Helping learners develop collaborative problem-solving skills requires careful planning to ensure all are engaged and challenged. In this blog post, Anthony BandyAssistant Head Teacher at King Edwin Primary School, shares six top tips drawn from his experience of participating in the NACE/NRICH ambassador scheme.

Inspired by research highlighting key skills and attributes for the next generation of citizens and employees, NRICH has created free resources to help learners develop mathematical “habits of mind” at primary and secondary levels – focusing on resilience, curiosity, thinking and collaboration. Each of these four key areas is broken down into different strands of maths, making it easy for activities to be delivered as part of regular maths sessions.
When using these resources to help learners develop collaborative problem-solving (CPS) skills, here are six top tips for effective implementation…

1. Explore perspectives on collaboration

When conducting research on effective approaches to developing collaborative problem-solving skills, the NRICH team discovered something they hadn’t even thought of. When asked about working with numbers, one in three surveyed learners said they felt working together was actually cheating! This is useful to bear in mind. Spend some time exploring existing perspectives on collaboration in your class and school – you may need to work on changing learners’ (and possibly teachers’) attitudes to collaborative learning.

2. Use “think, pair, share” 

Before some collaborative activities, some learners will need a bit of time to get their head around the problem. “Think, pair, share” is a great way to facilitate this, allowing time for independent thinking as well as collaboration. Learners start by working independently, thinking about the problem for themselves and making notes if they wish. They then discuss the problem in pairs and/or as a group, working around a shared large sheet of paper to discuss their answers, reasoning and strategies as they go along – great for developing maths talk.

3. Consider group size 

Some learners do not like working in large groups. In addition, the smaller the group, the higher the participation level of each child; larger groups could initiate passive learning. Consider group sizes before delivering the session – perhaps offer the option to work in twos, threes or fours.

4. Allocate roles and responsibilities 

One strategy for developing collaboration is to give learners allocated roles and responsibilities. This can be used in all teaching and learning sessions, giving learners a chance to try out different roles, and increasing participation levels. For example, you could have a Chief Noticer, tasked with noting down ideas using a whiteboard. Your Chief Questioner could be asking questions, such as “What do we notice? How do you know?” You could also have Chief Explainers, Chief Justifyers and so on…

5. Choose activities with different learners in mind 

A common concern when planning collaborative activities: how are you going to stop one learner taking over? To ensure all learners are motivated and empowered to participate, try to choose activities that will appeal to different interests and strengths. For instance, in NRICH’s Olympic measures activity, learners who are not usually highly engaged with maths, but who love and know about sports, can become the most important people in the room. 

6. Encourage learners to reflect  

At the end of each session, ask learners to rate themselves and their partner in terms of collaborative skills. If not a five out of five, what was missing? Why? Build in time to discuss collaboration and what skills are needed to be successful.

Free webinar for NACE members

Ems Lord, Director of the Cambridge University-based NRICH project, is running a free webinar for NACE members on 26 March, exploring effective approaches to develop collaborative problem-solving skills using low-threshold, high-ceiling maths resources. For details and to reserve your place, log in to our members’ site.

Anthony Bandy is Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for teaching and learning at King Edwin Primary School, where he teaches Year 5. He is currently participating in the NACE/NRICH ambassador initiative – a scheme offering the opportunity for NACE members to develop their use of the free resources provided by Cambridge University’s NRICH project, and extend maths collaboration across schools.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019