## Sunday, December 6, 2009

### Building group capabilities

Working in year 10, the opportunities for working in groups can be fairly limited - students rarely come ready for groups, so we need to train them how to work in them.

Step 1. Firmly establish the rules.
a) The teacher is the arbiter, no correspondence will be entered into.
b) Misbehaviour of one member of a team penalises all.
c) Performance of a group is measured by the whole group's performance
d) The teacher decides who is in the group - groups will change so get over it.

Step 2. Identify key tasks that need to be achieved. Explain what needs to be done clearly.

Step 3. Pounce on those deliberately stretching the rules, give warnings then penalise the group).

Step 4. Make achievement explicit (Eg. write down scores or give instant reward).

So... Here's what I did. There's a problem in the class with decimals and how operators fit within decimals. I garnered a mental maths book and put the students into teams of four.

In the first round students had to gain a group answer. The groups with the best students tended to do best, but I had made some effort to distribute these amongst the groups. They were given 5 minutes to find the answer to the questions written on the board. Answers were exchanged and marked by the students. The mean mark of all students was recorded.

In the second round students had to exchange desks and were not allowed to sit with students in their own group. A similar set of questions was given to the students to complete individually. They had thirty seconds to find a seat. Teams that did not find a seat quickly were docked a point. At the end of the round thirty seconds was given to give the answer sheets back to their designated marking group and get back into their own group tables.

By the third round students started to realise that they had to help each other to win. Although they were not allowed to use calculators, they could use any notes in their workbooks. Students started getting off task, so I started deducting points. Funnily enough these students were pounced on by their own team members.

It took 45 minutes to get through 4 rounds but the next time I anticipate it being a lot faster.

The next time we focused on a rules based setting. The idea was not only to win, but to do it within the rules set. In this instance we were doing "United We Solve" type activities (well worth getting for yrs 8-9) where each student gets a clue but cannot show it to anyone else - nor can the clue itself be written. If a team broke the rules, they were given 0 points, once the first team solved it, the other teams had two minutes to find the solution or gain no points.

The next time we focused on logic puzzles. I set a page of activities that were worth five points each but needed time to complete and set a puzzle every 5 minutes on the board worth one point. The students loved this and we really motored through a lot of puzzles. I loved asking the kids how they reached their answers.

Next class is the standard build the bridge to span two desks and withstand a 500g weight from the centre of the span (I usually do it with bamboo and skewers but this time I'll do it with straws and sticky tape and see how it goes).. I might also do the build a tower activity using the same resources.

Needless to say some extrinsic reward was necessary to get it started - but now I think they may just play for the fun of it.

Update 9/12: Had troubles today.. some of the students decided that they wanted to just sit and do nothing. So, we all did bookwork instead. Very sad students. We explored the fairness of failure to follow instructions and timewasting. Lesson learned I hope.

Update 13/12: After a few days, the 'cool' kids all of a sudden think that board games might be ok. Here's a link to local suppliers of board games not made by Parker bros.