Teaching Strategies

Cooperative Learning Strategies

Without some kind of cooperative/collaborative organization of daily responsibilities, teachers cannot manage a classroom full of researchers. We found our Scholars' previous experience with this strategy varied from skilled to novice. We assigned readings (Johnson et al., 1988; Griffith, 1990), discussed the various approaches in a session - which itself was a cooperative learning activity - and used those models in the Research Communities. We also included questions about cooperative learning on the evaluation forms. At the end of the project, 74% Scholars agreed that cooperative learning was essential in the research classroom. (Writing ranked second at 34%.) In fact, somewhat to our surprise, we found that some teachers valued the research experience as an opportunity to provide an authentic task for developing cooperative learning skills - rather than the other way around!

Principles of Inclusion and Equity

Since our goal was to have all students engage in research, we had to be certain that the teachers knew how to observe their own teaching and their student's learning - and knew how to intervene to insure opportunities for all students. Again, we found that our participants' previous background varied widely. We assigned readings (Emmett; 1992; Delpit, 1990; Wheelock, 1992), discussed the issues, and tried to model appropriate behaviors in all our activities. We were assisted in our efforts by the fact that our participants were themselves diverse: demographically, in background and teaching responsibilities, and especially in their comfort with mathematics and computers. At the end of the project, teachers reported that many students became engaged in classroom activities for the first time - especially those with short attention spans. They also reported being more confident about intervening appropriately when they noticed less assertive students move to the back of the collecting area or away from the computer screen.

Principles of Cognitive Development

Our program was based on research in cognitive development and specifically in constructivism, i.e. that students come with a set of experiences and cognitive structures through which they interpret their environment, that if new information is to be a part of a learner's framework, and not just added on and easily forgotten, the learner must fit this knowledge into the existing framework. Therefore, the staff wanted teachers to understand this work. Again, they varied in their background, and again we assigned reading (Mestre, 1994), sponsored a workshop to explore the ideas ( we were fortunate to have Jose Mestre lead these workshops), and used it as the basis of our discussions of what teachers had learned during the program. Teachers often spoke of the importance of this information in understanding the direction of educational reform. In fact, when they read the first draft of the National Science Education Standards their response was one of relief, "Well, at least these folks have read the research and are recommending what we are doing!" At one Friday meeting, we found that some of the Scholars had created a song about cognitive development to the tune of He's the Man Who'll Never Return. The chorus was: "Will they ever learn, no they'll never learn, when minds remained unchanged./ Constructivism will unlock the prison, and awake their slumbering brains."

Appropriate Assessment

New approaches to teaching require new approaches to assessment. Teachers need accurate feedback on the impact of new teaching methods if they are to strengthen their skills and continue to use innovative methods (Kelley, 1993). They can only get that information from assessment data. Again, our Scholars' backgrounds varied and, again, we assigned readings (Angelo and Cross, 1993; Marzano et al., 1993), held discussions, and tried to model good assessment ourselves (journals, written and oral project reports, staff observations, evaluations). Other programs might want to include portfolios and concept mapping.

The information from our assessment procedures helped the research community leaders when they met with the Scholars each week during the summer and at every follow-up meeting. These group meetings and individual interviews were used to provide feedback to Scholars on their classroom projects. Those participants who continued with follow-up activities (planning and giving presentations at professional meetings, writing for professional publications, and co-leading new versions of the project) received even more intensive feedback on their work from the staff and fellow participants. Our goal in all our assessment activities and discussion was to stress the importance of the learners (in this case, the participating teachers) developing the ability to evaluate and reflect on their own learning. It is this idea which Scholars reported as being the most useful to them as they reconsidered how to assess student work.

Parent and Community Involvement

This strategy was not included in our formal program goals and yet regularly appears on Scholars' lists of the strategies they learned and valued. It demonstrates that the informal curriculum -- what participants taught each other -- was as important as our formal curriculum. The Scholars described how parent and community volunteers helped by taking small groups to the stream for water monitoring projects, binding the research project notebooks, organizing fund-raising for research projects, and providing mentoring expertise to students. One classroom decided to organized a multi-year monitoring of the ecosystem changes along a new rail-to-trail bike path. Another used their research skills to organize community service projects for the middle school students. A number of classrooms are beginning to combine School-to-Work activities as part of their research projects.

Our shorter versions of the program include a workshop on enriching the program by involving the community. We would recommend that other projects include this topic in their discussion of classroom strategies. An excellent source of recent information is the National Association of Partners in Education (NAPE, 209 Madison Street, Suite 401, Alexandria, VA 22314), its state affiliates, and the state School-to-Work Office.

Using Writing to Learn Science

This strategy (and math and telecommunications described below) were much easier to include. We did assign readings and discuss each one, but mostly, we just did it.

Readings included Olson, 1985; College Board, 1990; there are many new materials available on this topic. All Scholars in our program received the traditional marbled-front lab notebooks and used them for both daily journal entries and their notes. Participants in research communities and plenary sessions were regularly asked to take a few minutes to reflect on what had been discussed and to write down their thoughts and questions.

In our later versions of the project, we set aside quiet writing time (20 minutes) at the end of each day. Staff then stayed to read the journals, write notes to the authors (either in the book or on separate sheets of paper depending on their teaching style) and then used the journal entries to help adjust plans for the next day. Scholars were asked to submit two reports of their work: one at the end of the first summer, a second at the end of the second summer. It was understood that these reports would be word processed, that computers labs were available, and that those (relatively few) needing help in learning an MS-DOS or Mac word processing program could ask for assistance from each other or the staff.

In addition, all participants attended one workshop on writing for publication at the end of the second summer and were encouraged to engage in individual and collaborative writing for publication. Three writing groups met for an extended time (2 during the summer, one during the academic year). Five Scholars have already had articles accepted for publication in major journals, another 6 papers, mostly with multiple authors, are being submitted for publication. At the end of the program, teachers reported doing more writing themselves and using student writing to both assess student understanding and their own teaching.

Mathematical Analysis and Graphing

The readings for this section (Fogarty, 1991; Jacobs, 1991) were really more about procedures for integrating curriculum than specifically about mathematics. There was no need to preach the importance of graphing and analysis; Scholars were surrounded by data. How could it be organized? What did it mean? What if the numbers had been different?

The staff was somewhat surprised to find how few teachers were familiar with spreadsheets and their graphing capabilities. However, the data drove the learning and virtually every Scholar used an MS-DOS or Mac spreadsheet program. (Older Apple II programs which did not allow graphic interpretation were soon abandoned.) Graphs also served as a good "bottom line" for research projects. When teachers (and later their students) could see how data would be graphed, it became a feasible project to undertake.

At the end of the program, many teachers reported that they were delighted that their students' mathematical skills were improving as they worked with their own messy data. One high school math class that was not allowed out of the building to collect their own data helped a fifth grade class analyze theirs. Teachers generally reported having students do more graphing and reflecting on results. Students, of course, learned to use spreadsheets quickly.


In our original project, we supported a network of four user-friendly, microcomputer-based electronic bulletin boards. These provided participants and staff with a convenient way to share information and ideas. The system also provided a connection with the global educational and scientific communities using "echomail" conferences. These are distributed worldwide via the FidoNet network of about 30,000 bulletin boards.

We invested a significant portion of our funds in establishing this network, and a larger amount in support staff and other operating costs. However, despite its success, we no longer recommend the maintenance of such systems for project support. The explosive growth of the Internet and the equally rapid growth in user-friendly interfaces and in resources make the Internet the obvious medium for electronic communications.

Every college and commercial Internet provider offers access to gopher and world wide web clients, and to good electronic mail programs and newsgroup readers. Some, such as the UMassK12 service at the University of Massachusetts Amherst developed in part by our project, also provide a menu-driven environment that is especially easy to navigate. Graphical interfaces were added in the final year of the project, making it possible for Scholars to develop homepages so that their students could publish their research on the web.

However, the need for adequate training and ongoing support must be recognized no matter how friendly the system may be. People will always have questions about technical details, how to locate the resources they need, and how to use the most recent bells and whistles. We have not included references to the readings we used because so many new publications are becoming available. Those searching for good background materials should check with the American Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development for special issues of Education Leadership and newly published booklets. Information on the training programs offered by UMassK12 is available on their website.


Angelo, Thomas A. and K. Patricia Cross, Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, Jossey-Bass, CA, 1993.

College Board, "Science and Basic Academic Competencies," Academic Preparation in Science: Teaching For Transition From High School to College, Second Edition, 1990.

Delpit, L. Some Examples of Teacher Incorrect Interpretation of Multicultural Student Behaviors, Excerpt from a paper delivered at the AERA Conference, San Francisco, CA, 1990

Emmett, A. 1992. "The Lost Girls," Technology Review (MIT), May-June 1992, pp. 58-59

Fogarty, R. 1991. "Ten Ways to Integrate Curriculum." Educational Leadership 49:2, pp. 61-65.

Griffith, S.C. "Cooperative Learning Techniques in the Classroom", The Journal of Experiential Education, 13: 2: August 1990, pp. 41-44

Jacobs, H. H. 1991. "Planning for Curriculum Integration." Educational Leadership 49: 2, pp. 27-28.

Johnson, D.W., R.T. Johnson, E.J. Holubec, and P. Roy., Circles of Learning, American Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, pp. 25-41, 1988.

Kelley, Judith, Teachers Investigations in Alternative Assessment (draft), University of Massachusetts Lowell, 1993.

Marzano, Robert J., Debra Pickering, Jay McTighe, Assessing Student Outcomes: Performance Assessment Using the Dimensions of Learning Model, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1993.

Mestre, Jose, "Cognitive Aspects of Learning in Science," Teacher Enhancement for Elementary and Secondary Science and Mathematics: Status, Issues, and Problems (ed. S.J. Fitzsimmons and L.C. Kerpelman, NSF Division for Education and Human Resources, 1994.

Olson, C.B. 1985. "The Thinking/Writing Connection," Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching and Thinking, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, pp. 102-107.

Wheelock, A. 1992. "The Case for Untracking," Educational Leadership, October 1992, pp. 6-10.