Middle school science teachers Sharon Surette and Hannah Hopkin promote cooperative learning in their classrooms. Applying Kagan methods to their classrooms, each creates an environment that makes student engagement primary to the learning experience.
Ms. Surette invited me to stop by her room halfway through a block class to see how students respond to cooperative learning. I was there on a day middle schoolers were reviewing the purpose of lab safety procedures. Students are grouped by teams at tables. When one student stands to give an answer, his or her table mates cheer. The class claps for correct answers, and to extend understanding, students have the chance to consult with one another before and after a whole class activity.
One way Ms. Surette and Mrs. Hopkin respect students’ needs is to give brain breaks. Get the body up and moving. The moment away from a lesson wakes up bodies and minds so students return to the lesson newly refocused. Here is what five or seven minutes of moving in the middle of science class looks like:
Table groups hold hands and keep a balloon in the air. Go ahead and try it at home! Add a second balloon. One group managed three balloons, once, Ms. Surette said, For maybe five seconds.
Students returned to their tables, ready for the second half of class. What I was impressed by was how much of a routine this break was – not a disruption, but a totally expected part of the class. As the school year continues, let’s check in with Ms. Surette and other teachers using cooperative learning in their classrooms, and consider the reasons behind the practices. And let’s hear from the students, how this approach supports their learning.