Building a Strong Mathematical Mind – Strand 4: Co-operative Group Work
Imagine having the opportunity to be in a room of brilliant people, not just for one day, but week after week. Imagine that, while in that room, you were able to listen to those brilliant people: to their logic; to their thoughts; and to their thinking. Also, imagine that you were able to share your own thoughts, getting immediate feedback from those people. In addition, imagine that you were able to ask them to help you with problems that you just couldn’t seem to get through. Wouldn’t that be exciting?
Now, imagine your children having the same opportunity, once a week for an entire year, and that even more is happening in that room: they are being taken care of and guided through the process while there. This is the magic of a Spirit of Math class.
When a group of high performing students who enjoy work like it is candy to their minds, and who thrive on challenging questions, get together they just can’t help but to get excited when they discuss intriguing problems. Their minds are stimulated by the interaction. The challenges they pose each other not only feeds their enthusiasm, but change the way they think – for the better. Who wouldn’t want their bright child to be in such an interactive environment?
Mathematics has often been taught as an independent subject, and unfortunately, one often thought of for people who want to keep to themselves. Because many very good math problems can take time to solve, math can take a person to a place where they will tend to isolate themselves. However, that’s not where it has to end. Working through difficult problems starts first by struggling through them on your own; but after a little while, you will need to ask someone else for some help. Learning to use the ideas of other bright people will generate an explosion of new ways to think, and consolidate well thought-out, logical and realistic ideas.
When a student writes their ideas on a piece of paper, they are able to view their ideas from afar; they have the opportunity to look at their thoughts in a more objective manner. The same happens when they have the opportunity to talk out loud: they are able to sort out their ideas in their minds even faster than writing it down. This allows others to then accept or challenge their ideas. By having their thoughts questioned by others, students are then able to change or consolidate their logic and their thinking.
Cooperative group work and presentation skills are stressed in the Spirit of Math class, not only for their essential life-skills benefits, but because teamwork is often essential for a student to get the solution to a problem. Through teamwork, students develop the ability to work effectively with others, learning from their peers, and learning how to make helpful contributions to group learning.
Cooperative learning is an integral part of the Spirit of Math approach. Our experience has shown that when we present mathematics at an appropriately complex and thought-provoking level, students naturally want to analyze their work and discuss ideas with one another. New understandings emerge and new ideas are generated more effectively.
Tutoring is good for students who have specific issues that need to be addressed. Students who come to Spirit of Math are looking to improve and stretch in all areas, and that is why a classroom situation is much more appropriate and exciting for them.
Spirit of Math is a school designed to meet the needs of high performing students. Students who want to excel past the capabilities of the regular day-school need to be in an environment where they are given material that necessitates discussion. Our students are given some very challenging material, especially in grades 5 and up. To be successful in this program they must learn the skills involved with working as a team. To the extent that they succeed, they join the top students in their nation.