General Science and Teaching

Intermediate - Cooperative Learning in Science

Hello Readers,
I'd like to put a new spin on our discussion threads by breaking tradition and opening similar discussion topics, while allowing educators to choose a primary and/or intermediate level focus for their postings. This may allow “posters” an opportunity to become more specific in suggested resources and instructional strategies, while encouraging other readers who have never posted, to take the plunge and join us!

With the 2010-2011 school year nearly completed I find myself reflecting on lessons, inquiry activities that my students and I felt were successful, and targeting those that I need to further develop.

Cooperative Learning is an instructional strategy that incorporates academic and social skill learning. As science educators, we understand the critical importance for our intermediate learners to be engaged in their learning while developing socially acceptable communication skills - or in my case, staying on topic!

I invite you to share your pedagogy, behavior management skills, inquiry learning strategies or personal lessons for 6th+ grade levels in this discussion thread as we prepare for a summer of renewal and growth.

Enjoy your week,
Alyce

Alyce Dalzell
Alyce Dalzell
64075 Activity Points

Hi Alyce,
Any discussion of cooperative learning should include mention of the Johnson brothers' work.Their book, "Circle of Learning" was my introduction to this as a method that can be used to teach social interpersonal skills to middle schoolers.
One of my favorite resources in the Learning Center on this topic is the Science Scope article:
Teaching Students to Think Like Scientists During Cooperative Investigations. It uses 4 thinking roles as a slightly different twist to the group roles traditionally assigned for group work.
When I did an advanced search on this topic, I saw that there were gobs of resources. One that I think would be of interest to teachers who are unsure of how to group their students is a "free to members" book chapter: Help I'm Teaching Middle School.
It will be interesting to hear how other teachers are facilitating learning with cooperative groups.
Carolyn

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
82268 Activity Points

Hi Alyce, Thanks for starting this thread! I find cooperative learning to be very important because it is crucial for our students to learn to work in groups. This not only helps develop their social skills, but also enhances their ability to develop the skills necessary to work collaboratively when they enter the work force. One of the ways that I help manage cooperative learning is to try to evenly distribute high-achieving students throughout the groups. Many times this enables them to act as peer tutors for the other students in their groups. I also take care as I form the groups consider my students' learning styles and personalities. I try very hard to assign groups that will enable the students to work well together, not create strife (although, sometimes that's easier said than done). I find the most challenging part of group work to be assigning the grades. When one student clearly "carries" the group, it is difficult to justify giving the students who did not participate the same grade. To help combat this, I use rubrics. Using the rubrics each student assess their effort, the effort of their individual group members, and the effort of their group as a whole. I look forward to seeing how other teachers manage cooperative learning! Thanks, Maureen

Maureen Stover
Maureen Stover
40880 Activity Points

Hi! This is an interesting thread. I taught "middle school" for 15 years in an urban school with at-risk students. My experiences with cooperative learning were varied but I found that one constant was always true. I found that 3 not 4 people was the best number for a cooperative group. Invariably if I had 4 students in a group, the least busy one seemed to always looking towards other groups to communicate with or socialize with. Making smaller, more intimate groups where everyone shared more responsibilities seemed to work better for me. This meant that the materials handler was also the one to put stuff away. I also liked to provide trays for each group so that at the end of one period all the equipment was already located in a tray for the next group. The incoming group would check out the tray to see if anything was broken or missing. No one works in the real world in a vacuum. However, in some cases cooperative learning doesn't work. Experience with different arrangements brings to the teacher understanding and knowledge. One thing I liked to use as well was learning centers for students who completed work early. They received a exit ticket upon satisfactory completion of their turned in work to go to a center and continue learning.

Adah Stock
Adah Stock
101490 Activity Points

Adah wrote, "I found that 3 not 4 people was the best number for a cooperative group. Invariably if I had 4 students in a group, the least busy one seemed to always looking towards other groups to communicate with or socialize with. Making smaller, more intimate groups where everyone shared more responsibilities seemed to work better for me. This meant that the materials handler was also the one to put stuff away."

I teach high school science. I also only have 3 people in my cooperative groups. Like Adah, I have found that many times there is not enough to keep 4 people busy.

Ruth Lehmann Hutson
Ruth Hutson
61860 Activity Points

I group all of my students in no more than 4’s and try never to have less than 3. When you have good hands-on labs and only 47 minutes to teach, you need every available hand in the group working diligently to complete the lab and get cleaned up. I have moved away from using the term “cooperative learning” to “collaborative teams”. 21st century skills are needed for student success, collaboration being but one. Cooperation is also one of the key attributes for success. Unfortunately many students and parents view cooperative learning as “Everybody in the group working on a project together with all contributing and receiving the same grade.” The problem parents have with the concept is when not all in the group are contributing equally, or perhaps are late in their submission, and all receiving the same grade.

Sandy Gady
Sandy Gady
42985 Activity Points

I have moved away from using the term “cooperative learning” to “collaborative teams”. 21st century skills are needed for student success, collaboration being but one. Cooperation is also one of the key attributes for success. Sandy, interesting thought on needing to move away from cooperative learning to looking at collaborative teams Students need to be able to cooperate with each other in any team endeavor [b] What makes a team learning experience collaborative ? What are some of the attributes of collaboration? [/b] Arlene JL Arlene JL

Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
42208 Activity Points

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