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Research in Science Education

Classroom set up

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Victoria Chanda Victoria Chanda 2290 Points

Hello all, My classroom is centered around the students collaborating and solving problems as a team. I am having a problem with the way the groups are set up. I started with four students in one group. I tried to make sure that there was an above grade level student and a below grade level student in each group. I also tried to make sure that students who are shy are working with people who love to talk. I originally thought it would be a good idea to have opposites in the group because each student would balance out the other student's working abilities. What I'm seeing is that the above grade level students are taking control and the below grade level students aren't learning as much. Does anyone have a recommendation on how to set up small groups. I was thinking of only having two people per group. The problem is that science is only 40 minutes long, and there is a lot to cover. When there is a greater amount of students in the group, it takes half the amount of time to cover the topic then normally would. It is hard to stick to the curriculum map when I see students are still struggling with a concept. If anyone has suggestions it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Teague Rab Teague Rab 1050 Points

Thank you for sharing your information I it has open my eyes to different ways to set up my students. thanks teague

Merry Gillaspie Merry Gillaspie 90 Points

Hello all, Thank you for sharing your grouping strategies and various helpful articles! I will be starting to student teach in January, and I have personally experienced how cooperative learning in groups can help students. My organic chemistry professor uses Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) in her classroom, and I would really like to employ similar cooperative learning strategies in my future classrooms. However, I have talked with some of my cooperative teachers from various field experiences, and they have shared how group work has not always been so successful for them. It was encouraging to hear of many different grouping strategies that teachers have found to be successful in this discussion. I especially agree that students often do not know how to work well in groups, and I think that group roles are an effective strategy as well. I know that the start of the school year is especially important for setting expectations and routines; does anyone have specific strategies that they use to introduce group work to their students? Thank you!

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Victoria, There are so many things to consider when trying to make cooperative, collaborative groups. These have already been mentioned, but are worth repeating: A. I really like some of the ideas for grouping put forth by Dr. Kagan. You can access the first whole chapter of his book at this web address: Kagan Cooperative Learning: Management: One must consider the reason for the grouping and what impact it might have on student learning before creating the group. Also, some social and cooperative learning attributes may need to be explicitly taught and structured into a group. Chapter !V of his book mentions ways to build up groups to make them more productive. Other teachers who have been trained in Kagan strategies may be willing to share one or two that they have tried when creating/structuring groups. B. I really like the idea of every member of the group having a specific task (Johnson and Johnson from the 90s). Any of you remember timekeeper, materials manager, recorder, etc? I believe those group roles came from the work of these two brothers. Here is a overview of their strategies for positive, functioning groups: Hope this helps. Carolyn

Virginia Harris Virginia Harris 935 Points

Hi Victoria, I have the same problem. I do as you make the groups mixed ability levels. I find that some of the groups work well. Some on the other hand have the ones who want to do everything and the other group members are just sitting or talking about things not related to the assignment. Last year I use group roles. I gave each member a role/task. The roles included the reporter: the one who presents, the go-getter: the one who gets the material, the recorder: the one who does the writing, and the time keeper: the one who keeps time and keeps everyone on task. This helps a lot because now everyone has a responsibility. They also know that everyone must participate. If I observe someone not contributing to the project then the whole group lose point. This way everyone makes sure that participate. It works and the class runs a bit smoother.

Dewi Johnson Johsica Johnson 655 Points

Hi Victoria, What I've recently seen is to have each individual student research a specific question within the topic or like someone mentioned have individual roles within a group. Have someone be the organizer, the presenter, the researcher (which can be split into two or more) and the editor. That way everyone will learn from each other and have the same amount of work.

Natalia Castillo Natalia Castillo 490 Points

Hello victoria as a future educator i thought that is how it works and that putting students the way you arranged them would help but know that i hear it in your point of view then it is something i wouldnt apply in my future classroom. If i were in your place i would place two students like you mentioned so students wont fall behind. It has its pros and cons though since of time limit but what about arranging them in groups of three and give all an equal amount of work to earn a grade so they all put in effort when work working as a team.

Jennifer Broekman Jennifer Broekman 525 Points

I've started using random seating in my 9th grade classes this year. I have a pared down deck of cards for each class and my tables are numbered so that students can choose between the two seats that have the number on their card. There were a few students who traded cards at the beginning of the year, and I had to split the deck for one class to separate some kids who refused to behave, but they have adjusted to the idea and can work with essentially anyone. The key is that I visibly shuffle the cards for every class and don't switch kids' seats during a class.

Arman Serrano Arman Serrano 230 Points

Thank you so much for sharing this information. In my classroom I used Kagan strategy to engage my students. I used group of 4 students preferably 2 boys and 2 girls in an alternate arrangement. I think you are doing good. Just balance the activity with other strategies like discussions and lectures. Homework can also help them learn in advance especially reading. Just be consistent.

Whitney Aragaki Whitney Aragaki 2490 Points

Hi Victoria, I like your idea of pairing an upper-level student and a lower-level student together as a group. In my AP Environmental Science class, I struggled with students of different levels collaborating on assignments together. The strong students liked to pair with the like, and weaker students liked to pair with each other as well. At the end of this quarter, I am starting to force them to work together, but it is actually an amazing difference to see how the different levels of students interact with each other. What I found was that the questioning amount in the classroom drastically increased. Although the weaker students' questions were always answered, the stronger students' questions were answered due to the Socratic nature of the questioning done by the partner. I am trying to employ a lot of AVID strategies in class as well. To reply to your question, I think that it is more important to pare down the concepts that need to be covered into larger, overarching themes so that students are able to ask and answer questions without being limited to time constraints. As the questioning levels increase, so will the rigor of the conceptual content.

Sandra Yarema Sandy Yarema 2920 Points

Another strategy I've used to encourage cooperative learning is to assign roles and tasks within each group, and rotate those roles for every unit or by activity. The usual roles include: materials engineer- in charge of handling equipment and manipulating experimental set up; Reader- in charge of explaining directions and interpreting procedures to everyone in the group; recording engineer- in charge of recording and organizing any data collected; reporter- in charge of asking questions, reporting data and results, and any other oral communication with the teacher or whole class.

Angelina Cruz Angelina Cruz 820 Points

Hi Victoria, I understand your concern about the responsibilities of students in group should be properly divided. However, sometimes we oversee the importance of it because of our limited time and a lot of concepts to cover. What I learned and adapted from the Project GLAD training I attended are the numbered heads and color coding. On numbered heads, students in a group assign a number for each one of them (say 1-4). When you ask them to discuss something in a group they should pay attention to what everybody is discussing no matter what the topic is. After you give them ample time to discuss, from a pre numbered spoon or popsicle stick, you draw one number that represents a student who will become the speaker of the group. On color coding, students choose a color of marker that they want. When you ask the students to do some group activity, each student will use their assigned color to show their contribution on the work. No matter how small or big the contribution is, the most important thing is that you teach them responsibility and accountability with their own learning. Hope this helps. Angie =))

Sandra Yarema Sandy Yarema 2920 Points

Tina, I really agree with your strategy of teaching students HOW to work cooperatively. So many issues can be minimized by proactive planning; informing, modeling, and letting the students rehearse expected behaviors.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Victoria,
The article Tina mentioned earlier is an excellent one. It is called Science Sampler: The eight-step method to great group work
I find the Science Sampler journal articles very helpful personally. This one has some practical suggestions for setting up small groups and helping them to be collaborative and productive.
This article has some excellent suggestions as well: Teacher’s Toolkit: Improving science instruction through effective group interactions
Hope this helps.

Sandy Gady Sandy Gady 43175 Points

I have always grouped my students into 4’s. I teach middle school and this seems to be a number that works well. There are enough folks to have a good discussion as well as get a lab completed and cleaned up. Some of my peers use the role assignments, some do the numbers. I find it important to build a strong collaborative community from the very first moment students enter the room. This takes about two weeks and then the students pretty much have the routine and expectations down. I do have an advantage in that my Design and Engineering class is a mixed 7/8 class. Generally the 8th graders are students that are in the class the second year, so they are able to help “train up” the “newbies.” Tina is correct when she stated students may not know how to work with each other. It seems like this should be a no brainer, but what I have found is while students enjoy working together, they don’t necessarily know how to work productively together to get a task completed and done well. If you do a Google search for “Leadership Activities”, you will find there are a lot of different types of activities to help students understand the mechanics of how to work together. I change my seating chart with every new unit. I like the random method, so I went to the Dollar Tree and bought four sets of foam puzzles that are usually numbered 1 – 9. Since I have eight groups, I pull out the 9th pieces, place all the rest in a bag, shake them up and have students pull a tile out of the bag. That is their group number, they get to choose the seat. I of course have the ultimate authority and can move students in and out of groups, so the process is not totally random.

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points

Sandy, I too used random grouping.I did have small class, around 16 students. I had rectangular tables that would be big enough for 4 students. I had laminated name tags and every morning I went in and randomly put down nmae tags. At first the students didn't like it but they all worked well with each other in science class. it really did work. I am not sure if I could have pulled it off with 25 -30 students. Kathy

Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

How do you get all of the kids to be actively involved? When I have groups of 4, there is always 1 kid who just does nothing, sometimes 2. If I can get away with groups of 3, I generally see it cut down on the non-participating student. what strategies do you use to keep them all involved. In the past I've made them all do their own paper, etc...but still this ended up with students just copying what the others had done. I've assigned roles, but often times I had kids doing roles that weren't theirs and other kids still doing nothing.

Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

Do any of you go through a proper labwork/groupwork scenario early in the year?

Kristen Girch Kristen Girch 2895 Points

Kathy, I can imagine as a student I would not enjoy switching seats each day, but as a future teacher I think that it's such a wonderful idea, and not one I would have necessarily come up with on my own. I like the idea that it allows them to work with other students periodically. Does this cut back on distraction from the classroom, or in some cases will it add to it?

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points

The students actually got to like the random seating. It took the pressure off them socially. They could comfortably work with anybody because I (the teacher) did the grouping. It also cut out the majority of the drama that would occur. If you started the year doing this, it would just be accepted as part of the routines, an expectation. Kathy

Julie McGough Julie McGough 155 Points

Have you thought about grouping your students based on different kinds of strengths? For example, grouping students that have similar interests, talents, or skills rather than just high, medium, low may give some individuals some courage to take the lead rather than follow or not participate actively because they are intimidated. Many times students are viewed as either high or low based on performance on certain assessments. Assessments do not always allow strengths to shine but expect students to answer according to specific guidelines and rules. I would encourage you to group your students very differently to see if you can illuminate hidden talents! You may find some hidden leaders that were just waiting for the right opportunity to shine!

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Chris said, 'I've assigned roles, but often times I had kids doing roles that weren't theirs and other kids still doing nothing.'
Chris, I really like this journal article's ideas for assigning specific roles in lab/group work.

Teaching Students to Think Like Scientists During Cooperative Investigations
The author calls the group roles thinking roles, and it is a slightly different take on group tasks. It encourages collaborative thinking. I hope you will find if useful to you.

Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

One thing I've been considering is giving them like a pencil time limit. When they are working together in the group to complete an assignment or something, each student only gets 5 minutes to hold the pencil. They all have smart phones with timers on them, so they could use their phone to keep track of their time. That way, the smart kid cant just do all the work by them selves. At least they will have to explain to the student with the pencil what they need to do, and that will get everyone in the group able to better understand the problem. Some possible extensions... The person with the pencil can't talk, can only listen The person with the pencil can't do the problem themselves, can only do what the others tell them to do. Thoughts??

Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

I'm doing my graduate research on cooperative the big change being implemented for 3rd quarter is a group grade on each test. The group grade will be about 1/4 of the test grade, which will basically be the average of all group members test grades. The idea here is that being the best one in your group doesn't matter if the other members don't learn the material...and if you want your grade to be better, you need to make sure that your group members know how to do the material as well.

Dylaneigh Reardon Dylaneigh Reardon 1485 Points

Depending on how old your students are here is a great way to pair students up. There are some really interactive ways to create groups. You have to get them excited about working together!

B G Sherry Alouidor 2075 Points

Twelve rules Consider the following before you start setting up your classroom. 1. Check school policies Before designing your classroom, ask if there are any school policies that affect classroom displays. Some principals require you to post daily objectives. Many schools have fire policies that prohibit hanging paper signs on the door. 2. Plan for inspiration Use a portion of your space to inspire students. This could mean hanging engaging posters about content or attitude. Or if you are planning to display student work, post a sign above the area that says “ALL of my students are capable of excellence. These really showed it on a recent assignment!” Make sure you print letters large enough for students to read!) 3. Save plenty of space for information If you need students to access certain types of information daily, create a consistent space for them to find it. For example, you could post permanent signs at the front of the room that say “Objectives,” “Warm Up Activity,” and “Homework” and use the area near these signs to provide details about each. Also have a space where the date is consistently posted, and make sure your name is posted at the beginning of the year. I also recommend having a section of the room devoted to students who have been absent. If you decide to do this: Label the space clearly. I have a sign that simply asks “Were you absent?” Hang a calendar nearby to help students identify the day of school they missed. Use a small filing cabinet to house an activity log (listing the work completed each day) and blank copies of all assignments (labeled with titles matching those in the activity log) After you introduce students to the space, they become responsible for identifying days they miss, checking the log for work completed on those days, gathering the blank assignments, completing the work and submitting it to you. 4. Protect what you post If you’re going to display any poster in your classroom for more than a month — or want to use a temporary poster again next year — laminate it before you hang it on your wall. Otherwise, you’ll need to recreate it after it is tattered and torn. Many of your schools will have laminating machines. If they don’t, other teachers will be able to tell you where the service is provided in your area. Make sure you check the school limits on use or prices at stores before making final decisions about what to laminate! 5. Make it stick Ask other teachers in your building what adhesives work on the school walls. I once spent hours creating a display only to find it on the floor of my room the next day. Tape works on some walls. Others require putty. I have heard that hot glue guns work on the concrete walls in many schools. Finally, you can nail things into the walls. The nails are especially good for holding clipboards (if you want to clip a sign in sheet near your door) and bathroom passes (if you use anything larger than a paper pass). 6. Leave space for colleagues Leave space for other teachers who use the room. If you have your own classroom, but other teachers use it during your planning period or after school, leave them a drawer in your filing cabinet and sections of the board and wall. Have a conversation about what else they might need. This is important in order to preserve both your materials and your relationship with colleagues. If you are a traveling teacher, initiate a conversation about space sharing with teachers you encounter in those travels. Get a copy of keys for each room in which you’ll be teaching and ask the administration if there is a quiet corner where you can have a desk and filing cabinet that is all your own. 7. Arrange desks thoughtfully Consider your teaching style, management style and the needs of other teachers using the room when arranging the desks. You may decide to use rows, clusters, a circle or some other configuration. Design with a purpose in mind! 8. Lock it up Have at least one small closet or drawer in your classroom that can be locked, even if you have to add a small lock yourself. You’ll need this area for confidential files and personal items. Learning this lesson cost me one camera and some priceless pictures on the roll of film inside it. It cost another teacher her grade book the week before our grades were due. 9. Be cheap Save money on supplies! Ask a colleague what supplies are provided, how you can get them and if teachers are given a certain amount to spend on their classroom each year. If there are things you need to buy on your own, ask retailers if they have discounts for teachers. Office Max, Staples and Barnes and Noble all offer reduced prices on classroom supplies, and other stores in your area might too. For most, you will need evidence of your educator status — a school ID badge, union card or pay stub will work. Finally, save all of your receipts. If your school offers money later, you could be reimbursed for purchases if

Darlene Keyser Darlene Petranick 6005 Points

I teach at the elementary level and see each class once every six days for 45 minutes. Because of this I really try to minimize distractions and maximize time on task. I allow students to choose their groups maximum of 4 students but they usually end up at 3. They have to choose new groups at the beginning of each quarter so they are working with different groups. I also have roles for each person. The tables are numbered 1-4 and each week I change the role of the number. This way no one knows what their role will be and it keeps them from becoming complacent.

 Ali Alahmadi 130 Points

Thank you for all

Celeste Galindo Celeste Galindo 2620 Points

During my student teaching, I haven't seen many successful cooperative groups. Thinking about how I am going to establish groups when I get my classroom makes me nervous because I don't want to run into the same problems I've seen. Many of my professors have talked about assigning group roles/responsibilities to each member of the group, so that is a great way to balance status issues and make sure everybody has an equal chance to participate and contribute. There is also a lot of other great advice on this forum that I will take with me next year when I start teaching.

Dina Oti Dina Oti 1245 Points

Hello Victoria! Your strategy for your class setup is probably the most ideal for having the diversity in the groups. You could probably have each person in the group do something specific (give them tasks/roles) so that each one of them is actually doing something. Sometimes the shy ones just need a little motivation to do something, and when they are given a task to do and if you stress that it is important everyone completes their task so that the project/assignment etc. is completed, then they will hopefully fulfill it. Good luck!

Gordana Andric Gordana Andric 565 Points

I am currently a student studying to be an elementary education teacher, and during my teaching science class, I had the same problem, some of my students do not work well in groups. I found students’ jobs are helpful, but sometimes it can be problem if we have odd number of students and we have three or five students in a group. I think group self-assessment might be helpful to improve group efficacy.  

Wei Hua Wei Hua 455 Points

Hi, all! After I read all the replies, I really learned a lot in how to set up small groups in the classroom. I think it is important for teachers to learn how to manage small groups. The ideas of cooperative and collaborative groups help me to think about my future classroom. Thank you so much all to share!

Harley Kitching Harley Kitching 617 Points

I really like to incorporate collaboration into my lessons, but I have also noticed that one student can pick up the material and complete it while the others just sit there. This is also an issue in simple partner work. Giving students different roles can be effective, but if you give each student a critical piece of information for completing the assignment, they are forced to work together to complete the task in full. It can also be beneficial to mix up groups so the students don't fall into their roles and just go through the motions during assignments. Mixing up the groups also allows students to collaborate across the classroom with their peers instead of being stuck with the same people all year or semester.

Emma Suleski Emma Suleski 290 Points

I am currently a junior education major.  Through my observations in the field I have seen a variety of ways to conduct small groups.  One way I saw was to have roles for each member of the group so that everyone has a job.  You can also have modifications for the students who need it so that a checklist can be used by them so they can make sure they completed their tasks.  Then when the group talks about what they did I found that having everyone in the group take a turn to say what they learned helped rather than one person speaking for the group.  I loved reading all these ideas from everyone and hope to try them in my future classroom.  

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