Especially having in mind the rising unemployment rate in the countries where they decide to reside. Furthermore, migration and the resulting unemployment rate have been one of the major issues in the traditional, as well as contemporary global economic scenario. And some criminal activities like robberies, thefts and various negative behaviors by unemployed migrants might arise and will disturb the public order in certain countries. To prevent these, the chances have to be given for refugees to be employed after the specific education system.

When properly managed, the refugees may have far-reaching potentials and their communities as well.

As Nelson Mandela, one of the most famous politicians said “Everything seems impossible until it is done”, other problems and challenges could occur that we might face. Yet we, as human beings have responsibilities to protect the refugees. When properly managed, the refugees may have far-reaching potentials and their communities as well. And consequently they would serve as part of the society which contributes for the economic growth of the country, overcoming ethnic differences and winning the fight for position among other people.


About the author:

Ri Kang Song (16) took part in the My Europe Workshop in Sofia on 28-29 November 2016 and won the fifth prize of the writing competition.

We should be the change!

Climate change – a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric CO2 produced by the use of fossil fuels.

Refugee – a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape a war, persecution, or a natural disaster.

Climate-change refugees – these are people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of draught, soil erosion, deforestation and other environmental problems and are forced to move out of their countries

The Earth is facing a lot of climate challenges in the past decades, which include global warming, deforestation, pollution, flood and storm disasters and other consequences as a result of them. These climate changes also affect the life of the people, who are forced in many occasions to leave their native countries and seek other lands to inhabit and make a living because they no longer can provide for themselves, or it is even dangerous to live in these areas.

They seek refuge and a safe place to live because their homes have been often destroyed by natural disasters- natural disasters caused by people or pollution.

They seek refuge and a safe place to live because their homes have been often destroyed by natural disasters- natural disasters caused by people or pollution. This problem will continue to exist and even get worse if we don’t come up with a solution.  Otherwise more and more refugees will come from the environmentally unsafe countries. And after some time, space will become less and slowly but surely the states which shelter the climate-change refugees will be overpopulated. Criminal behavior may occur along with other refugee crisis e.g. assaults against the ones seeking new homes. Poverty is another problem, as there may not be enough resources in the overpopulated areas to provide living for these climate refugees.

In 1995 the so-called environmental refugees totaled at least 25 million people, compared with 27 million traditional refugees (people running away from political conflicts, religious persecution and ethnic problems). The climate-change refugees could well double by 2010. When the global warming takes hold, there could be as many as 200 million people overtaken by rainfall regimes, by droughts of unprecedented duration and severity, and by sea-level rise and coastal flooding. * Based on Myers, N and Kent J (1995) Environmental Exodus: An Emergent Crisis in the Global Arena.

The direction of movement as predicted of scientists will be mainly from south towards north and from east towards west. This immigration will cause extreme overpopulations on small areas. One of the main problems considered, perhaps as the most vital for all of us is the food supplying. Some 20 countries with a projected population of 440 million are expected to experience up to 25% shortfall in food supplies. In addition most of the areas, which produce the most of our food and which we import from, will be destroyed due to the climate changes and more than approximately 10 to 20 million or even more people will be semi-starved by 2050.

Climate-change refugees run away because of climate change, as the name suggests. And along with the name comes the main goal we have to achieve in order these people to keep their homes – we have to change the climate as it used to be before the pollution started. And there are many things that can be done and which do not require spending money. For example, reduction of use in fossil fuels, less deforestation, as they both result in too much CO2, are the perfect ways to start our mission to save our planet and save the people. Other actions which can be taken are: walking to school, smart energy use (we should turn off the lights when walking out of the room), smart water use (we should turn off the sink tap) – these methods can help the reduction in carbon pollution over time.

Personally, I think this global problem should be voiced whenever, especially from the youths because as many surveys say the adults start to acknowledge the things they used to dismiss when the youth starts voice their opinion.

The climate-change refugee crisis has been known to exist since the second part of the 20th century. Many politicians have talked openly about the problem. But still nowadays not many of us understand the threat that’s been lurking around for years and the climate-change refugees are just the beginning. Personally, I think this global problem should be voiced whenever, especially from the youths because as many surveys say the adults start to acknowledge the things they used to dismiss when the youth starts voice their opinion. In order for our mission to begin and be successful we have to start from somewhere, we have to help raise the public awareness and I think we, the young generation, should be the beginning. We should be the change!

About the author:

Katya Georgieva Ivanova took (16) part in the My Europe Workshop in Sofia on 28-29 November 2016 and won the fourth prize of the writing competition.

Far from home

Refugees. What an incredible word!

The term ‘’climate refugee’’ or ‘’environmental immigrant’’ was first proposed by Lether Brown in 1976 and it is often used to describe people who are forced to leave their homes , regions ,areas due to a sudden or long-term changes  to their local environment which compromises their well-being or secure livelihood.

Such changes include rising temperatures which lead to droughts and desertification (caused by variety of factors , mainly because of climate change , desertification  is a type of land degradation in which relatively dry area becomes increasingly acrid , usually losing its water bodies , vegetation and wildlife) as well as rising sea level , caused by the melting of ice caps , glaciers etc. Those changes are often associated with a very common, yet very dangerous problem – Global Warming.

Global Warming is a term describing the observed century-scale rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system and its related effects. By using fossil fuels such as oil, coal, steel etc. we are rising the world’s global temperature every day, thus leaving thousands of people without homes, due to a lack of shelter, water and food and urge them to immigrant, searching for a better life for their families and themselves.

Today’s choices are going to significantly affect the risk that climate change will pose for the rest of century.

Talking about Global Warming we cannot miss to mention the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1988 and their work, which continues to present day. More than seven hundred scientists all over the globe work every day, trying to reduce carbon emissions, so that the world can avoid the catastrophic warming, which would dramatically disrupt human life and natural ecosystems. “Today’s choices are going to significantly affect the risk that climate change will pose for the rest of century” , says Kelly Levin , a scientist studying climate change impacts at the World’s Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington , D.C.

Another group working on the problem with modern-day refugees is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It consists of people who are willing to work on the problem by providing basic human needs – shelter , which provides safety , the distribution of food and water for those in need and special services for women and children. It also helps by offering job applications which helps the immigrants to easily find jobs and take a better care for their families and themselves, thus creating partnerships through cheap labour workers which also helps them adapt to their surroundings and improve their lives. We are humans and we must help each other!

Looking directly at the problem, it is our duty first to integrate those people into our societies, so that we can treat them as equal to us, despite their origin, cultural differences or religion. And the best start for integration is with education. Everything starts with school – it builds every man and woman as a person, it helps us adapt to modern-world societies and teaches us tolerance and understanding, thus making the school system perfect for immigrants and their children.

And the best start for integration is with education.

It is necessary to understand that this is not going to happen fast. The process may take several years, but in the end Europe will have healthy (physically and mentally), educated, happy and motivated people, ready to fill up our society with their colourful and unique culture, specific religion and different personalities.

This will help manufacturing, it will develop industry and will help carry out cultural activities and by doing so we will be learning from them as they will be learning from us!

What our continent is going to face in the next decades would be dramatic – thousands, maybe even millions of people will be flooding into our countries. This will seriously affect our economies and we as a union, as the European Union (EU) will have to rise up against that challenge – “The migration crisis has the potential to destabilize governments ,countries and the whole European continent..” , says Viktor Orban , the Prime Minister of Hungary.

Of course, this is the worst case scenario – we know that we are facing a major crisis, maybe the biggest in Europe for the 21st century and we will have to find a solution to it. And the best solution for this problem is by resolving another important problem – Global Warming.

It is the reason why climate-refugees are immigrating, more specifically to Europe – the Global Warming itself has destroyed their homes.

We must stop using fossil fuels, as they are the main reason behind it, because of the carbon emissions, but we will also have to decrease the carbon dioxide from burning gasoline used for transportation, the methane emissions from animals and stop the deforestation and turn to renewable energy sources such as the sunlight, water and wind!

By using these renewable resources we assure the reclamation of the Ozone layer, the decreasing of the world’s temperature and also prevent the extinction of many endangered species.

This will help us preserve the homes of almost all climate-refugees and it will decrease their number significantly. We assure one better future for the next generations and for ourselves!

The world has always been changing and immigration is not something new. Because of it we have discovered the world as explorers and because of it, we have survived! And now we are facing another immigration – the immigration of climate-change refugees in the 21st century. We have to stand against that problem as a Union. The world is changing once again and it is time for us to adapt as for them, too!

About the author:

Radoslav Nikolaev Stefanov (16) took part in the My Europe Workshop in Sofia on 28-29 November 2016 and won the third prize of the writing competition.


Combating climate change should be both a personal and public priority

What will be the big challenges regarding climate-change refugees in Europe in the next 50 years?

Nowadays, climate change is one of the biggest problems the world must face. What was considered as an incremental issue two decades ago, is already starting to show its numerous negative effects both on nature and on society. The question remains if we will be able to stop it in time and what the consequences will be for Europe if we don’t.

Nowadays, climate change is one of the biggest problems the world must face.

 Temperatures around the globe have been rising for decades thanks to our industrialized society and partly thanks to our recklessness when it comes to using our resources. Entire forests have been cut down, seas and oceans polluted and species erased. None of these, however, come even close to the dangerous effects of the polar ice caps melting. Not only will that have a tremendous impact on wildlife and ocean levels, but it will also cause the ocean-levels to rise. This in turn will make huge parts of our planet uninhabitable land. Cities, such as New York, Tokyo or even Amsterdam might become underwater relics in the not-so-distant future. All of this will become fact, should we not stop it while still possible.

Furthermore, should we not succeed in convincing our leaders and people that the world is really in danger and that destruction is inevitable – there will be significant consequences for the world and for Europe specifically. Our continent will be facing serious difficulties thanks to its good geographical position with the other, poorer, continents. Coastal cities disappearing will be only one of the obstacles we will be facing. Citizens of poorer countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, where even now wars are being held over water and inhabitable land, will tend to migrate to Europe in the same manner as political refugees are coming now. The only difference – wars end and their effects are reversible whereas the consequences of climate change are irreversible. Our already crowded land will become even more crowded, which resultantly will make people compete increasingly for jobs. Owing to all those factors, extreme political ideologies will make their ways back into our society and hate, racism, intolerance will become present. In turn this could lead to a rebellion of the oppressed minorities and result in a war.

The solution to all these problems lies within our own hands, change needs to happen and it needs to be soon.

 The solution to all these problems lies within our own hands, change needs to happen and it needs to be soon. Difficult as it may sound, it is fairly simple. First, we need to think for ourselves on the question whether we want big money and financial interests to influence our choice and our thinking or decades worth of scientific research and proof. Second, we need to make sure we elect people who think like us, who are not controlled by personal interests or corporations. Third, we must stand united against the threat of climate change by helping protect the environment, helping people who live in affected areas, protesting corrupt politicians and companies who pollute the environment on purpose for their own personal gain. If we manage to do all these baby steps, and every one of us stands together, we can indeed make Europe, our continent, our country a great place to live for decades to come and live the life we want, without fear of not ever being able to visit a certain city or even an entire country.

 As a conclusion, I think combating climate change should be both a personal and public priority. Even though it needs to start as small steps made by us, it should end up as steps in the right direction by our governments and the EU, to truly protect us from experiencing this horrifying picture and in order to see a better Europe in 50 years than the one we have now.

About the author:

Adrian Murat (17) took part in the My Europe Workshop in Sofia on 28-29 November 2016 and won the second prize of the writing competition.