Cooperative Learning

Recall that I am teaching Essential Calculus and Linear Algebra this semester. I have been using Cooperative Learning (CL) this semester with mostly positive, but still mixed, results.

First, my students have been great. They have all worked hard and well with each other.

Next, I think that my Essential Calculus class has been working extremely well with CL. This is a mostly-conceptual class, and this lends itself well. I was thrilled when I had all 27 students—all non-majors—working hard on graphing derivatives; it made me realize how rare it was for me to have literally every student engaged when I used more lecture. Both of my Essential Calculus classes are much more engaged than my non-CL calculus class (for majors and the like) from two years ago. It seems like CL is working wonders here.

My Linear Algebra class is tougher to gauge. The students are all great and work hard. However, it seems like everything about this class is comparable to my non-CL Linear Algebra from two years ago; I was told that the non-CL class was pretty exceptional by my colleagues, so this is definitely not an insult to my current class. Still, I think that I have a lot of room to improve. By asking better questions in class, I could more fully take advantage of what CL has to offer.

Additionally, I have only superficially addressed group skills. This is one place where I could improve both classes, although I somehow do not believe it yet. Not only that, but the students (including the Essential Calculus students) do not seem invested in it, as they have not been doing the self-assessments at the end of class. This is likely largely because I am not terribly invested in it, although I think that there are other factors. For one, students still seem to be anxious to leave class—frankly a little too anxious, since they were initially trying to leave class 2-3 minutes early. To fix this, I changed the classes schedule from:

  1. First 5 minutes: Team warm-ups
  2. Next 15 minutes: Mini-lecture and questions about reading/videos
  3. Next 45 minutes: Team work
  4. Last 5 minutes: Team self-evaluation


  1. First 5 minutes: Team warm-ups
  2. Next 10 minutes: Mini-lecture and questions about reading/videos
  3. Next 45 minutes: Team work
  4. Next 5 minutes: Team self-evaluation
  5. Last 5 minutes: Mini-lecture to preview the next class

Having a preview for the next class is probably pedagogically a good thing to do, anyway, but it also keeps students thinking about the content until the end of the class. Still, this seems to avoid the cause of the problem: I am not invested enough in explicitly team group skills and giving time for group processing than I should be.

One final thing: I have not been doing a good enough job with large-group processing. Ideally, we would discuss the solutions to the problems the teams work on in class, but I have not been doing a good job at making sure this happens. So my 45 minutes of team work will likely turn into 35 minutes of team work plus 10 minutes of large group reflection.

This is still a work in progress, but it has mostly been positive.


3 Responses to “Cooperative Learning”

  1. Erica Says:

    Although you sound not-fully-happy, I think it sounds like you’re doing a great job! Keep it up!

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Thanks, Erica—I am happy-but-not-fully-happy. Just to be clear, though, I think that the problem is more with me than with CL. I really need to start thinking of myself more as a new teacher; I have honed my skills for an interactive lecture-based classroom, but I do not have the chops to run a CL classroom efficiently.

      So, in this case: don’t hate the game, hate the player.

  2. Cooperative Learning Partial Solution « Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] Solvable by Radicals Just another weblog « Cooperative Learning […]

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