Teamwork makes the dream work! But only if its Cooperative

Everyone has most likely done group work in the past. Many people, like myself, would dread having to find a group made of people I knew would actually contribute and not just leave the work of four people all on my shoulders. Either that or I would be assigned with a group of boys who were “Natural Born Leaders” and I would not be able to get in one word the whole time. But what if there was a better way? What if there was a way to ensure that each person in our group or “team” was a valuable member who needed to contribute in order for the team to succeed. This is what we call Cooperative learning.

Cooperative learning is different from group work in several different aspects:

  • Emphasizes the team: cooperative learning values the team as a whole, it helps students develop skills such as cooperation.
  • Each team member is valued: in cooperative learning each team member has a valuable job that only they are responsible. This makes every member a vital part of the team
  • No one person/team has all the answers: each team or team member in a classroom filled with cooperative learning should have one piece of the puzzle. In order to see the final, complete picture, students MUST work together and listen to their team members.

Cooperative Learning inside the Lab

Implementing Cooperative learning in a science classroom is a wonderful way ensure each student is actively participating in the content. It also gives students a support team if they have questions since each team member needs to be on the same page to ensure the best results for the team. But before you dive right into your teams, its crucial that you make sure each team has built a connection. This can ensure the team feels comfortable sharing ideas in the classroom

Having students come up with team names, a team flag, even a team salute can be great ways to build team spirit and connections. Team build exercises are also a great way to building that relationship while introduction the concept of cooperative learning. In this activity below, they must work together to save “Fred” from certain death!:

This activity is a wonderful way to build team relationships and requires all students to assist in some way. One of the most difficult parts of cooperative learning, especially in a science classroom is ensuring each student is contributing. If a student feels they have nothing to contribute because they have struggle with science in the past, they may shut down and let others lead. It is essential that that every student knows that each person brings uniques gifts, knowledge and talent to the team.

Here is a great example has to why cooperative learning is valuable. This clip from the show The Big Bang Theory, shows Sheldon coming to grips with the fact that we can’t win this contest on his own. He refuses to work with his teammates who can contribute and loses the game. On the other hand, his friends work together collectively win the competition, even though not one person knew every answer.

Another way cooperative learning engages students is by assigning them roles. For example in a lab a team of 4 can have a time keeper, a recorder, a materials keeper and a speaker. Each person plays a valuable role in making sure the team is on task and is focused. Here is a video that describes these roles in a classroom and how they play a valuable role in the team.

When to use Cooperative Learning

A rule of thumb for cooperative learning or any team learning is that, the work should be 25% or less of the students final grade. This helps to keep parents and administration happy. In addition to this, students, ESPECIALLY high schoolers, can get bored doing the same thing over and over. While cooperative learning is excite and a wonderful tool in your classroom, make sure you have other teaching methods to keep your classroom exciting!

Here is a wonderful example of cooperative learning in the science classroom. This teacher surprised his students with a crime scene investigation instead of an exam on forensic science. The reasons this is a great example of cooperative learning are:

  • Each team has several roles such as documentation tech, sketch artist, crime scene photographer and evidence collector.
  • The students relied on each other to gather all the evidence in a clear way so that they could make a CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning)
  • This activity takes place during several days so teams must make goals for each day they all agree on
  • This Lesson require weeks of planning by the teacher

Here is one more example of Cooperative learning in the classroom. This photo is from my AP Biology class in high school. Our project was to create a skit to teach our class about a specific genetic regulation process. Each team had a different process so we not only relied on our teammates but also the other teams to provide us with an understanding of their genetic process. Inside our group, we relied on each person being enthusiastic and doing their part to convey our message. This project was the most fun I have ever had in a group project and I firmly believe that is because it was based in cooperative learning. Our team bonded in making the shirts and we all had to work together as individual parts of puzzle, just like the process we were demonstrating. If even one person was gone, then our learning would have halted and we would have been lost.

Cooperative learning is vital tool in any science classroom. It teaches students collaboration, listening skills, and communication. Science itself is a communicative field so why shouldn’t we teach our students how to work with other scientists and work together for a common goal?


  1. Hi Mason!
    Thanks for the comments! I so glad you enjoy all my examples and videos. Cooperative learning provides so many “intangibles” for the students inside and outside of the classroom. In the classroom it provides a safety net for students while still putting them in charge of their own learning. It also teaches them appreciation for other’s input, and the confidence they need tp feel comfortable to provide their own ideas to the group.

  2. Great post! I really enjoyed watching the big bang video. It is a great show and I haven’t watched it in a while and I think it illustrates the point that you were making exactly. I also liked how many examples you gave! In the last paragraph of your post you started to mention some of the “intangibles” of cooperative learning such as collaboration and listening skills. I was wondering if you could provide some other intangibles the come from cooperative learning that can help students both inside and out of the classroom! Thanks!

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