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Getting Students to Work Together in Cooperative Groups

One of my colleagues completed a Leadership Project with her ten students that I want to share with you. She had two similar 100 piece puzzles. (The puzzles are fairly inexpensive at Walmart or Dollar General.) Kay took these two similar puzzles which had alike colors/pictures on them and mixed them up. She then separated them into two baggies, and put each baggie in one of the original two boxes.

The class numbered off, 1-2-1-2...and so on, and then separated into two groups. At first, the students thought this was going to be a race to see which group could complete their puzzle first; however, each group started at the same time, writing the starting time on the board. After that, Kay didn’t say a word, and answered no questions! She simply observed the students. The students tried asking her, "Hey we don’t have all the edges; these pieces don’t match; are these the right puzzles?" Something is wrong; what's up?"

Kay waited to see who would take the lead to combine the groups, and how they joined. She wondered, "Would they join peacefully? Would they gather and form one group; two new groups; work together, or divide again?"  As she continued to observe, she began to write names on the board of those who were positive and took leadership. She then wrote the time on the board when they commenced to form one group.

When they finished, she held a Socratic Seminar (an Avid strategy) about how they felt concerning the activity. One student, who did not want to join a group in the beginning, became so involved during the project that he actually was the leader in getting the groups together.  It was one of those fantastic teacher moments!

Kay's students learned quite a bit from the activity since in reality, this is how life, social, and work environments are. She pointed out that they may not have a project that is going well, but by joining together with another group, you can problem solve, gain assistance, and acquire more pieces to your puzzle to accomplish your project.

Since working together doesn't seem to be a skill that comes naturally, I use this activity with my college freshman as they begin their final group projects. Plus, as you think about your class and are puzzled about how you can get your students to work well in cooperative groups, keep this activity in mind.  It might just put the pieces together for you.

If your class enjoys cooperative learning, try this rubric for grading co-op groups.

A Go Figure Debut for a Chemistry Teacher Who Is New

This is Kelly’s 19th year of teaching. She taught 12 years in public schools in the U.S., five years at an international school in Malaysia, and one year at an international school in Switzerland. This summer her family moved back to the U.S., and currently, she is teaching at a private school in Tennessee. Kelly is married and has two children and one dog, Ollie, who was adopted in Switzerland. Her favorite thing to do is to travel and experience new things with her kids. She also enjoys local baseball games and relaxing on Saturdays at the lake. She likes doing puzzles and reading when she has free time.

Kelly has taught all science courses from fifth grade up through most high school courses, but her specialty is Chemistry. She currently teaches Chemistry and AP Chemistry. Her favorite thing about teaching is taking a subject like chemistry that can be overwhelming for students and making them see that they can do it. Chemistry is not as scary as it looks! In her classroom, she has high expectations, but she also tries to make learning fun.

Kelly’s first resources were classroom games she played to challenge her students. Kelly believes that in order for students to really learn science, they need to practice, practice, practice. Consequently, the favorite part of her job is finding ways for her students to practice that don't feel repetitive and boring. As much as possible, she likes students to explore and experience chemistry rather than just listening to lectures. The most rewarding part of her job is when students write to her from college to let her know that their college chemistry is easier to learn because of what they learned in her class.

It is this mix of rigor and fun that led Kelly to start her TPT store, My Science Toolbox, in the fall of 2018. Currently, her store contains 116 resources, eight of which are free. The FREE product she is highlighting is entitled, Tic Tac Whack a Mole Chemistry Game. It is a sample of one of her students' favorite games. They played it throughout the year with a variety of chemistry topics. It's a very competitive and loud version of Tic Tac Toe. As students solve chemistry calculations, they yell "Whack!" when they get questions correct.

My Science Toolbox includes games that practice chemistry skills and content in a variety of ways (including card games and board games), task cards for students to practice individual skills with immediate feedback, and lessons. One of those board games is called Inro to Periodic Table Game and Trivia for Middle School. Middle school students are fascinated by trivia and the elements on the periodic table seem very mysterious. This is a game that allows students to have repetitive practice with a handful of important concepts that are a building block towards their understanding of future chemical concept. It gives students an introduction to some of the elements on the periodic table as well as some of their uses.

As you can see, Kelly is not a fan of worksheets! As a result, she tries to find ways to turn a worksheet into a game or other form of active learning. She has created most of her own games and activities because generally the pre-made ones are either (1) too trivia-ish or (2) there’s not enough learning during the game. Kelly’s goal is to make games and activities that allow the students to practice skills.

So if you like active learning, check out her Teachers Pay Teachers store and see if there is a game or activity that might be of interest to you.

How Many Classroom Management Rules Does A Teacher Really Need?

Now that most of us are getting geared up for a new school year, it's time to think about what classroom rules need to be established. Maybe the ones you had last year just didn’t work, and you are looking for a change. I could recommend many "Do this or this will happen" or "Please don't do this as it will break my heart" statements, but lists can become very long and mind-numbing. Maybe that is why God only gave Ten Commandments. Fewer rules means less has to be memorized. So, maybe we need to ask ourselves: “How many classroom rules are really needed?” 

I would suggest making a few general rules that are clear and understandable since being too specific often leads to complicated, wordy rules that might cover every possible situation. Most of the time, I post six simple classroom rules (only two words each) in my room which encompass my main areas of concern. I find them to be more than sufficient to govern general behaviors, and because alliteration is used, the rules are easy for all of my students to remember.

1.  Be Prompt – In other words, be on time to school/class/group.

2.  Be Prepared – Bring the items you need to class or to a group. Study for upcoming tests. Have your homework completed and ready to turn in. 

3.  Be Polite – This rule focuses on how we treat each other. Show respect for your teacher(s) and your fellow students in the classroom, in the school, and on the playground.

4.  Be Persistent - The final rule spotlights the need to stay on task and complete an assignment even though it might be difficult. 

5. Be Productive - Always put forth your best effort! Grades are achieved; not received; so, do your best at all times.

6. Be Positive – Bad days happen! If you are having one of those days, I do understand. Please just inform me before class that you are having a bad day, and I will try to leave you alone during class discussion. This is not to be abused.

I firmly believe that class rules must cover general behaviors, be clear as well as understandable. Being too specific often leads to complicated, wordy rules that might cover every possible situation, but are impossible to remember.  (A good example are the IRS tax rules which I still have difficulty comprehending). 
Here are a few things to consider when communicating your classroom rules.
  • Establish clear expectations for behavior from day one.
  • Use techniques such as interactive modeling to teach positive behavior.
  • Reinforce positive behavior with supportive teacher language.
  • Quickly stop misbehavior.
  • Restore positive behavior so that children retain their dignity and continue learning.
If you are interested in using these six rules in your classroom, check them out on Teachers Pay Teachers. Each two word rule is written as a one page chart, and is ready to download and laminate to hang in your classroom.

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