Today I am trading blogs with Laura Candler of Corkboard Connections! You can read her insightful post about cooperative math problem solving right here and then hop on over to Corkboard Connections to read my post about Task Cards.
I realized that the missing piece of the puzzle was providing time for students to work alone before working with a partner. This step was especially critical in math because the process of struggling with a problem and trying different strategies can lead to new insights and understandings. If we ask students to immediately turn and talk to a partner, we’re depriving them of the chance to figure it out on their own.
To address this need, I developed the Cooperative Problem Solving (CPS) strategy, which has four important steps. If you use CPS more than once on a given day, it occurs in a cycle like the one shown above. You can download this visual from Teaching Resources if you want to use it with your class.
Steps of Cooperative Problem Solving
- Teacher Presents the Problem - Display a math problem on the board, hand out a worksheet, or ask students to turn to a problem in the math book. Read the problem aloud or ask them to read it silently. You’ll find free Daily Math Puzzler worksheets on my Problem Solving page that would work well for this activity.
- Students Work Alone - Ask students to work the problem alone, preferably on dry-erase boards so they can easily erase their work and try different strategies. They turn their boards face down when they have a preliminary answer or you tell them that time is up.
- Students Work Together - Students compare and discuss answers with a partner or with a team. I generally prefer partner work in math, but if the problem is really challenging, I allow the entire team to talk it over and work it out together. If students realize that their answer was wrong, they may change it, but they must show the work to go with their new solution. They don't all have to agree, but each person should be prepared to explain his or her answer.
- Class Discusses Solutions - Reveal the answer to the class and call on students to share how they solved the problem. Instead of focusing on a single "right" way, challenge your class to come up with as many ways to solve it as possible. Allow different students to hold up their dry erase boards or place them under a document camera as they explain their solutions. If students are required to record an answer in a journal or on a worksheet, allow time to do this now, without talking to anyone.
Even if your students record the answers on a worksheet, the answers are not a true assessment of their skills. You still need to assign independent math problems on a regular basis. Doing so holds students accountable, not only for completing the work, but for learning the skill.
For more problem-solving strategies and information, read my blog post on this topic on Corkboard Connections. You'll find a link there to a free webinar on Daily Math Problem Solving. You might also consider attending my summer workshop, The Dynamic Duo: Putting the Punch in Math Instruction, because I teach the CPS model in depth in that session.
Do you use cooperative learning in your math class? What are your favorite strategies? Do you think it's possible to do too much cooperative learning? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Laura Candler is the creator of the Teaching Resources website and the author of the Corkboard Connections blog. She's written over a dozen print books and ebooks for educators including Mastering Math Facts, Math Stations for Middle Grades, and the Daily Math Puzzler series.