Those who have been reading my blog since I started way back on 14 October 2010, as well as those who have only been reading since I started this specific blog on 6 August 2011, not to mention the random people on Twitter and WordPress who have shown up in just the past day or so, have hopefully noticed that I am a big proponent of cooperative learning through groups. I have utilised groups most often in literacy and math, but I have also used them for research projects, such as our animal inquiry project from the beginning of the year. (Astute readers will also notice that I like to link to old blog posts, although I honestly never track to see how many times these links are clicked through).
After the recent successes I’ve had with group work. I decided to try something slightly different with them this week for science. One of our science standards is for the students to learn about energy sources and to be able to distinguish between renewable and non-renewable fuels. It just so happens that I have four books in my classroom that focus on different types of energy, and I have my students arranged in four rows. Over the weekend, I had rearranged all of the desks in such a way that only two of my students were actually sitting in the same spot, so all of the groups were essentially new.
So, naturally, I decided that the best way for the four groups to get used to each other would be to have them get up and move to the four corners of the room. Once situated, I gave each group a book about an energy source (wood and coal, oil and natural gas, water and wind, and the Sun) and told them to read and answer the following questions:
- What is the energy source?
- How is it used?
- Why do we use it?
This was on Monday. Today I decided to take it up a notch by having them rotate the four books so that each group had read all four of them. Then I had them write down a few of the pros and cons of each energy source. To help motivate them, I took out my prize bucket and told them that the group that did the best job staying on tasking and using whisper voices would be able to draw from the box. And, obviously, if multiple groups were staying on task and using whisper voices then, well, of course multiple groups would be able to draw from the prize box.
Which is how I had quite nearly every student in the room focused on reading about energy sources, working cooperatively. And that’s why my prize box now contains considerably fewer prizes than it did at the beginning of the day.
(On a related note, this project has been my inspiration for a grant through a joint-venture of We Are Teachers and MindWare hat I recently applied for. The grant is awarded by votes, so once it closes, I will probably be linking to the voting site. The grant request is for the money to purchase a set of youth-sized lab coats that my students can use when working in a small science group. I’d love to get a full class set, but since they are about $15-20 a piece, and the grant is for $100, I am going to shoot for getting five, if I win.)