Middle schoolers are often naturally social and many of them love to work in groups during class. The middle school mathematics classroom is a wonderful environment for promoting these social learning connections while mastering math concepts. There are a variety of cooperative learning strategies that benefit the middle school math student. Here are three excellent ones you can use now:
1. Jigsaw Lessons are not puzzling at all.
Often implemented in social studies or science, a jigsaw lesson can work equally well in the math classroom. Certain mathematical concepts, such as geometry, lend themselves nicely to the jigsaw format.
As in all jigsaw lessons, the teacher will divide the class into groups and within each group assign students numbers. The number of students in each group is dependent on the number of concepts in the jigsaw lesson. For a lesson on triangles each student is assigned the task of creating a specific triangle based on defined attributes.
For example, one student in the group may be asked to create an acute scalene triangle while another student is tasked with creating an obtuse isosceles triangle. All students in the class with the same task form a temporary new group to complete it and plan ways to explain it to their original group. Once the triangles are created, the group will reconvene with their starting team. Each group member must then display the triangle, describe the assigned attributes, and clarify the process they used to complete the task. By sharing ideas and answering questions, students have the opportunity to reinforce their own understanding and learn from one another.
For your reference, we found an excellent, thorough description of the jigsaw instructional strategy from Instructional Strategies Online, by Saskatoon Public Schools in Canada.
2. Quiz Show helps students win at math literacy.
Using the quiz show format teachers can plan a cooperative learning activity that spans an entire unit and provides a fun review session before the final assessment. It is great for learning math vocabulary and reviewing concepts.
The teacher begins by assigning groups at the outset of the unit. This is best done using heterogeneous, or mixed, groups so that students will collaborate, learn, and become stakeholders in the group's success. Over the course of the unit's instruction, the groups will meet periodically to write quiz show questions. The teacher can front load these collaborative question-writing sessions by providing a framework for questions or requiring a specific format (multiple choice, multi-step problem solving, true/false, etc). These questions will be submitted to the teacher as possible questions for the final quiz show competition.
On the quiz show review day the students compete in their original teams and the teacher chooses the questions that will be asked. (You should include some questions written by students and others that you have composed yourself). The students will review the unit material, enjoy working in teams, and be thrilled when one of their own questions is used!
3. Student Peer Coaching is more than a game…it’s leadership training.
Teachers may choose to use peer coaching in the middle school mathematics class in an effort to give students the opportunity to observe how others approach problem solving. Since students have different ways of solving the same problem, giving them the chance to learn from one another allows each to experience a different perspective.
Implementing peer coaching as part of a math lesson requires a simple structure and is highly effective at expanding students' understanding. The teacher assigns students a partner (or small group) and they work together to solve a problem as a cooperative group. The group must come to a consensus on the problem solving steps, computation, and the final answer.
Eventually, each student will be responsible for completing a similar problem independently. Adding a self-reflection journal question that asks students to identify a part of their problem solving process that was impacted by working with others will provide data about the effectiveness of the peer coaching.
No matter which strategy you try, we know each of these promises to engage and enlighten your socially-oriented middle school students…many of whom are afflicted with severe cases of spring fever…especially on those seemingly never-ending Fridays!
Download our Guide on the Highly Effective Instructional Strategy of Cooperative Learning for a brief refresher on how to conduct it with success!