Wednesday, June 19, 2013

When a PhD does your homework...

There are a myriad of reasons, that I will write about later (one post here), that I have chosen to emphasize group work and collaborative learning this year.   I had two hurdles from last year that I wanted to tackle:
1) the whining I must deal with when they get new groups, or the whining I must deal with when they stay in the same groups too long, and
2) the time it takes to put students into new groups.

So I decided that I wanted established groups from the first day, and more than one.  My principal had read an article that suggested students should have groups for A days and B days, but I wanted to be able to decide each day which groups to use.  What if we didn't finish that task in one day?  We can't be swapping all willy-nilly! Plus I wanted some that were ability-grouped and some that were heterogeneous, because there is call for both on different days, but not simply every-other-day.

I tried making lists of random groups, but I got bogged down.  So I asked my husband, whose PhD is Graph Theory, to help me and he thought it was a delightful task!  Here's what he came up with:

But then he interpreted it for me, and voila!  A way to arrange 24 students into 4 different sets of 4, so that for FOUR days out of the week, no one is in a group with the same person twice!  Honestly, he's a genius.  If you replace the numbers on the left side with your students in order of achievement/ability, the first column is a set of ability-groups.  One of the random groups is less heterogeneous than the others, but two of them are completely mixed.  I then chose to create a fifth set of groups where my high achievers and lowest strugglers could be grouped, but the middle kids are still muddled.   Check it out...

So if you get put in a group with a kid you're not crazy about (or you are crazy about, which can be worse in middle school), no worries ... it'll be different soon enough, and often enough.  And if you're in a group with your bestie of besties (which has the potential to derail learning and/or drive your teacher crazy), no worries ... it'll be different soon enough, and often enough!

Then - and here's the part I'm really pleased with - I created labels for each child.  So whomever I put in slot 1 gets a sticker with their name, four solid circles and a solid edging around it.  And I did this for all 24 of them.  Like this:

All the F1's are because I created it as a mail-merge so I can easily use it with each class list. That's where the name goes.  NOW, each day I can decide if they will sort by color, by shape, by shading/filling, by number, or by edge style... and I just have to post it as part of the warm-up so they know where to sit when they come in.  And, so they can keep it straight, the stickers will go on the front of the notebooks they will be required to have everyday ... as inspired by a blogger to whom I now refer as "I Heart Claydon."  I can't figure out how to post the word file with all 24 labels (sigh...).  If you want it, comment and I'll email it to you.

HERE is the question of the hour:  Is it as brilliant and efficient as it sure seems to me to be?  Or is it just that it's so stinkin' cute that I can't help but be enamored of the idea?   As the military analyst who teaches history across the hall from me always says - no plan survives first contact.  Any suggestions on what might ensure success with this?


New thought - I wonder if I want one set to be gender-grouped.  Any thoughts??


New groups for 2nd quarter ... new clever idea.  update here


  1. This is amazing! I like the thought behind it and why you are putting it together. I too jumped into CCSS and Cooperative Groups this year and had the same issues with my students and their groups. Sometimes I rocked the groups when I put them together and other times they bombed, but because of the way I did my class, I didn't want to change them and would struggle for 6 weeks until I changed them again. I like the idea of having set groups all year that change per day or activity. However do you think this would hinder the cooperative grouping process of working together if instead of working together for let's say a month, they are with each other only 4 times? Would it make them less comfortable to share and communicate? Or would it provide just enough "randomness" that they would be open to working together effectively?

    I would LOVE the file. I need to find a way to modify it for 36-40 students though. :) I am also thinking it would be helpful to have a poster or sign that you put on the door or outside the door telling students which groups they sit with each day. How would they know which table to sit at?

    And props to you for using mail merge...I have NEVER been able to figure that out!

    1. I'm so glad you like it!! I will have to modify this, too, as there's no way all my classes will have exactly 24 students, but I think it's a good start. My husband also thinks (although he used words I didn't understand) that there would be a simple solution for 36 students. When do you go back to school?

      As for knowing which groups to go to ... I didn't mention this because I haven't done it yet ... I bought little bins at the dollar store, and got paint sticks from Lowe's, and clothespins at a yard sale. My idea is to hot-glue the sticks to the bins with the clothespins at the top. Then I'll have sets of cards - one for each color, one for each shape, etc - and each day pull the set we're using and stick them on the clothespins, and one bin on each table. So then, when they come in, they can see right away that it's "shapes day" and find the table with their shape on it. I figure I can use the bins for tape/glue for their notebooks, or measuring tapes, or whatever we need for class that day. Can you picture that? Does it even make sense? See... that's why I didn't include it in the post - a picture would be so helpful!

      I do understand your concerns about changing groups too often to be comfortable. My school is small, and they all know each other, so I hadn't given it that much thought. It's a good question. Then again, if you used those same 5 rotations, it probably wouldn't take long before they knew everyone in the class well.