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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Greasing the Skids of Group Work

I've pretty much had it up to *here* with, not all the kids, but the 10% that make my life annoying. I won't go into the gory details about why they are annoying. Nobody wants to hear that.

Out of frustration, though, sometimes good stuff pops out. Today in Algebra 2 the children were working in groups of four exploring transformations of functions (BL)*. This wasn't the kind of exercise with a group component grafted on to individual work - it was essential that they compare the four different graphs to draw meaningful conclusions. My classes had five or six groups each, and most of them were functioning brilliantly - helping each other troubleshoot, refining each other's wording - it was music. Really.

But in fourth period, I had a group that was sitting there, staring at their calculators in silence, waiting for, what, I don't know. My fed-up-ed-ness came over me and I towered over the group, intimidatingly, saying, "Do you know her name? No? Why don't you introduce yourself, like a normal person? Shake hands. Good. Now what's her name? What's his name?" I did this several times. Until the group was bonded in their feelings of persecution and shared opinion of my weirdness. After that, they started talking. The same thing happened again seventh period! I did it again. It worked.

The moral: sometimes it's my job to be an overbearing jerk. And sometimes I need to remind myself that the children are children.

*Credit for original lesson I shamelessly repurposed goes to my colleague, Dina.


  1. I embraced that feeling a few years ago. I love seeing when relationships (romantic or otherwise) spring up in the classroom based on study groups that were formed to get through my calculus classes. =)

  2. I had to comment b/c EVERY unit we have a full lesson on shifting the parent function. Not including the 2 day lesson the first week of school going over all parent function graphs and how to shift them. Drives me crazy!! Thankfully by the millionth time we have done this, my kids can shift a function like crazy people. :)

    I also hate the quiet groups during group work. My kids are always in pairs and even then I walk around the room saying 'I don't hear you talking! I should hear discussions!'. Have you done a Kagan training? They have good ideas of how to get students to be open with each other through fun get to know you stuff and that seems to work for my kids too. :)

  3. Is it understood that all of your groupwork activities are done for a grade? I have a lot of students who tend to just ignore the assignment altogether and engage in idle teenage chitchat. Maybe my problem is that I tend to "graft a group component onto individual work" and assume the kids will just intrinsically enjoy the opportunity to talk with each other about math?

  4. Jen - It does seem like making it its own thing is a bit of overkill. Since we have talking about transformations on every type of function we've studied this year. I heard a few "Didn't we already do this?"s. I'm thinking I can maybe safely cut it next year.

    I haven't gone to a Kagan training. It would be nice to have some techniques for making students more comfortable working together. I would think you'd have to make it ongoing, not just one or two icebreakers early in the year. I sometimes assume that they all know each other coming in in the beginning of the year, but of course that's not the case.

    Lance Sometimes I tell them it's for a grade, they hand in something, and then I recycle the papers and give them all a 5/5. I didn't feel I had to with this, since it was basically impossible to complete the learning task without working with the group. That's not to say there wasn't idle chitchat going on, but these kids are usually compliant about getting to work if I give them specific directions.


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