The action began at the end of Term 3, 2016 and continued through Term 4, 2016. Students were organised into learning groups of three based on average high, middle and low scores achieved in the 2016 Australian Problem Solving Maths Olympiad (APSMO) competition. During the first group problem-solving sessions, students were not provided with any instruction on collaborative skills, but were asked to organise themselves according to an introductory PowerPoint using a modified version of Polya’s four-step problem solving strategy (see Appendix 2) to engage students’ complex thinking skills to: 1) understand the problem 2) plan a strategy 3) carry out the solution and 4) look back at the solution. In their teams, roles were assigned to team members: facilitator, scribe, and reader (see Appendix 3).
At the beginning of Term 4, students were explicitly taught collaborative skills in mini-workshops. These skills included: the home team advantage, active listening, checking for understanding, and disagree politely (see Appendix 4). An explanation of how Student Teams Achievement Divisions (S.T.A.D.) would work (see Appendix 5) and how the point scoring system operated was given. (see Appendix 6). S.T.A.D. is a cooperative learning technique that involves assigning students to teams that reflect heterogeneous groupings of high, average and low achieving students. In lessons, material is introduced through the teacher, and then group members collaborate on problems designed to expand and reinforce the previous material taught (Armstrong and Palmer, 1998). Following group work sessions, students work independently on assigned material without the help of their teammates. Individual improvement scores from students are calculated into team scores thereby achieving a sense of group accountability. The amount each student contributes to the team score is related to a comparison between the students’ prior base score. If a student’s individual score is higher than the base score, then the student will contribute positively to the team score. Team scores are awarded to winning teams and improving students, which are then posted in a class newsletter (Slavin, 1990), thereby actualising responsibility forces. The posting of scores in a class newsletter can similarly be viewed as a leaderboard, which is a gamification element (Kapp, 2012, Farber, 2015, Matera, 2015). At the time, research conducted on cooperative learning strategies such as S.T.A.D. predated rapid changes in ICT opportunities exist to adapt this approach.
Each scheduled problem-solving session involved using concepts previously taught in the form of higher-order problems to be solved by the groups. Solutions to the problem were then discussed with a view to looking at the different methods groups may have used to solve their problem. Following this, individual problem-solving sessions took place. Problems with similar concepts were assigned for individual students to attempt without help. The results of these individual problems were scored for each of their learning groups. Team recognition took place in the following mathematics class using both the leaderboard (see Appendix 7) and digital badges (see Appendix 8). Both were posted on a class portal for students to access.