Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Cooperative Learning - Four heads are better than one!

I like to do an activity for math called 'Four Heads are Better than One'.  I use it for problem solving in math class, after I have taught the students the content and they have practiced and wrestled a bit with the ideas presented.  I have my students seated in pods of four for easy collaboration.  The materials they need are small whiteboards, markers, erasers, and any notes that can help them jog their memories on the day's lesson.   I present a word problem on the overhead projector and the students are to read the problem and solve it on their whiteboards.  This is an individual activity so no help is allowed (that will come later).  Once they have completed the problem, they are to flip over their boards, thus showing me that they are ready.  For those that do not know the answer, I give encouragement to try to put a least one thing on their board, anything that will help the group come up with a solution.

Student B's answer
Student A's answer

 The question was:  Write whether each statement is true or false.  Explain your answer.  The product of 1 and 34,654 is 34,654.


Once the majority of the class has finished, I assign a Captain of each pod.  This captain tells her group to stand up (this movement gets the blood and needed glucose flowing to the brain for added brain activity).   Then she proceeds to tell each group member to reveal and explain their answer.  The team then listens, thinks and negotiates the correct answer.  Like I said, even if a student cannot assess the correct answer yet in the first step, he can participate in the discussion because he has at some type of answer or idea to contribute.  The big idea of this second step is collaboration.  By getting all members to debate, explain, and negotiate answers, you are encouraging highly valued discussions that not only engage students mentally, but create benefits that cross over into all areas of curriculum.  In addition, you are promoting 21st Century Learning by assigning a leader to lead a group that must be flexible and adaptable.

The last piece of this activity is the presentation of the answer.  I assign a member from each group to be the representative.  The representative stands up (so you have multiple students standing up at once).   I randomly choose one of the representatives to share and explain the team's answer.  Besides giving the student a chance to practice speaking in front of others, they are practicing using the academic math vocabulary inadvertently practiced in the second step during team discussion.  Plus it's great for English Language Learners!  After he has shared his answer, the other representatives critique by placing a thumb up, or to the side.  Thumbs to the side mean that he is missing something, and thumbs never are pointed down.  As a class, we then discuss and/or work through the problem.  Lastly, teams celebrate either their success, or their effort, with a team handshake.

This math problem solving activity is fun and no matter how many times my fourth grade students practice it, I still hear cheers when I say, "Ok everyone!  Prepare for 'Four Heads are Better than One!'

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