Why Cooperative Group Problem Solving
Students in introductory physics courses typically begin to solve a problem by plunging into the algebraic and numerical solution -- they search for and manipulate equations, plugging numbers into the equations until they find a combination that yields an answer (e.g. the plug-and-chug strategy). They seldom use their conceptual knowledge of physics to qualitatively analyze the problem situation, nor do they systematically plan a solution before they begin numerical and algebraic manipulations of equations. When they arrive at an answer, they are usually satisfied -- they rarely check to see if the answer makes sense.
To help students integrate the conceptual and procedural aspects of problem solving so they could become better problem solvers, we introduced a structured, five-step problem solving strategy. However, we immediately encountered the following dilemma:
To solve this dilemma, we (1) designed complex problems that discourage the use of plug-and-chug strategies, and (2) introduced cooperative group problem solving. Cooperative group problem solving has several advantages:
Of course, there are several disadvantages of cooperative-group problem solving. Initially, many students do not like working in cooperative groups. They do not like exposing their "ignorance" to other students. Moreover, they have been trained to be competitive and work individually, so they lack collaborative skills.