Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Group Work in the Math Classroom

Wordle: Group Worthy Tasks

I have a passion for group work.  There-I said it!  But this blog post is not about sharing my passions; it's about getting you math news and resources.  When done right, group work is an excellent way for students to collaboratively engage in all eight mathematical practices.  Group work is not easy to set-up, execute and maintain in the math classroom.  The following resources are videos, articles or even hints about how to help students learn through peer interaction in the math classroom.

For starters, one can't give the same task to a group that they give to an individual.  Group tasks must be group-worthy.  What does it mean to be group-worthy?  I'm so glad you asked!  There is a ton of research out of the University of Washington and Stanford on this very topic.  The article Group-Worthy Tasks, by Rachel Lotan, addresses this very question.

Once one has the lesson ready, one must consider the organization of the classroom.  Even the placements of desks can be crucial in creating the right group work environment.  The following video succinctly covers desk and table arrangements.  Arguably more important than a student's location is a student's role in group work.  Whether you call the student the facilitator, the resource manager, the harmonizer, the recorder/reporter or the team captain, the designation of roles is critical in the organization of group work in the math classroom.

Finally, recognizing competence when it comes to group work in the math classroom is very different than recognizing competence on an assessment.  Competence must be authentically assigned during group tasks.  Whether students are participating in a jigsaw, group quiz, math lab or exploration, the teacher must outline what a student needs to do to up front.  Here is an extensive list of ways to show you are smart in the math classroom.  I recommend showing the students this list and highlighting a few at the beginning of each activity.

Today you will show you are smart by:
-having a willingness to improve/having a willingness to be wrong
-asking questions
-explaining verbally/explaining by writing/explaining by showing (using pictures/diagrams)
-extending concepts
-identifying the right answer
-being relentless 
-being patient
-pushing your limits
-learning independently
-using your toolkit (vocab. reference sheets) appropriately
-using your number sense
-making connections between ideas, concepts, or theories
-being an out-of-the-box thinker
-recognizing patterns
-using technology as a support
-solving problems with multiple approaches
-working appropriately with a team/group
-interpreting/evaluating others’ work thoroughly

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