Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 2, Issue 2, Article 9 (Dec., 2001)
Teresa T S WONG
Group work in science learning - international scenarios and implications for teaching and learning in Hong Kong
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Three Main Types of Cooperative Learning in Science

Cooperative learning is the most commonly used group work teaching strategy by all science teachers. Johnson & Johnson, two well-known pioneers in modern methods of cooperative learning have identified the three main types of cooperative learning: cooperative base groups, informal cooperative learning groups and formal cooperative learning groups (Johnson, Johnson, 1994). Definitions for these three types of cooperative learning are stated below coupled with illustrations with examples chosen from the seminar. Other science teachers may use these as their guidelines for forming cooperative learning groups in their classes.

I. Cooperative Base Groups

Cooperative base groups are long-term, heterogeneous cooperative learning groups (lasting for at least one semester or year) with a stable membership, whose primary responsibility is to give each member the support, encouragement, and assistance he or she needs to progress academically and develop cognitively and socially in healthy ways. The following example, which is a French nationwide compulsory project applicable to different subjects including science, illustrates the use of this type of setting for cooperative learning.

Recently, French high schools have included compulsory group work projects in their curriculum. TPE (Travaux Personnels Encadres - translated into Supervised Personal Work) is a compulsory project assignment for all Grade Eleven students in France. Each student needs to spend a semester on a research project worked out in groups. The final products of the project consist of a group component and an individual student component. This research project also includes an oral report. Each student is assessed for his/her collaboration effort among the group as well as his/her personal production. In the twelfth grade of the French curriculum, this research project becomes optional but can be included as part of the Baccalaureat (Final Examination for High School). Although it is not specified in the seminar whether or not the project is related to science, but the project organization may well be suited for all science subjects such as conducting science investigation and scientific research study.

II. Informal Cooperative Learning Groups

An informal cooperative learning group is one in which students work together in temporary, ad hoc groups that last for only one discussion or class period to achieve joint learning goals. Informal cooperative learning groups are used to focus student attention on the material to be learned, create an expectation set and mood conducive to learning, ensure students cognitively process the material being taught, and provide closure to an instructional session. The one-period long group work activity designed for conducting any laboratory work in small groups (usually of 3-4 students) is an example of an informal cooperative learning group.

Group work is appropriate for laboratory work in science lessons because it is not always possible to provide material for individual manipulation.

III. Formal Cooperative Learning Groups

The formal cooperative learning group is the most widely used method as almost all teaching examples provided in the on-line seminar were classified under this method. A formal cooperative learning group is when students work together for one or several class sessions to achieve shared learning goals and jointly complete specific tasks and assignments. These groups provide the foundation for all other cooperative learning procedures. They are structured through pre-instructional decisions, setting the task and the cooperative structure, monitoring the groups while they work, intervening to improve task-work and teamwork, evaluating student learning, and processing group functioning.

In order to ensure that all students have individual accountability (one of the Johnson & Johnson five basic elements of cooperative teams) and are actively involved in the groups, it is typical for teachers to assign a specific task/role for each group member. Teachers may assign roles to students according to their strengths and abilities, or teachers may allow students to choose their roles once they have gained a certain level of comfort and independence. Some typical tasks for formal cooperative learning in science are principal investigator, material manager, recorder, spokesperson, timekeeper, gatekeeper, checker, encourager/praiser (Sherman, 1994). Teachers in the seminar suggested that, when forming small formal cooperative learning groups for students conducting experimental activity, the roles may include organizer, record writer, assistant, observer. The goals of the teacher are to maximize interdependence and active learning among students.

Although assigning roles to group members can facilitate group work, French teachers have noted that as more mature students become accustomed to doing group work, it is less necessary for teachers to define and fix the different functions/roles within the group. Students become capable of organizing themselves as they gain experience.

Copyright (C) 2001 HKIEd APFSLT. Volume 2, Issue 2, Article 9 (Dec., 2001)