For Teachers

Cooperative Learning for Middle School Math Class

By The Room 241 Team February 1, 2013

Cooperative learning in middle school math classes can be an effective way to engage reluctant learners, accommodate students with learning disabilities, and help advanced learners build communication and cooperation skills. The key to making this work is to implement cooperative learning activities at the right time to maximize student learning potential.

What is math cooperative learning?

Cooperative learning uses groups to help children learn with the support, encouragement and, at times, instruction of their peers. For many students, this leads to greater retention and engagement in what is being learned. Cooperative learning is often employed in middle school subjects like history and science, where group projects and lab assignments are logical. In math class, cooperative learning is also effective when employed properly.

Challenges of cooperative learning in the math classroom

There are some challenges for cooperative learning that are specific to the math classroom. First, according to Mara Sapon-Shevin, it reduces control and predictability. It can be challenging to know if an individual student is truly grasping a concept in a group setting. The lack of understanding does not present itself until test time rolls around, which creates a problem for both students and teachers.

Also, on the middle school level, math teachers are often forced to follow a very specific curriculum and structure in order to meet state standards and testing expectations. This does not always allow for the easy addition of cooperative learning. Still, it is possible, and the benefits of helping students learn in a more democratic way may make it worthwhile to seek out these options.

Using cooperative learning in math class

Math cooperative learning builds on the fact that middle school students are at a stage where they are influenced by peers. The key is timing the use of cooperative learning. During math instruction, it must be balanced with an adequate amount of direct instruction.

Cooperative learning works well after material has been presented by the teacher. This can come into play during practice, with students working together to solve a problem. It can work well as a review technique prior to testing. The excitement created by cooperative learning activities can also help engage learners as the time for testing approaches.

Cooperative learning activities for math students

Quiz show

One way to do this is to have a quiz show. In a quiz show format, students are divided into heterogeneous groups, with students of varying ability levels in each group. Throughout the unit, the groups will be asked to write down quiz show questions at different points in the instructional process. At the end of the unit, but before the test, the groups present their questions to the teacher, who then presents them to all of the groups. The groups compete as a team against the others in a quiz show using those questions.

This activity encourages the students to interact on a deeper level with the unit material. It also fosters excitement about learning. Finally, it does not detract from the need to help students comprehend topics on an individual basis, as the instruction still happens in the traditional way.

Group problem-solving

Group problem-solving is another way to implement cooperative learning in the math classroom. In this structure, the teacher will assign buddies or groups, and give the students a fairly complex problem to solve. The students will need to agree, as a group, on the steps, process and final answer. If all students are engaged in the process, then all will learn some of the steps involved, even if some students are more advanced than others.

When implemented correctly, math cooperative learning can be highly effective at helping middle school students retain concepts that have been taught while increasing student excitement about the subject. This should be used in conjunction with traditional teaching methods to help students learn math skills while also learning to work together with fellow students.

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