Perspectives of Hands-On
Science Teaching

David L. Haury and Peter Rillero, 1994
7. What are some strategies for helping students work in groups?

"The teacher, acting as the director of research, with students working as science-research teams always has been a great way to teach science" (Small & Petrek, 1992, p. 30). Some see group work as particularly important in science classrooms. In addition to developing social skills and facilitating classroom management, working in teams reflects the way science is practiced. Science itself is a collaborative, cooperative enterprise. As Johnson and Johnson (1991) observe, just scan the list of articles in any issue of Science or other scientific journal and count the number of authors associated with each article. Scientists work in teams. As Rutherford and Ahlgren (1990, p. 189) point out, "the collaborative nature of scientific and technological work should be strongly reinforced by frequent group activity in the classroom." So, how do you facilitate group work in the science classroom?

Teacher Responses

Developer Thoughts

Notes from the literature


Helping students work in groups facilitates hands-on learning and directly engages students in the processes of science. "Doing science" requires learning skills associated with communication and cooperation as well as procedures associated with inquiry. In some cases it is beneficial to assign roles (with "job titles") to members of groups and to consciously establish heterogeneous groupings. It also seems important to communicate explicit expectations for both individuals and groups and to structure activities so interdependence is essential to successfully completing the assigned tasks. It is also important, however, to not provide too much direct guidance to groups; collaborative problem solving is to be encouraged over "getting the right answers."

Various cooperative learning strategies seem particularly useful in science classrooms. Variants of the "Jigsaw" approach, for instance, give all students the opportunity to be "experts" and contribute to group learning. For more background on cooperative learning and its many forms, refer to Using Cooperative Learning in Science Education by Patricia Blosser (1992).

In general, once students learned how to work productively in groups, one should resist the temptation to jump in too early and put the students on the right path. An essential part of the learning is finding out how to identify a path of inquiry and negotiate the path in collaboration with others.

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