Few things are more rewarding as an educator than seeing my students take full ownership in their learning. However, as a Health Science CTE instructor, my Project Lead The Way Biomedical Innovation students continue to amaze me daily. Initially, it was overwhelming having a Biomedical Innovations course with nearly 40 students. However, since my school is fairly small with approximately 400 students, my Biomedical Innovations classes were fairly imbalanced in size due to a scheduling conflict with a College Statistics course.
However, incorporating the cooperative learning model in my Health Science CTE courses this year has resulted in the most significant instructional improvement as an educator. Using the cooperative learning model, each student is assigned a specific role for each project/lesson. These roles include the facilitator, task manager, recorder/reporter, resource manager, and spy. I randomly assign students to their groups for each module, giving students the opportunity to work in a variety of peer combinations and group roles.
In my experience, having this group structure established became a necessity since my class periods are only 45 minutes in length and any instructional transitions simply limit the amount of class time available for my students to complete the various “missions” within the curriculum.
I have included a brief description for each role below:
The Facilitator- Helps their team get started, makes sure each person understands the task. Helps everyone know how to get started.
The Recorder/Reporter- Shares the team’s results with the class. Speaks to the teacher when the entire table has a question. Records the group’s work on posters/projects when applicable. Makes sure that each team member understands what information s/he needs to record in their notes/notebooks.
The Resource Manager- Gets necessary supplies and materials. Makes sure the team has cleaned up after each task/activity. Manages the resources/materials for each lab/activity. Seeks input from each person during classwork and then calls the teacher over to ask a team question.
The Task Manager- Keeps the team focused on the assignment. Works to keep the team discussing the project. Checks in with each group member to make sure assigned tasks are being completed.
The Spy- When the team is stuck, the Spy can go to another team and listen or observe at their work. Rules for the Spy include: May not talk to or touch any other team or their work/supplies. May only get up as a Spy ONCE during a class period. Absolutely no talking of any kind when observing other groups in the Spy role. The Spy reports back what they heard/learned/say to their team once s/he returns to the table.
Having these defined roles in a highly activity-based, problem-based course, such as my Health Science CTE courses greatly increased the effectiveness of my instruction, quality of work produced by my students, and overall student engagement. It has also created a culture where students are encouraged to discuss and solve their problems on their own as they collectively work as a group to complete each task. The use of huddles, along with using the cooperative learning model, has helped tremendously as well. Instead of starting each class with upfront, entire class discussions, my students have been trained to start immediately on their task for the lesson. While students are actively working in their groups, I often request a huddle with one of the specific roles mentioned above.
For example, Resource Managers know it is their responsibility to gather the needed supplies for each activity or lesson. With such a large class of nearly 40 students, I simply cannot maintain and manage all the supplies necessary for the many open-ended, kinesthetic projects in my Biomedical Innovation course. Effective use of these huddles has also provided a means of sharing essential information to my students necessary to complete their projects without inhibiting their current work production or interrupting their focus on the assigned task.
Having these systems and routines established in my Health Science CTE course has created a strong sense of student ownership and responsibility for all my lessons. My students continue to amaze me with their inquiry mindset and their ability to solve complex tasks with minimal instruction or intervention from their teacher. As an educator, I could not be more proud of my students as they continue to perform well academically and explore the various issues involved in the healthcare and medical field in the 21st century.