Ultimate Class Champions!
Sara O’Connell, Menasha, WI
I recently had an enlightening experience regarding the way I encourage better teamwork within my student groups. In past years, I have used a Participation Quiz during lessons to encourage teams to work together. I set it up using points, with each team starting with three points. The team lost points if they were not working together well or staying on task. I raised the score to four if they were showing exemplary teamwork. The points were organized in a Google Sheets spreadsheet that I would project during class, and I could change points using the Google Sheets app on my phone.
This year, I decided to try a Participation Quiz for the first time with my Algebra classes when they were working on exponent rules. In my morning class, there was one student who had finished all of the problems, and was talking to a student in another group. I redirected both students, asking them to talk with their own teammates and help each other check for correct answers. One of the students questioned why they could not talk since they both had their own work done. I explained that it is important that the entire team understands the content, and that the ability to work in a team is a lifelong skill. The student responded that the team got it, they just were not done yet. I referred back to my Participation Quiz that I was conducting – if they did not work together as a team, they were going to lose points. This is where my approach backfired. The student responded that the points did not matter to them, because participation should not even be a part of the grade. However, as the entire team was losing points, other students in the group voiced concerns about their grades. I was also concerned about this student’s attitude toward the importance of teamwork.
After class that hour, I consulted with some colleagues about how to approach the situation. I was looking for some resources that would help me have a better conversation with my student about why we need to be able to contribute effectively to a team. I received several articles and suggestions, which I did later use to conference with my student, but I also received a suggestion about how to change the atmosphere of my Participation Quiz. Instead of starting a team with three points, and deducting points for poor teamwork behaviors, I should turn the quiz into a game! I created another Google Sheets document, this time with a bar graph showing how many points each team had.
I also listed the “rules” of the game – ways that teams could earn points. Each team started at zero points, and could earn points for things like discussing the math problems, working together on the same problem, asking a question to another teammate, explaining their answer to another teammate, checking work with each other, etc. The side of the graph was labeled with different levels – 0 points was “Bench Warmers,” 5 points was “Rookies,” 10 points was “Amateur,” 15 points was “Pro,” and 20 points was “Ultimate Class Champions!” The main difference was that the game would reward positive behaviors, instead of penalizing negative behaviors.
I tried the game out in my afternoon Algebra class, and the transformation was unbelievable! The first thing I noticed was the increased focus on the task at hand. My students in the afternoon class also had a better understanding of the content that day than my morning class. I heard some great things being said within groups: “Are we all on the same problem?” “Can you help me with this?” “Let me show you what I did.” There was a sense of friendly competition within the classroom, but all in a positive way – they all wanted to reach the status of Ultimate Class Champions! It accomplished the same goal as my original Participation Quiz – to stress the importance of team behaviors – but the game focused on positive behaviors. It really accomplished two things for me – better class management and better teamwork! Since trying this game, I have had several students from that hour ask if we can “play the game” again. To me, that is the mark of success!