Managing lab partners and groups requires …

  • knowing what to do when the group gets stuck and asks, “What do we do next?”
  • organizing effective groups that accomplish their goals.
  • managing questions from different groups to avoid having to repeat yourself.

Possible strategies for addressing these issues include asking questions that encourage students toward deeper reasoning, such as these:

  • What did you find when you did … [earlier part of the lab]?
  • What does this mean … [a term, a figure]?
  • How does this relate to … [earlier information]?
  • How do we measure h ?
  • What is your goal for … [next part]?

To help students work better in groups, you might determine which students are the strongest, then promote teamwork by asking them to explain their ideas to their groups. Furthermore, when a group member asks you a question, don’t answer immediately. Instead, ask the other members of the group how they would approach the question. Often someone in the group will have an idea they haven’t shared. This technique fosters group interdependence. See Asking Effective Questions for more tips on formulating good questions.

If groups are not working well, you might assign groups randomly each week so that students get to interact with all their classmates. If some students work quickly and finish before others, ask them to help in other groups, or to begin their data analysis. If students are not working on what they should be, or seem distracted, ask specific questions about the process to get them back on track.

If you notice that many groups are getting bogged down in the same problem, it can be helpful to call the class together as a whole to discuss the difficulty. You can also identify a group that is doing well and ask them to explain their ideas to other groups. These kinds of interactions help students refine their ideas.

Equity Issues in Group Work

Students sometimes react negatively toward group work. This is often because some members feel they will have to do an uneven share of the work, and that grades will not reflect individual effort. Of course, personality conflicts can also arise.

Repeated personality conflicts or other difficulties can be averted by randomizing the groups each lab period. It also helps to assign specific tasks to each group member. Asking teammates to evaluate each other’s work can clarify who has been responsible for the group’s progress, and assigning grades individually as well as for the group will help alleviate fears of unfairness.

It can also help to explain to your students why group work is valuable to them. See Group Work: Design Guidelines for a discussion of this topic and other topics related to Group Work.