CL1 - Teaching Stories: Essays



Essays by Jenna, Monique and Daniel
by Cathy Middlecamp

TOPIC: You have had a number of experiences in Chemistry 108 where you have been asked to solve a problem or work a laboratory experiment with others, either in a small group or with a partner.

  • What do you see as the advantages of working with others? The disadvantages?
  • Are there any personal factors that influence your answer, such as being male/female, being an older student, or having English as a second language?
  • For teachers that are planning to use cooperative learning in their classes, what suggestions would you offer? What should teachers think about beforehand?

Jenna's essay urges teachers to "Go for it!" Although the advantages for her outweight the disadvantages, she still takes the time to comment on "pushy" or "lazy" co-workers.

Monique's essay offers her perspective as a minority student in a majority classroom. She and her TA were creative in making things work out for her.

Daniel's essay poses the question, "Ask yourself this simple question; which is more fun, going over hours of laboratory work by yourself, or finishing the work in half the time in the company of others?" Dan also comments about meeting folks he would not have otherwise.

Jenna's essay

I believe that cooperative learning is a great teaching strategy that makes learning more fun, interesting, and understanding. I have had the opportunity to be a participant of cooperative learning first hand. I have had a number of experiences with cooperative learning in Chemistry 108 and in past high school classes. I have been asked to problem solve, and work lab experiments with others, either with a small group or partners. I find that cooperative learning has many advantages, but as with any teaching technique it also has its downfalls.

I believe the advantages of cooperative learning far outweigh the disadvantages, as a result I believe that cooperative learning should be present in all courses taught on any education level. Cooperative learning is great because it allows different brains to concentrate on the same ideas. Since we all come from different parents, we all have strengths in different areas, this is perfect for cooperative learning. If you are not as strong in a subject, or do not fully understand the concept of a idea, your partner can help you understand and explain it to you. If you still don't understand they can try to put it in simpler, familiar terms. Usually two brains work better then one!! Cooperative learning also develops people skills, which are essential in today's growing world. Cooperative learning can also teach people to work together and more efficiently, usually a lab needs to be done in a certain amount of time. By working together, two people can get things done more quickly! Although cooperative learning has many advantages, it also has its drawbacks.

Disadvantages present with cooperative learning are often brought upon by lazy people! Sometimes one person is left with all the work because their partner doesn't pull their weight. I've had to deal with this before, when one person does not pull their weight it makes extra work for the second person. Usually with cooperative work the work that is assigned is for two people, now it is being done by one. Let me tell you with one person working in a chemistry lab, it's a challenge to accomplish the entire lab in a given time. Another disadvantage is if your partner doesn't understand the information at all, you can be slowed, just because you have to explain all the material before you can actually start solving or applying this information. The third disadvantage found with cooperative learning is pushy people! Sometimes you get stuck with a person who has to do all the work, and won't slow down for you. In some cases this can be good, if a lazy person is paired with a pushy person no one gets angry. But that brings up another good point, sometimes people just don't get along no matter how hard they try, their personalities clash. In these cases long time lab partners would be horrible, you spend more time over coming your differences than actually doing the work.

For teachers that are planning to use cooperative learning in their classes, I say go for it. Although there are some disadvantages, I personally like cooperative learning and believe in the long run the advantages far outrun the disadvantages. The only advice I'd give to teacher is watch how you pair people together. Yes it's true people should be able to overcome each others differences, but this is not always the case. I don't believe that students should be able to chose their partners, but maybe before you set cooperative groups up have them write on a piece of paper five people they wouldn't mind working with. The teacher then would pair them up accordingly and this way work gets done, but the student also can overcome the differences of the person they are working with. Overall I think cooperative learning is a great teaching strategy!

Monique's essay

There are many advantages and disadvantages to working in a group as well as partners. However, it might just depend on to whom the question is asked to. Since the question is being directed to me it seems as if my disadvantages outweigh my advantages and that is only in Chemistry 108 lab.

The advantages of working with others is that you may get your other group members point of view on the lab. They maybe able to help you to understand what the lab was all about, or even help you to calculate and bring up data in a easier way for you to understand. Team work also helps narrow down jobs to be done. Now, the disadvantages consist of everyone in your group not being able to put in as much input to what needs to be done and how to go by doing it. Sometimes the members in your group may work faster then others which may cause tension because no one wants to stay in lab pass 3p.m.. And at times you will be put into a group that has groups inside the group. These couple of advantages and disadvantages has helped me to realize that not everyone sees things the same as me, because I figured since we were all freshmen we wouldn't mind socializing with other but I guess if you are roommates with a group member or even live in the same dorm with a member then you will feel more comfortable with each other.

My personal factor that has helped me to come up with my answers to earlier questions is that being a minority on a majority white campus would often cause me to be looked at different. The first day we had a lab and we had to break off into groups, Nichol and I had teamed up with 3 other girls who seemed to know each other from the dorm and other places. When we started to work they were working among themselves and not even letting us know what they was doing. After doing the lab just a little faster then us we decided that was okay and we would just compare answers afterwards but it didn't work like that and we ended up asking our TA.

That was the first time and I thought that it would be the last. Not so. Here it is another lab and the groups were formed already and Nichol and I were standing alone and it seem to every one else that they had enough people and they couldn't use another one so our TA saved the day again and placed us into a group. This is caused by the freedom to place ourselves into groups which we want to get work done. To some they may not feel that it could be doing any harm but the harm is done to the one on the outside.

After this and other group problems, Nichol, Bennie (who is Korean), and myself started our own continued group. This might seem as an exaggeration, but you will never know until it happens to you. Nevertheless, I often kept an open mind about things because not everyone is the same. For teachers that are planning to use cooperative learning in their classes, I strongly suggest that if all possible you should set up groups yourself and appoint the groups members. This will help to get use to each other, and/or change the group members up once in a while so the same people wouldn't be together all the time. The changing up idea will help students to get to know other students in the class.

Daniel's essay

Chemistry 108 has taught me many things about working with groups of people. I have always been eager to do work with others because I believe that it has many advantages with grades, social interaction, and keeping an open mind about your classmates.

Personally, I really enjoy the time that I spend working with groups. There have been many times throughout the semester that if I hadn't been working with a group I may have given up on the assignment. Groups tend to push each other to do the work the right way and most of the time in a much more entertaining matter. Ask yourself this simple question; which is more fun, going over hours of laboratory work by yourself, or finishing the work in half the time in the company of others that find the work just as monotonous but together make it fun enough for everyone? Obviously people would rather do the work faster and in a more entertaining manner and this is exactly what group work has to offer.

In my discussion section I have a student who is easily ten to twenty years older than the rest of the students, including myself. Personally, I probably wouldn't have said much to the student just because I enjoy talking to people my own age and usually find that I don't have very much in common with older people. However, through group work, I have found this student to be extremely interesting and even one of the funniest people I have met this year.

There are also students in my section that don't speak English as their primary language. Although I haven't had the opportunity to work with these people as much, I know from the limited amount of questions that they have asked me that group work is sometimes the only way that they can really comprehend exactly what they are doing. I know that the TA's are there for their questions, but nobody likes asking the teacher millions of questions, especially if they seem elementary to someone who speaks the native tongue. I believe that group work helps these students fit in much better and have more social interaction with people than if the class was more of a "every man for themselves" setting.

Overall, I believe that group works helps in a variety of different ways. Of course there are always the slackers that don't do the work and free ride the answers from other students, but they would still be doing this even if we didn't work in groups. Group work's advantages greatly outweigh its disadvantages and I would really like to see more group work in this class as well as my others.

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