I’m running some online courses right now designed to help teachers make the most of the Problems of the Week and one theme that has emerged is –> students working individually vs. students working in pairs vs. students working in groups.

Some comments have been made about one student doing all the work or the social conversations that happen when pairs or groups are used. I find myself commenting that I’ve become more and more convinced that if you start your problem solving with Noticing/Wondering, those issues are minimized. And, I think this is true whether the problem solving is with a Math Forum PoW or a prompt in your curriculum or just a problem solving activity you’ve devised.

I’ve thought for some time that some behavior management issues are caused because students are not comfortable with the task. If it’s too easy, they’re bored and they act out to entertain themselves or turn to socializing because they think they’re “done.” If it’s too hard, they give up and in frustration they act out or socialize to get away from the unpleasant situation. And there are always those few students for whom the task is just right and they stay on task! Using a problem solving prompt with the question removed and doing a Noticing/Wondering activity creates a task that all students can do and moving from that (or during that activity) into pairs or groups is reasonable.

What type(s) of work do you have your students do?

  • individual
  • pairs
  • pairs when they turn and talk
  • pairs when they talk and then turn and work individually
  • pairs to groups of four
  • groups of four

Is there value in mixing the order? Do you mix the types of work within a class period?