January 12, 2016

Hey, I thought you might like some collaboration tips on how to get your Kids thinking and talking about math.  Why is collaboration so important in a math class? 

Three big reasons:

  • Build deeper understanding
  • Provide a structure for engagement and participation
  • Provide opportunities for students to attack rigorous problems by using the Eight Math Practices, specifically MP1 and MP3.

Here are some secondary reasons:

  • Students feel supported and have more resources available, not just the teacher to ask
  • They’re going to talk anyway, why not about math?

Now, I must admit it was hard for me to make “collaboration” pay off at first.  My students always wanted to talk about everything else but the math!  Another problem I had was the same students did all the thinking, talking, and writing while the others sat by unengaged. I was tempted to throw in the towel many times.  I was leery of administrators poking their heads in my door to see what all the noise was about!

I didn’t give up though, because I saw it working for other teachers.  I picked up many good tips and put together a system for teaching my students HOW to collaborate so they could all be involved in the learning.  In fact, on some days when I just wanted to lecture, they would stop me short and ask, “When do we get to collaborate?”  Ok, I got the message.  I should hand the math talking over to them so they can do the thinking, talking, learning, etc.

So here are a few of my BEST tips to get you started:

  1. Identify collaboration groups and/or partners well in advance of when you want to have students collaborate.  They need to be familiar with each other and the idea that they will be working together. The worst thing to happen is to lose instructional time because someone wants to balk at who they are expected to work with on the spur of the moment.
  2. Host teambuilding, get-to-know-you activities prior to collaboration, and periodically throughout the year.  Every time you switch partners or create new groups, you should do at least one teambuilding exercise as well.   Of course, these activities can be designed to reinforce a mathematical skill you want your students to master!
  3. Teach simple protocols for different kinds of collaboration. Think what structures are necessary for when students are doing Think-Pair-Shares, Check with your partner, Projects, etc.
  4. Introduce and teach the protocols around easy, fun topics so the focus is on learning the protocol, not the content.
  5. Protocols include specifics around
    1. How to take turns
    2. How to “hear every voice”
    3. How to record ideas and prepare to share
    4. How to come to decisions
    5. How to agree, disagree, and question
    6. How to encourage each other to stay on task

So this is a good start! Would you like more on this topic?  How about a FREE Webinar or PDF with more details on #2, 4, and 5?
Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.  Thanks!

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