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Published 2011 Revised 2019
One way to improve learners' team-working skills is to work in ways that encourage collaboration and sharing mathematical journeys in smaller and larger groups on a regular basis. To develop such an approach it makes sense to use the experiences of others and build on practices that have worked in other situations. Of course there is no perfect answer but using methodologies that have been researched and have some rigour behind them can save a lot of time and reduce the risk. Such research on group working is discussed by Elizabeth Cohen in her book "Designing Groupwork" and utilised by colleagues who worked with Jo Boaler in the UK on Complex Instruction. There are many of what Jo Boaler might describe as 'group-worthy tasks' on the NRICH site. In fact it is hard to find a list of problems that you would not describe as group-worthy if used in a particular way in the classroom.
Many schools who utilise the benefits of group work start by spending a significant amount of curriculum time using activities that offer opportunities to develop team-working skills, knowing that this will pay dividends in the long term. Such tasks are sometimes called skill-building tasks. The skills are group-working skills rather than mathematical skills. This article and the linked resources take this idea and offer some skill-building tasks built around mathematical knowledge. The aim is to make the time spent on them feel less like risk taking because learners will be doing mathematics as they build skills of collaboration. In her book, Elizabeth Cohen lists a set of skills related to working collaboratively which the following is based upon:
These collaborative working skills can be developed through particular group activities. Below we offer six categories of team-building activities that can be used to place learners' focuses on a range of the different skills. Underpinning the tasks are some fundamental principles of developing interdependence and developing group and individual accountability.
Interdependence comes in two forms:
Group accountability can be associated with all the task types but "Guess the rule" and "What am I?" have a particular focus on this aspect of accountability.
Each category of team-building task has particular rules asssociated with it. These rules are designed to draw out particular team-working skills. It is therefore very important to allow time at the end of each activity for discussing the task and the way teams and indiviudals worked together. If available an observer may be used to focus attention on, and note, particular activities and behaviours.
A designer gives instructions to members of the team so that they can create a mathematical object or picture identical to that made by the designer. No one on the team can see anyone else's work. Tasks in this category require learners to explain and help others, asking and answering questions. Learners must complete the task themselves but with support and advice which is asked for and given. They encourage learners to:
4. Guess the rule - Collaboration and reasoning to come to a shared decision
6. All for one - Collaboration towards a single goal
As these skills are developed, learners will also develop team norms, that is the set of rules or guidelines that shape the way they work with each other. Once developed, team norms are used to guide team member behaviour. Team norms are used to assess how well team members are interacting. Team norms enable team members to challenge "non-norm" behaviour. For example, challenging another
member of the team who is not listening to the ideas of others.
A pdf of this article can be downloaded: Developing Good Team Primary.pdf