Approaches to Learning, Design

Partner Frenzy

Today, I was introducing Little Bits to one of my classes. Here’s their tag line:

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Great! I thought. This will be awesome! I thought. I like mixing up teams and partners for working groups, so for this initial task of sorting the kit and then “making something that does something” (free exploration) for the 60 minute lesson, I thought I would just pair off down the register, students 1 and 2 together, 3 and 4, and so on. Total lucky dip.

During lunch I had taken a minute to open the new YouCubed posters:

2017-Norms-Poster 2

I think if you took the words “maths” and “mathematical” these norms could apply to many things students are challenged to do every day. In particular:


Great! I thought. I will have a lesson in which the kids are challenged to use electronics (something they may not think they can do), they will struggle and grow their brains, and all this will be done under the umbrella of collaborative team work.

Or not.

The class was not impressed with my random pairings. Feet stomped, hands thrown in the air, students started suggesting other pairs, some said nothing, some said they were fine with their partner, one said, “NOBODY likes the person they have been partnered with!”  I had forgotten how dramatic fourth graders could be!

I let them go for a minute and then I stepped in. And in a firm, clear voice, I explained that we can do anything for 45 minutes. And we can certainly work with a classmate for that time on this task. And if you didn’t want to work with your assigned partner, that was your choice, but you would also be choosing to not work at all. All kids were heads down in the kits within 30 seconds.

We ended with a reflection. Short and sweet: “We can do anything for 45 minutes and we can always learn from and with each other or at the least, learn something about ourselves and who we are as learners.”

I want the kids to be challenged. I want them to try new things and do things they haven’t done before. I know this is already super challenging for some and the added dynamic of not choosing a partner adds another layer of stress for some. But how to overcome this when resources are limited and need to be shared? Earlier in the day on a different task for which we have an abundance of resources, the class could choose to work alone, pairs, threes, or fours. I loathe the hierarchy of “being picked” and like to avoid this as much as possible. But I also want kids to put all their energy into designing and making, tinkering, and improving, and I wonder if they don’t need to be in self-selected groups to do this at their best.

How do you group kids for learning groups?