Cooperative Learning

Why Cooperative Learning?

One important engagement strategy recommended for CSP — or any CS classroom! — is cooperative learning. Cooperative learning (CL) is more than just simple “group work”. It involves specific structures and processes that have been proven to improve learning for all students. In these types of classroom activities, each student is accountable for their own learning — and also for that of their teammates.

“In CL activities, each student is accountable for their own learning — and also for that of their teammates.”

Cooperative learning strategies can be used with most of the AP CSP content, providing structure for the Computational Thinking Practice of Collaborating (P6). Nearly any type of activity can benefit from a collaborative format, from inquiry-style activities and experiments to pair programming. In particular, CL can get students more engaged within a read-and-discuss format – a format that’s very useful for introducing Global Impact content, but often variable in how much students get out of it. Examples of cooperative reading activities in our Global Impact resources database use jigsaw reading and reading-focused POGIL activities.

Cooperative Learning for CSP

CSP professional development leaders are currently working on a guide to using cooperative learning in AP CSP. In the meantime, here’s some excerpts from a CSPDWeek presentation by Fran Trees, Owen Astrachan, and Jeff Gray. (CSP4HS version available on YouTube.)

Curriculum alone does not drive engagement

The most interesting and innovative curriculum can still be taught in the Ferris Bueller “Anyone…. Anyone….” style. This means we can still miss opportunities to broaden participation in computing (for example, by addressing “impostor syndrome” in young women).

Cooperative learning structures support variable learning patterns

There’s a cooperative learning recipe for pretty much every classroom situation and goal. And like any recipes, they can be tweaked to fit the number of people, available resources, and personal tastes!

Avoid relying on the same CL structure too much; try to mix things up according to context.

Popular resource: Kagan Cooperative Learning

Over 225 structures! The goal of Kagan’s CL recipes is to produce PIES:

  • Positive interdependence
  • Individual accountability
  • Equal participation
  • Simultaneous interaction

“Encourage students to stand up, move around, and interact with others.”

PIES are a way to promote diversity and engagement in classrooms.

Cooperative learning provides the right conditions for optimized learning

The CL approach is supported by research on brain function: Students feel safer (less threatened) than in whole-class learning. Humans pay selective attention to novel stimuli (new content), while craving predictability (familiar structures).

Groupwork != cooperative learning

Just organizing the class into smaller groups (“turn and talk to a partner”) does not necessarily encourage collaboration, unless you provide a structure. (In fact, in some cases, unstructured groupwork can even be worse than the traditional “Anyone….” model.)

Cooperative learning is about team-building and class-building

CL facilitates forming teams that create a unique bond, which can then help with Performance Task collaboration. It can help a class to become a learning community.

How? Encourage students to stand up, move around, and interact with others. (Kinesthetic learning! cf. CS Unplugged.) Mix “just for fun” prompts (once per week?) with content-driven prompts (as needed).

Peer reinforcement is built into CL structures

In CL, positive praise is immediately provided by peers, rather than delayed as in the traditional approach. Research shows praise from a peer is often more powerful than from a teacher.

Cooperative learning structures for CSP

CSP developers are creating CL resources grounded in CSP content, motivated and inspired by Kagan, but free!, and not copyright-restricted.

“CL structures have the potential to advance the diversity and broad participation goals at the heart of CS Principles.”

Here’s an example structure:

Think Out Loud

Teammates cover the table by writing ideas on slips of paper in response to a prompt.

  • Say it, write it, place it on the table.
  • Go around the circle in turn, so that each student participates.

Useful for the initial stage of divergent thinking, to generate a long list of brainstorming ideas (e.g., topic areas for the Explore PT).

CS Principles + cooperative learning structures = engaged students!

Even applying just a few CL structures has the potential to improve confidence, create a more active and cohesive classroom, and advance the diversity and broad participation goals at the heart of CS Principles.

Additional Background on Cooperative Learning

An Overview Of Cooperative Learning” (by David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson) provides an introduction to the central dynamics of cooperative learning:

  • Positive interdependence
  • Individual and group accountability
  • Promotive interaction
  • Appropriate use of social skills
  • Group processing

— “Cooperative Learning for CSP” based on content by Jeff Gray, Fran Trees, and Owen Astrachan, with interpretation from Julia Bernd

Teach Global Impact content is licensed by the
International Computer Science Institute under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 License.