A Few Words about Cooperative Learning in Chemistry
Dr. E. T. Bell-Loncella

  You're sitting there, wondering, like the little guy to the left, "What's cooperative learning?" and "why is this page linked to a chemistry class?" After all, this isn't an education class, is it? It does say Chemistry at the top of the page!

No, this isn't an education class. Yes, it is (still)  Chemistry. The reason for the handout is that much of the classroom learning this semester will be done in a cooperative format. If you have been in one of Dr. Bell-Loncella's classes before, you're already familiar with this approach; if not, then you might appreciate some introduction. Cooperative Learning isn't some new phrase coined by the prof, it is a highly structured form of teaching/learning using groups. Don't get too comfortable with the idea that you'll get in a group of "brains" and ride along. In these groups everybody has a job, and everybody works, and the groups are very heterogeneous (an integrated mix of skills and talents).

If you've never had the opportunity to learn in a cooperative environment, you are probably wondering why bother. There is a large body of literature on the structure and benefits of cooperative learning. The reasons in favor of using cooperative learning are numerous. Here are a few:

Cooperative learning is based on five basic elements - which form the acronym "PIGSFace"             There are a variety of settings in which we will use Cooperative Learning. As a class you will be divided into groups that change composition (and size) over the semester. Students tend to sit in small groupings anyway. One kind of grouping, called Informal Cooperative Learning Groups, uses this as the starting point. For example, I might "lecture" for a short period of time. Then I will ask you to turn to your partner and discuss a question I posed which relates to the material. In this scenario, each member of the pair must Formulate and individual answer, then Share their answer with their partner. Each person must Listen carefully to their partner's answer. Then the pair must Create a new answer that is superior to their initial formulation through the process of association, building on each other's thoughts, and synthesizing. I might randomly call on a member from several pairs to explain the answer before going on to another topic.

            A more structured task-oriented arrangement would use what are called Formal Cooperative Learning Groups. Now, the group has a specific size (4 to 6), a specific task (problem of some sort to solve) and each member has a clearly defined role. PIGS-Face applies very strongly here. In order to accomplish the group task, each group member must have a role. There are two general categories, work roles and group roles. These are discussed below:

 How does a Formal Cooperative Learning Group operate? Your goal is to accomplish a specific task; this may last just one class period or several weeks. You will work together to accomplish shared goals. You have two responsibilities: 1) maximize your learning and 2) maximize the learning of everyone in the group. When we do work in Cooperative Learning Groups, I will begin by first providing you instructions and the learning objectives for the assignment. Second, I will assign everyone to a group, provide you with the necessary materials and perhaps assign roles for the task. Third I will explain the task and the cooperative structure (this is different from the first step) and allow you to work on the project. While you are working I will monitor the functioning of the different groups and intervene if I see a need to (a) help you with your cooperative skills and (b) provide assistance with the academic part of the task --- if needed. Finally, I will evaluate the quality and quantity of your learning and ensure that your group conducted a fair self-assessment. Since you are working cooperatively, when you have a question, you should ask your peers first and then ask the instructor. When you are working in a group you are expected to interact with group mates, share ideas and materials, support and encourage each other's academic achievement, orally explain and elaborate the concepts and strategies being learned, and hold each other accountable from completing the assignment.

The most common type of cooperative Learning assignment will be Problem Solving. You will find that nearly every Cooperative Learning Problem Solving Lesson has the same basic components.

Group Assessment

Name  /  Role 
Name  /  Role 
Name  /  Role
Name  /  Role 
Preparation for Activity          
Participation in Activity          
Quality of Participation          
Use of roles          
Focus on strategy          

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Last Updated:  8/20/01