I’m wondering how group activities can be done with 40+ students; I often give short, paired activities during lecture, which (hopefully) helps with engagement, but if I want to give a longer “exploration” activity in class, there are challenges.
Checking in with each group is takes a significant amount of time, scaling linearly. I tried to keep group size to 3-4 students, but dividing students into groups of 4-5 lead to having about 8-10 groups. The down time caused some groups to finish faster than others. There must be an optimal ratio for the number of students to square foot of classroom. I currently have 40 students, but the rooms are a lot smaller than the previous semester, I must alter the group activity plans. I also had 80 minutes sessions on Tues/Thurs instead of 50 and a much larger classroom for discussions/group work in the 4th hour. My lesson plans will require more adjustments, I suspect.
Some groups had members forging ahead before everyone understood, and that’s always a challenge as well. I wonder if larger groups are a good idea, because conversations between more than 5 students often turn to a few pairs and few solo working in parallel…
Clarity: Instruction and Feedback
This time around, when I lead the group activity I focused on the clarity of my instructions, and I’m trying a different approach this semester compared to last. Previously, I gave handouts with specific procedure, but it was confusing for some students. This time, I tried a different approach, where I verbally and visually give instructions on the board and forgo all printed handouts in order to allow for students to make their own notes instead of using data sheets. I think I might bring back the data sheet for the later activities, so that the students can know what I specifically expect from them. I should specify that students should use technology to assist in graphing and calculations.
In terms of feedback, I tried to ask questions and check for understanding, but the number of groups is high, which means I must spend less time per group, or make the group size larger. If I maintain that the groups have no more than 5 people, then I will have at least 8 groups – which can cause my feedback to the students to be less precise and more brief. Perhaps I can take a vote with my students, to see if they prefer trying larger groups, given the challenges above?
Looking back, I admire my high school teachers who managed to deal with 30 students at a time, and were able to conduct experiments in labs, with open flames, too.