Monday, December 07, 2009

Collaboration takes coordination

We're about 50 minutes into the collaborative extra credit problem session (and potluck) I'd planned in order to give my Calc I students some sort of group-learning activity for the final exam.

So far, they're working together wonderfully.

18 students showed up by the session's beginning, and after a few minutes to organize the foodstuffs and return graded assignments, I pitched to them three problems that are considerably harder than the problems appearing on the exam itself, in the hope that their collaborative effort would make the problem-solving process a relatively easy one. I've asked them to submit their own individual solutions to these problems by the end of the session in order to receive extra credit, but they're allowed to work together in whatever way they'd like to in order to prepare those solo solutions.

Immediately the student broke into three groups, of 3, 4, and 11 students, respectively. (One student has now left, bringing the 11 to 10, and another just arrived, bringing the 3 up to another 4.) At first there was silence as the students started feeling the problems out on their own. Within about five or ten minutes, though, the chatter began, and in the murmurs they made I detected clear signs of honest collaboration: some students understood one part of a problem, and others another. They began comparing their solutions and sharing their methods. One student went to the board to log a tricky computation he'd just performed. "Just so y'all know," said another student, "he's writing up the step in Number 2 where we got stuck."

Another student has now gone to the board to indicate an approach for the third problem.

This is working well!

If only I can get them to eat some more of the lovely guacamole and pumpkin muffins that a couple of the students brought.

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