Some of my favorite lessons have all been from the MARS Shell Classroom Challenges. The structure is predictable and they are all built to encourage meaningful student to student discourse and yet they are easy to implement and run. I have used them in two ways, to see where students are and begin to develop conceptual understanding near the beginning of a topic or as an end of the unit recap/group work quiz. Part of the students grade in this class comes from their work on mathematical communication both written and verbal. I am also trying to build up the idea of peer support. When my students leave high school, part of their success in higher education might depend on whether or not they ask for help from their professor or their fellow students.
The following work is from the Sorting Equations and Identities Lesson. When I assign group work, I travel around with a clipboard to take notes. This particular lesson, each group seemed to approach the task differently and there work styles were different. One group really wanted to do a lot of rough draft work and then put together a clean, well explained poster. Others wanted a more informal capture. The groups with the least writing were also struggling more with talking to each other. Some looked at structure of the equations only, some solved to see what happened. Instead of answering questions, I asked groups to explain pieces to each other.
Finally, they each individually took a quick assessment. The group that struggled the most at talking to each other also struggled the most on the assessment. I wanted to check in to see what was the issue. Did they all have a conceptual gap which prevented productive discussion? Nope, just struggled with motivation to talk. I showed them quiz results and asked them to talk to each other for 10 minutes and retake quiz with no additional guidance from me. All the quiz scores went up. Then we had a quick chat about why group work can be valuable and I extracted promises or increased participation in the future.
I want to address the idea of collaboration and learning with the full group in the future. I think the next time we assess I’ll have them all try alone and I won’t even grade/look until the end of the next step. Then talk to each other for 5-10 minutes and then re-assess on a clean quiz with no instruction/input from me. My assumption is that scores will go up. If that hold true, as a group we’ll talk through why that happens and what strategies that implies for future problem solving.