Despite its sometimes negative associations, groupwork is essential to an effective physics curriculum. However, poorly implemented groupwork can reinforce societal norms that discourage student participation or pigeonhole contributions, especially for girls and students of color.

Physics teachers Stoeckel and O’Shea implemented various strategies to make groupwork more equitable. They report on four methods: setting beliefs and values, assigning group roles, discussing specific skills utilized in the activities, and frequent reflection.

“Factors like race, gender, economic status, social savvy, and other aspects of identity impact how students interact with their peers, so learning more about best practices for groupwork is important to making sure we use these instructional approaches equitably,” said author Marta Stoeckel.

By visibly and randomly selecting the groups, the teachers ensured students collaborated with all their peers and avoided the pitfalls of designating certain groups more advanced than others. They also ensured tasks were designed to benefit a group approach.

At the beginning of the school year, they held class discussions about student values and aspirations and brainstormed different abilities that aid physics learning. They also supported frequent reflection to encourage the students to consider various types of important contributions.

“All of these strategies take time to have a meaningful impact,” said author Kelly O’Shea. “Making groupwork more equitable requires consistent, ongoing effort. While we have found these strategies are most important in the first few months of the school year, we use them through the last day of school! The biggest results cannot be seen right away, but the payoff when watching kids have amazing discussions and figure out physics together is absolutely worth the wait.”

Source: “Strategies for supporting equitable group work,” by Marta R Stoeckel and Kelly O’Shea, The Physics Teacher (2024). The article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1119/5.0167278.