Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Group Projects

For the past few years I've taught only pre-calculus and statistics.  I don't assign any group projects in pre-calc and only a few in statistics. 

I'm not a fan of group projects.  When people say that students need to learn to work together on a task, or that many heads are better than one, I point out that when that happens in the workplace there's an assumption that everyone brings something to the table.  I think we all know that isn't necessarily the case in the K-12 classroom.

We're getting new curriculum and textbooks in stats this coming year, so I'm not sure if I'll do the same projects that I've done in the past.  For the ones I have assigned, though, part of the reason I do it is because the data collection, analysis, and report would be a lot of work for just one student.  One other group project I assign, I admit I use groups because I don't want to read 90 reports--I'm not an English teacher.  All the bosses and accreditation folks want to see cooperative learning/group work, though, so that's what I give them--just not very much, because I'm not convinced it's all that useful in most circumstances.

I don't like it for the same reason that students don't like it:
As for group projects, “the smartest kids do all the work because the grade matters to them,” students say. Slackers slack.

One achiever told Downey he’d always dreaded group assignments or labs until he took nothing but advanced classes his senior year. “When you work with someone who wants the A as much as you do, group projects can be pretty fun,” he said.


Curmudgeon said...

Which stats book are you going to?

For my money, the best comment on collaboration is this from Andrew Old over in the UK.
Andrew Old:
"If you want to learn how to cooperate effectively with others, then the last place you’d start is in a group of teenagers being made to do school work. This is like saying the best way to learn how to make pork sausages is by being imprisoned in a pig farm with a half-dozen rabbis. Putting together people who are neither experienced at doing something, or particularly inclined to want to do it, is not how you learn to do that something."

BB-Idaho said...

I'm not sure who DOES like group projects, other than some ivory tower thinker. My kids hated it for the same reason you noted: a few workers and a lot of slackers. I myself was a shy kid and hated
group projects; invariably did poorer in those classes. The concept,
furthermore IMO, leads to the plethora of useless meetings in the business world (and probably other areas like academia and government work. Remarkably, I once attended a mgt meeting where we
were lectured on having too many meetings..and of course they split up into work groups! It seems to me that students vary in how they learn, and hands on is certainly important; in college Physics, for
instance we worked in groups of 4 for exactly the reason you mention:
data collection, correlation and analysis. Group dynamics-wise on the other hand, a value analysis class group I was in back in the day
actually banished a EE-MS brilliant guy who broke every rule of roll
in teamwork dynamics..an ex Annapolis Naval officer yet! IMO, the
'designed by committee' concept can be real'.

PeggyU said...

You nailed it. My kids have always hated group projects for that very reason.

Darren said...

Curmudgeon: I don't recall the name or the author, but it was *bad*. I couldn't even recommend it for adoption, but I got outvoted.

And by bad, I mean awful.

Steve USMA '85 said...

One experiment I was involved with at the college level was when we assigned students to group projects, we did it by class standing. The two students with the highest average to date were paired. Then the next two, next two, and so on. Grades roughly correlated but what we found was that in the lower groups, what they showed they learned, they actually learned. It was not a case of the smarter kid dragging the others along to 'protect' his grade. It was a case of the lower kids realizing that they either had to figure it out or they would fail.

Too often when you pair an A student with a C student, the A does all the work gets an A. The C learns next to nothing and may not even have a 'D' level understanding of the learning objective - but he gets an A. Two C's together may only get a C, but you know they have a 'C' level understanding of the material.

Darren said...

Steve, I've actually toyed with doing that, but instead always default to letting the students team up however they choose--because it's bad enough I make them work in teams, I don't want to double down and compel them to work with people they don't want to.

Ellen K said...

I'm in the middle of reading "Mindset" by Dweck. You might want to leave a copy of it on your administrator's desk.