Group work doesn’t add up in math classes

Ian Blackburn, Staff reporter

Over the past few years, evidence has shown that the average student’s proficiency in math has increased. Just four years ago, Cleveland had to offer eight Algebra I classes because most students failed the class as freshmen. Now the number is down to five. Back then both AP Calculus and AP Statistics only had six students each. Today there are more than 60 students taking the advanced classes.

Cleveland’s improvement in mathematics is one of its greatest success stories. Since the implementation of the STEM program, the average math scores on standardized tests have gone up tremendously. Despite these upward trends, many students have found themselves frustrated with the school’s math department.

There is one glaring problem with the way that math is taught at CHS: group work. In every math class, students are split into groups of four and are given specific roles they must do to support their group. One role, for example, is the task manager whose job is to make sure that the entire group is focused on the work and not distracted by anything else. While the concept of assigning individual roles to students sounds good on paper, its execution is not so great.

Math teachers give out “group points” which are based upon how well each group member is performing in their role, and let’s be honest, not every high school student is going to make a good task manager. Group points are important because they are what make up the “collaboration” portion of a student’s grade.

It is silly and unfair to have a student’s grade drop slightly because they miss a few group points due to someone else not carrying out the duties of their role.

Aside from group roles, another one of our complaints is the strict rules surrounding group work. The math teachers make sure that each group member is working on the same problem at the same time, but sometimes this can conflict with the learning of students when they are not allowed to work at their own pace. It can also add pressure to the student who processes more slowly than everyone else and has to rush through a problem. The urge to keep up supersedes their learning for fear of holding the group back.   

Also, students could be using the time spent waiting for group members to catch up on getting much- needed practice. Times when the system of group work can be especially problematic are when there is one group member that decides to slack off instead of working on the current task, causing everyone else in the group to lose points. Just one person not caring about the work can cause a group to fall apart.

Our stance is not to get rid of group work altogether; in fact, we believe that group work aids in learning quite a bit. Our issue is with the way that group work is handled and points are awarded.

But perhaps getting rid of group roles or grading students based on their individual merits would feel more  fair  to  students. Whatever  the change may  be, we hope to see some sort of compromise between the two.

The writing staff of The Journal disagreed the math group work after discussing the merits of how points are awarded.