My team teaching partner Mr. Huntimer and I had great discussion today pertaining to collaborative learning. We happened to be talking to one of the more experienced teachers in our department about allowing (or forcing) students to work in groups to solve problems.
Our consensus was this...
We live in a world very different than 5 years ago and very, very different than 10 years ago. Because of changes in society and the increase in technology available to children these days, the students who walk through our classroom doors are very different than the students who walked through our doors a decade ago.
A large percentage of teenagers and young adults have spent the past three or four years being addicted to their smart phones and social media. Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, some other sites that I have no knowledge of, and Facebook are the nicotine of the 21st Century to these students. They're addicted and can't ever have enough.
Mr. Huntimer and I agreed to supervise lunch this year and our school has closed campus for freshmen. Students are allowed to use their phones / devices between classes and during lunch. It's amazing to walk through the lunchroom on a typical day. Many times all eight students at a table are staring at their 5 inch screens with glazed eyes and blank expressions on their faces. Sometimes students are texting the person they are sitting adjacent to! There is minimal face-to-face interaction and even less awareness of their surroundings.
Our solution to this "lack-of-social-interaction" problem developing in our students today: FORCE them to collaborate in class. We have students work in groups of two or three for many of our tasks. For example, tomorrow's plan for geometry is for students to come to class with as much of the homework completed as possible. (The homework was a typical angle relationships assignment - linear pair, vertical angles, algebra mixed in, complementary / supplementary.) Then in class, their first task is to take 10 minutes are compare solution methods with their partners. We expect students to have meaningful discussion if their answers don't match. We expect them to discuss solution methods if their answers do match. Regardless, they are expected to be interacting w/ each other for the first 10 minutes. It should be a bit noisy, and we want that. After all, our lunch duty is more like library duty.
I'll try to remember to post a picture of what that looks like.