Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Co-op learning

We're now four weeks into Science Club. We meet for two or three hours on Wednesday afternoon. I'm preserving my optimism with effort. We've done some fun things, from the planet walk to the 'elevate an apple' challenge, to printing evergreen foliage on clay tiles. We've touched on principles of gravitational acceleration, solar system orbits, taxonomy of trees, convection and plate tectonics. Some sorts of activities are definitely easier to do in groups.

Co-operative learning has a lot to recommend it, but I'm just not sure this group is going to make it work. I'm trying really hard to find ways to make it work, but truth be told I've never been able to imagine my kids being happy in this sort of co-op homeschooling arrangement. Erin is light-years beyond everyone else in general knowledge and although she's been polite about her boredom so far, I think it's asking a lot to expect her to stay cheerful and engaged (especially as she's in a similar situation in violin group class and community orchestra). Noah balks against anything that hints of comparativeness or competitiveness. Even just encouraging different kids to pursue the same task side by side invites a vocal self-congratulatory attitude from one of the other children, something which sends Noah into a motivational tailspin. When things get loud and chaotic, which they do, Sophie retreats into private play with her friend. Fiona gets clingy, and tends to be tired at that time of day.

If this flops, I will reassure myself that the kids are getting excellent, meaningful experience with co-operative learning and living through GRUBS, music ensembles and family life.


  1. Miranda, I came by to share a link with you and spotted this post. In my experience, some groups take a really long time to "get" cooperation, some never do, and some are naturals from the start. I've dealt with all of them, it feels like.

    Groups like yours are not easy! Since Erin's advanced, I'd certainly encourage her to jump in and "lead" the group to successful solutions. The kids will learn from her and hopefully it will give her a sense of enjoyment. You didn't really say what the trouble spots are with this group, but I've found that giving groups a challenge to complete without speaking is an excellent equalizer. Good luck!

    Oh, and here's the link I wanted to share:

  2. Kris posted:

    Aww, thanks for posting that! But I want the whole set!

    I'm back fresh from another Science Club, so I can post a few clarifying thoughts about the group dynamics. Basically the difficulty boils down to (a)inter-sibling dynamics and (b) too few adults for too many 'busy' preschoolers. I wrote a bit more about the age- and personality-range in post called "Science Club". It's a huge range!

    I'd love to put Erin and B. (14) in leadership roles. But both are extremely self-conscious, and Erin goes toxically mute and withdrawn if place in a centre of attention. They can be given scut-work ("fetch this, get that out, clean that up") but Erin especially will bail on the whole endeavour if I suggest she actually lead something or give her input. She and B. tend to retreat into private banter if things start moving a little slowly. They get along well and are very funny, but their retreat tends to trigger dispersal of group energy. Noah loves their banter, so he joins. M. (11) is fiercely jealous of her brother B's friendship with Erin, so she throws a hissy fit, complete with screaming and foot-stomping if she perceives that he is 'stealing' Erin. Then there's E. (5), who yells and foot-stomps if he isn't capable of the things the bigger kids are, or if he believes he's not getting his fair share of what his older sisters are getting. He also has a penchant for going overboard with almost everything, meaning he has to be very closely supervised lest he, as today, dumps all of ingredient A into something it's not intended for, despite being asked twice not to touch it, meaning we now don't have enough for what it was intended for. Meanwhile M. (2) is pouring olive oil on the table and stuffing pencils into the test tubes of emulsions and suspensions and trying to chew on molecular molecule beads. And Fiona is insisting I pick her up and hold her the whole time.

    Exhausting, let me tell you! I'd love a group that was just age 7-14, or two extra adults so that each little kid had one adult and there was at least one left over to facilitate the activities. I can dream....


  3. Whew! THAT is a wide age range - no wonder you're exhausted! The biggest age span I've ever done in one group has been maybe 3-4 years, and there weren't any under five years old. You painted a very vivid picture of how the day goes - I wanted a nap just reading it. Kudos to you for taking this on and sticking with it for awhile.

    I would love to include photos of your elevate an apple attempts on my blog if you'd care to email them to me. teamchallenges ~at~ krisbordessa ~dot~ com


This blog is moving to archive-only status. Please consider posting comments instead at the active version of the blog at

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.