Mini collaborative projects with presentations:
These are exercises done in groups of 2-4 that have to be presented to the class at the end of the given time. The goal is to get the students thinking about the class ideas and exploring on their own. The need to put together a couple of slides to present to the class helps them to organize their thoughts and to keep them on task. An example is given below.
Why should I use it? (How are they useful for the students? How are they useful to the instructor?)
This is a good way to get students involved in a task that is a bit more exploratory in nature. It is often helpful to give them several very specific questions that they are trying to answer and then one or two more open ended questions that will stretch them a bit. It is a good way to start a group discussion of a topic as well.
What is an example (or two) of the task? (see above)
How do these tasks fit into my class? How long will they take?
These tasks do take some time, but if there are problems/explorations that they are doing whether it is a lab, problem, etc it can be adapted to this model where they are asked to present at the end.
Should I do these problems in groups? How big? Who chooses them?
My preference tends to be for groups of 2-3. I think that any bigger and there are students who end up zoning out and not participating. It is a “group” activity, though so I think you need at least 2 people. In my class I assigned groups and then switched them half way through the semester so they were working regularly with these same people but not for the whole semester.
For which topics should I assign them?
I think that these need to have at least a piece that is a bit more open ended, but I think topic can be flexible. It worked really well doing this in the ALT room for things for which gathering information from the internet was helpful (like looking into different features on Mars).
How should I grade these problems? Should I grade these problems?
I did not grade these! In some sense it was part of their participation grade (i.e., did they do it) but it was not graded more than that.
What pitfalls do I need to avoid?
I think in the future I will try to give different groups slightly different questions and then only have one group that addressed each question present. It will require a scheme for randomly selecting a group, but this can suck up a LOT of time so clever monitoring of the issue is important.
What do I need to explain to my students about this new classroom activity?
I think that this needs to be embedded in a class where the culture of working in groups has been created. Other classes have claimed some trouble with getting students to present their work in this format class but we did this from the beginning and there was never any resistance.