Cooperative Learning

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Cooperative learning is a learning situation where small groups of students interact in an atmosphere of mutual helpfulness and individual accountability to explore, discuss, develop and apply important ideas and/or processes.

The key characteristics of this approach to learning

  • A mathematical question is presented for group discussion and resolution.
  • Interaction in small groups takes place with interdependence between group members.
  • The students serve as a major resource; the teacher acts as a catalyst, coach or consultant.
  • An atmosphere of cooperation and mutual helpfulness is evident within each group.
  • There is individual accountability--all members of the group know the material.

Some guidelines for successful cooperative learning

  • Be involved in your group. Feel free to share your ideas and listen to others' ideas. Try to ask interesting and helpful questions relative to the material. Try to respond to others' questions. Pay attention to those in your group. Show initiative to keep your group working toward an answer to the question(s).
  • Give and receive help. Be willing to help anyone in your group who asks for it. Ask for help when you need it.
  • Work toward a group result. Encourage all in your group to participate. Be sure everyone understands and agrees on your results. Show perseverance; don't give up at the first sign of difficulty. Usually ask the teacher a question only if no one in the group can answer it or you cannot find it in the resource material.
  • Be sure you and others in your group are learning. Be responsible for your own learning but take pride in the success of your group.
  • Be dependable. Come to class, be on time, have necessary materials, do any work outside of class that helps you to be prepared for class.

Frequently asked Questions

  • Does this mean I'm teaching myself?
    No, you will not be teaching yourself. The material is presented to you in a written form. Instead of listening to a lecture for an hour, you will get a short introduction and then work through the material at your own pace. The worksheets are carefully written and classroom tested to make sure you get the information you need. We have found that using this method of teaching allows students to learn the material at their own pace.
  • Can I just do the worksheets at home?
    No, years of experience has shown that this just doesn't work. The classroom is set up to have you work with others on mathematics. Students learn a tremendous amount of material from one another and from the instructor who will be circulating and working with the groups.
  • How many people can be in a group?
    Research has shown that groups of 3 or 4 are optimal. Smaller groups do not get enough interaction with other students and often end up not getting the material in sufficient depth. Groups that are too large do not work because the situation often degenerates into a social event.
  • How do we know if we are doing the work right and that we are understanding the material?
    If you work seriously on the material and engage the material you will get it. The instructor checks in with the different groups and can assess fairly quickly if the discussions are moving in the right direction and if the important points are gone over. Also note that any of the material covered will be discussed in your online textbook. Reading the text soon after you do the work in class will help you understand the material a much deeper level and you will be able to see for yourself if you indeed understood the material.
  • So, why not skip the worksheets and just read the book?
    Again, years of experience has shown that this just doesn't work. Students are much more successful if they learn the material by working through our worksheets. This interactive component is very important. Mathematics is like learning to play the piano or training for a marathon. You wouldn't just wath someoone play the piano, or watch footage of others running a marathon. The only way to master these skills is to be actively engaged. And this is true for learning mathematics as well.

Other related questions

  • Some of the homework is challenging. Is trying the problems good enough?
    No, the homework problems should be solved and carefully written up. Any of the questions from the worksheets or homework could (and will) show up on your exams. You are expected to start your homework on time and come to office hours with questions. You would expect a surgeon to do more than just "his/her best". Similarly if you went to a business meeting you would not expect the representative to merely "try" to explain a business proposal to you. You would want them to do their job and do it well.
  • Why do I need to take this course?
    If this is a requirement, then there must be concepts taught here that you need in order to be successful in your chosen field. The exact skills you are supposed to pick up depend on your major and this question should probably be directed at an advisor from your own department. For art majors the answer is that this provides a quantitative course which is interdisciplinary. You will learn about geometry and see how the fields of mathematics and art interact. If you are an education major, you will likely teach geometry. This means you have to take a course that gives you sufficient theoretical background in this discipline. If this is a general math requirement course for you, then this is a course where you will develop and explore skills in abstract and critical thinking.