Top 6 Reflections. Vote for your favorites

Dec 31, 2013 Update. 20 students sent me their votes for the top Improvement and top Insight reflections.

Here are the results for the top Improvement:

  1. familiarize ourselves with the material before class – 5 votes
  2. don’t skip the more difficult problems and study together outside of class – 3 votes
  3. set up checkpoints and rotate responsibility for bringing model kits to class – 5 votes
  4. establish friendly and strong communication in the group – 3 votes
  5. study and review together before exams – 3 votes
  6. stay on task and don’t “be talking about nonsense” – 1 vote

Here are the results for the top Insight (many of these were prefaced by, “the greatest surprise to me is”:

  1. actively engaging with the material helps me understand, but a lecture can also clarify key connections – 1 vote
  2. learn better by explaining things to others – 8 votes
  3. group work can be difficult because sometimes I am too shy to speak up and I don’t want to slow the others down – 5 votes
  4. genuine commitment to group work makes it more effective, everyone contributes in some form or other – 2 votes
  5. the ability to memorize seems to make the difference on exam and we need to find ways (e.g. mnemonic devices) that help this – 3 votes
  6. differences between groups can be surprisingly large – 1 vote

To read the original ground rules and the full reflections that people voted on, just keep reading.

I received SII (strength-improvement-insight) reflections from about half the students in our class. Thank you for taking the time to share your ideas and to let me publish them here.

Now we enter the second round in which you get to vote for your favorites. I am going to change one of the original contest rules and add two new ones:

  • Everyone can vote, not just the students who submitted reflections in round #1 (and you can vote for your own reflection)
  • Please don’t identify your reflection to your friends. Let your words speak for you.
  • The Top 6 contenders are anonymous and they are volunteers. They didn’t ask to be placed in the Top 6 and they didn’t offer their views as an alternative or competitor to anyone else’s. In short, they didn’t opt for public consideration of their reflections so please be respectful of their feelings. If you decide to discuss the Top 6 responses with your classmates and friends, please refrain from ridicule and attack.

Voting procedure and deadline. While it would be nice if there was a web form for this, you’ll have to vote the “old-fashioned” way by email. Please send me ( your favorite Improvement (one!) and your favorite Insight (one!) sometime during the next week. Votes must be received by 8 AM, Mon, Dec 9 in order to be counted.

Top 6 Improvements (these were responses to “Describe some additional thing you or others in your group could do to make group work more beneficial”). Vote for ONE.

  1. “One thing that we could improve on as a group is by familiarizing ourselves with the material before class. By that, I mean that we should make a better effort to read the assignments beforehand so that we can cover the in-class material more efficiently. I also think that it’s important for every group member to pay considerable attention to their group dynamic: If one or more people are struggling with that day’s material, reach out and help—others should do the same for you!”
  2. “Sometimes in order to keep with the pace that we set at the beginning of the activity, we skip some of the more difficult problems if we feel we’re truly stuck and none of us understand it. Though our overall pace would be slower, it might be more beneficial to stop and thoroughly think through the tough problems. Another improvement could be to study together. We all study on our own and with other people, but a little extra studying with each other couldn’t hurt.”
  3. “I think setting up checkpoints would be extremely helpful. By concurring to have a group check-in after completing up to page or question number (x) in the packet, everyone can still work at their own pace and relax knowing that there will be a time for group discussion about any troubles they had. One other idea is having a rotating responsibility where one group member brings the molecular modeling kits to class, that way there’s an extra resource to use and help visualize the concepts we’re learning about.”
  4. “We could improve on the balance of helping each other during times of confusion and keeping a swift pace. Sometimes a member will get stuck, yet everyone else in the group is confident. Even with explaining – the confused group member still is at a loss and not ready to move on. Other group members may get annoyed, as they want to move on. This sometimes causes a harmful tension. This is an interesting and tough part of group dynamics. Friendly and strong communication can help, like – “Hey, I can see what you are saying in how confusing that part can be! Alan might be able to really help after class. Let’s just try the next few questions for now, and maybe as we go on things will come together!””
  5. “I studied + reviewed with a group member just before our last exam, and to my surprise we both had our best scores (of the three exams so far) on that particular exam despite the increasing difficulty of the text; in fact it was a significant improvement on my previous exam scores. Based on this I think if group members studied + reviewed together (they don’t have to be regular study buddies or friends. Just study + review together for one night before the exam, and before new groups are formed) it might be very helpful to each member.”
  6. “Stay on task – We get along well, perhaps have too many things in common. With how important our time is in class, we can’t be talking about nonsense.”

Top 6 Insights (these were responses to “Considering all of the things that you have learned about group work this semester, what has come as the greatest surprise?”) Vote for ONE.

  1. “I’ve learned that learning to do things myself at the very beginning of the learning process solidifies my understanding of it. During lectures, if I am unable to understand something, my questions at hand may not be addressed, leading to further confusion when newer material is introduced. Because I am actively engaging myself during group work, I know that I will understand the material. However, sometimes the problem is that I am unable to make a lot of those “connections” as clearly as I would if a lecturer clearly diagrammed out, for example, the distinctions between many of the reaction mechanisms that we’ve gone over.”
  2. “One of the things that has surprised me the most about group learning is my own propensity to learn better when I have the chance to explain things to others. I think that new information is really cemented in your understanding when you not only have to think about it and write it down, but also explain your thoughts out loud in a way that makes sense to someone else.”
  3. “Sometimes I’m too shy to speak up when I don’t understand something, because I don’t want to slow the group down. I guess the entire dynamic of an impossibly long, often difficult packet is kind of stressful. I’m afraid my group will resent me if I ask for clarification, because it means more work that they’ll be obligated to complete outside of class. Obviously my response isn’t an entirely rational one, but it’s a feeling I haven’t been able to shake this semester, and it’s really made ochem emotionally difficult.”
  4. “The greatest surprise about group work for me this semester is just how effective it has been. I tend to retain more of what I learn doing problems with other people than doing problems on my own or through lecture only. Prior classes I have taken also required some form of group work on problems, but often many were not committed to working together and worked things out on their own which did not aid my learning nearly as much. In this class, however, mostly everyone contributes in some form or another.”
  5. “The greatest surprise is that a group of people can get vastly different scores on the exams even though they all do the same amount of studying and all seem to get the right answers in practice. It seems to be quite determined by the person’s innate ability to memorize, so people who have problems with memorizing by reading and drawing need to find new ways of memorizing, like with mnemonic devices.”
  6. “The greatest surprise to me is how different group work can be within different groups. Believe it or not, group chemistry plays a big part, and in some groups a self appointed leader emerges, and in some groups no one talks, and in some groups everyone learns and enjoys the exercises. Different kinds of people interacting with each other produce very different group experiences, much like in chemistry.”
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