Thursday, September 4, 2014

Experimenting with Structured Group Work

I am trying to change my classes this year drastically in the way that I handle group work! I want to be intentional, intentional, intentional.

So far, it has been one day and that one day has been excellent. I decided that for Day 1, I would talk to the kids about inquiry-based learning vs. direct instruction, and then pass out a task that is accessible for everyone to start. All they had time for on Day 1 was the individual thinking time, which I am going to build into every group activity this year.

In Geometry and Algebra 2, I did Mark Driscoll's folding task on Day 1, but emphasized that the content of the task is not nearly as important as the students practicing the expectations for group work. In Calculus, I made a custom sequence from Desmo's Function Carnival that consisted only of the parachute height vs. time, followed by misconception analysis, and parachute vertical velocity vs. time, with subsequent misconception analysis. The students in all classes then were asked to go home and finish the rest of their individual thinking.

Tomorrow, when we come back, we will do verrrry structured group work, and I will ask the students to do first one round of just making observations with no comments from their peers (Round 1). Then, they will go around and ask clarifying questions or challenge each other to justify their thinking (Round 2). Then, the group will engage in an open discussion while the recorder continues to take careful notes, to turn in later and to distribute to the group. Afterwards, they will summarize the findings and record what questions they still have as a group. To help the Calculus students focus in on the misconceptions I saw today, I will give them this handout as generated from their parachute graphs, and ask them to brainstorm as many observations as possible for each graph before we discuss as a whole class. The recorder of each group will record all the accuracies and inaccuracies that they notice about each graph.

Here is some language I will offer the groups tomorrow to help them with their structured discussions:

Beginning of discussion (Round 1):
"What have you tried so far?"
"I noticed that ______________"
"I tried __________ and found that to be (un)helpful, because _____________"

Middle of discussion (Round 2):
"I was confused about how to _______________"
"Are you saying that _______________?"
"Can you explain why you think ___________ ?"
"I don’t get that. Can you explain it in another way?"
"If we changed __________, then what would the result look like?"

End of discussion:
"In conclusion, we agreed that ______________"
"We found it hard to agree on _____________"

"As a group, we still have trouble understanding ____________"

I am really excited about this! Having structured group work is allowing me to slow down the pace at the start of the year and to emphasize quality over quantity of work done, in order to set the right tone for the rest of the year. I plan to have the kids stay in these groups for about a week, and then we'll discuss what have been the most helpful parts of the structure, and then switch into new groups. Wish me luck!!! 


  1. I need to put more emphasis on the individual thinking time. I know this, yet things always seem to rush right into group work. I like your sentence starters to help with the discussions. I may have to use them! Thanks for sharing your ideas, and good luck!

  2. Hey Mary, I think assigning group roles has really helped me with this. Before class, I try to think about where the kids would need to stop and think individually. At the start of the task, I remind the facilitators of each group to maintain that structure, and that frees me up to circulate and to ensure it's actually being done! It has worked pretty well so far. Try integrating it with group roles!

  3. Can I get a copy of your handout for the calculus activity? It sounds great, but I'm not following it exactly.

  4. Hey Sue, I sent my students to and had them type in code t24n to access the customized parachute activity. That day I didn't hand out any extra handouts. Then, the next day I put them in groups and gave them this handout: which is made up of the graphs some of them submitted, which contained misconceptions. They got in groups and analyzed those graphs (both accuracies and inaccuracies) and drew in the corners what they think the correct graph looks like for H(t) or H'(t), after this discussion. Each group only had 1 recorder and 2 copies of the handout, so they had to work together closely. After that, I made sure that we discussed the correct graphs and their remaining misconceptions the next day.

  5. (I didn't want to post the desmos link before, because I was still using the submissions for class discussions. But now it doesn't matter since that lesson is done and done. Feel free to go in and play with it.)