Working in groups in Calculus: So far, so …

I’m done with the first week of calculus, and happy with how the class is going overall. Thus far, we have reviewed functions, worked on translating between descriptions and functional notation, done the bottle calibration problem, and started modeling functions in Excel. Next week, we’ll finish the Excel work we started and have them do some activities to get familiar with the library of functions we want to be able to use in class. There’s a lot going on this first week, perhaps too much, because I also have them doing a writing assignment for monday and using Khan academy to review pre-calculus material. My worry is that I may be creating too much of a jumble for them and causing confusion.

I’ve also been having them work in groups. I don’t have specific groups assigned, and I haven’t decided if I will do that this semester. Right now, I don’t have enough sense of who they are to make good matches. I did assign roles in todays class — leader, recorder, reporter, but I am not sure what use they are making of the roles. I told them that the leader should be keeping the group on task and also making sure that the group hears from everyone. But I haven’t made as much use of the recorder and reporter, so I’m going to try to correct that next time. I also need to switch up those roles, but I’m not even keeping track of the roles I assign. Perhaps next week I’ll ask them what roles they think people take in group work and try to discuss this. I would also like to take with them about the creation and enactment of mathematical identities in groups and in classes (as in that article I read earlier in the semester), since I would love their perspective.

I asked them for feedback today specifically about working in groups — what went well and what they’d like to change. Some difficulties that came up were: not everyone feels comfortable talking, rest of the group is familiar with each other and one person feels a bit left out, more talking ideas out needed, group designations didn’t seem to apply/stick (but writer thought that might not be a bad thing), and people can stay under radar and let others have more input.

Good things identified were working well together even through disagreement (several said this), collaboration (several said this), helping generate and verify ideas, getting tech support from each other for laptop use, helping each other out, people listening to what others had to say, able to give each other different points of view and insights we may not have seen, feedback, and being able to work with people that are better at math than I am.

If any of you out there have ideas about how to help students form productive collaborative relationships with each other, I’d love to hear them!


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