"There is no one way"

Friday, May 8, 2015

Random Groups

Peter Liljedahl is a math ed professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. He is interested in helping teachers create what he calls a "thinking classroom," as contrasted of course with a classroom where the main objective is memorization. I just read two phenomenal papers he wrote. Since his research confirms my beliefs, I will summarize his findings here, starting with "The Affordances of Using Visibly Random Groups in a Mathematics Classroom". (The paper is also available on ResearchGate.)

I am a long-time practitioner and advocate of random grouping of students. Student-created groups may have their place on occasion, but we all know the pitfalls: students' goals in forming the groups are often not the pursuit of mathematical understanding. Teacher-created groups are not much better. They may tend to reinforce a fixed mindset: "Am I supposed to be the smart person in this group?" Or they can change the subject from learning to other issues: "Does he think black kids should not be in the same group?" With regularly reshuffled random groups, these questions vanish, and the focus is on the math. I have typically used playing cards to assign groups, changing the groups every two weeks. (Read more about my approach here.)