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Students working togetherIt's A Wild Ride - Working Together

"Planning for student group work is something that needs to be carefully thought out. We wanted a unit that reinvented the group process, where the students recognize the difference between groups that have created synergy and regular group work. Students need to experience this distinct difference."
Theresa Maves

It's a Wild Ride grew out of a roller coaster unit that Theresa had done in her science classes for two years. It was originally a two-week culminating activity to a unit on Newton's Laws of Motion. During a summer institute in 1999, the team decided to expand it as an interdisciplinary unit and incorporate it under a year-long theme of Community. They scheduled the unit for the end of the year, presenting it as an aspect of community they called "Beyond the Basics"a study of what society has developed for pleasure and recreation once basic needs are met.

Leading the Way
The team feels that it is necessary for one subject area to lead any interdisciplinary unit they develop. They try to arrange for a different subject to lead each interdisciplinary unit. This helps to divide the workload and leadership responsibilities among the teaching team throughout the year. It also helps when forming student groups.

"Science led this unit which means that groups were formed out of my class, therefore group work was done in my class. I also led the unit among the teacher group coordinating curriculum and schedules." Theresa Maves

Managing Time, Planning and Organizing
Theresa, Meile, and Jill put significant time into planning and coordinating the schedule of activities during the multifaceted project.

"Our goal for this year was to get as much done on school time as possible since we have a 90-minute planning period, but it still hasn't happened. We know that if other teachers are to replicate any of our units or ideas, we must keep them efficient. To save ourselves from burnout we know we must use our time wisely and decide what will get the most powerful learning results with the least amount of time involved in planning."Theresa Maves

Although they enjoy and take advantage of the extended block of school day time they often work "after-hours."

"We are far from being workaholics; it is just that when we do work it is intense. We tend to go several weeks without working on anything and then put in some marathon sessions." Theresa Maves


Daily schedule

Scheduling Time Planning the Sequence of Activities
The planning time pays off and results in a sequence of activities that coordinates introduction of the new content, skills, and processes in each separate classroom. A daily calendar shows the activities taking place on each day in the three classrooms.

But even the best laid plans need adjusting. While engaging, the project requires the students to be highly focusednot something that is necessarily in great supply as the school year winds down. The team has made plans to conduct this unit earlier in the school year.

"One of the main things we learned is that 8th graders 'check out' in May. We have never noticed this before because we are usually in review mode and dealing with instruction that is more traditional. . .which is perfect for this end-of-the-year mentality." Meile Harris


Using redbook

Staying Organized
Each teacher used her regular methods to help students stay organized, including step-by-step task descriptions, review and reporting at the start of the period, and journaling during the extended group work. A last-minute plan to develop a booklet for the final group design task was especially valuable. These small Red Books were given to every student and contained all sub-tasks for each role and provided places to keep track of individual progress.

"The Red Book idea did not occur to us until several weeks into the unit. We really felt like the students needed an organizing system that was set apart from what they normally do for classes. It emphasizes the 'integrated' idea behind the learning." Jill Whitesell


Students on floor

Working on Jobs
Students had individual but interdependent tasks during the final group project. Architects and engineers needed to coordinate their work carefully so that designs and dimensions matched. The researcher had to respond to team needs for information and complete a report to support the final presentation. The public relations director had to keep the group work coherent and moving toward the final eventa presentation of the ultimate ride!

Sharing Progress
Because the groups were established during science class, it was the one class when each group member could share with the group and report progress. They used a group reporting form.



Producing Results
The time and hard work yielded results. Student presentation days are fun-filled and successful. Most of the groups supported their presentations with a PowerPoint slide show, a few teams created Web sites, one team created a video, and another produced a clay-animation video.

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