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Supporting Collaboration in Math Class

June 3, 2015


How can teachers and students stay engaged with teaching and learning in June? As a former fourth grade teacher, I spent large amounts of my already precious time planning and organizing end of year projects, such as Geometry Town. While the students loved the project, the planning was time-consuming and chaotic. So how can you plan engaging end of year projects in minimal time? I know it might sound impossible but BetterLesson can help.  We have thousands of engaging lessons and end of year projects written by Master Teachers for you to peruse and use!

Michelle Marcus, a BetterLesson Master Teacher, ends her school year by asking her students, “What do we know about bat homes that make them safe and successful as roosts?“. Michelle’s third grade students work collaboratively to apply measurement, geometry, and the math skills they have learned to create bat houses.  Students need to determine the amount of paint for the houses and plan for nail placement. This is just one of the many amazing lessons BetterLesson’s Master Teachers have created to culminate the year.


So how can we support our students to stay on task in June or August?  How can we support students to collaborate authentically and effectively? How can we ensure that collaborative work in math continues to be effective and a rich learning experience?  Math group roles may be the answer. As a math TeachCycle coach, I worked with teams of teachers (elementary to middle school) to implement these roles in their classrooms this spring.

Math group roles provide each student with a specific task.  Group roles enable each student to be a leader in his/her own way, to be responsible for contributing to the task, and to be held accountable to stay on task. The four main roles are Task Manager, Resource Manager, Facilitator, and Reporter/Recorder.  Below is a quick explanation of each of these roles:

  • Task Manager ensures that everyone participates respectfully and reminds the group to justify their thinking.
  • Resource Manager manages the resources and asks group questions.
  • Facilitator reads the problem and supports the team to think through a solution for the problem.
  • Recorder/Reporter ensures that every member of the group has the same information on their paper and shares their thinking with the class.

A third grade TeachCycle team measured the percent of students who made one or more meaningful contributions during group work prior to the implementation and then after of group roles.  What did they discover?  All teachers noted an increase the number of meaningful contributions students made during group work after implementing these roles.  Students loved using the roles.  They collaborated more actively and they tried to solve their problems within the group rather than crowding around the teacher. (The task manager is the only member of the group that can ask a question after the group agrees it is worthy). [1]

As with any strategy we can continuously improve and refine the strategy to fit the needs of our students, but we can also try implementing an additional strategy.  Some of my teams opted to also implement a participation rubric.  This rubric helps to hold all students accountable to their roles and enables teachers to give targeted feedback for improvement. The teachers loved the rubric and noted how motivated the students were to score a four!

This is why BetterLesson launched TeachCycle.  We want to bring continuous improvement cycles to teachers by supporting teams to identify teaching challenges, to pick simple ways to measure progress and to implement strategies to see what is most effective for their students.

Together these two strategies offer structure and support for an effective, hands-on, collaborative classroom environment! Whether you are trying this strategy in June to support continued engagement and collaboration, or looking for a strategy to implement in August, math group roles and the participation rubric may offer an effective framework for providing students with the collaborative classroom that is crucial for our students.

[1]For more information on the TeachCycle process, visit my introductory blog here.

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