Cooperative Group Problem-solving

Developed by: University of Minnesota Physics Education Research Group

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Calculus-based
calc based
 Intro College Algebra-based
alg based
 Intro College Conceptual

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics  Thermal / Statistical  Modern / Quantum +3
Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Recitation/Discussion Session  Studio

What? Students work in groups using structured problem-solving strategy to solve complex, context-rich problems that are too difficult to solve individually.

Why? Unlike earlier traditional "group learning", Cooperative Group Problem-Solving rewards both individual and team accomplishments and allows all group members to rotate leadership roles. If implemented well, this method promotes collaborative skills valued in most work settings.

Why not? Assigning students appropriately to achieve heterogenous grouping is challenging at the undergraduate level. It takes time and effort to construct tasks with clear expectations for both individual and group responsibilities, and to teach relevant interpersonal skills required for group success.

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Making real-world connections
Can be adapted for:
  • Using multiple representations

Instructor effort required

  • Medium

Resources required

  • Tables for group work

Developer's website: Cooperative Group Problem-solving
Intro Article: P. Heller, R. Keith, and S. Anderson, Teaching Problem Solving Through Cooperative Grouping. Part 1: Group Versus Individual Problem Solving, Am. J. Phys. 60 (7), 627 (1992).

The University of Minnesota has created a free online archive of context-rich problems, where you can find problems for many topics in introductory mechanics and electromagnetism to use with cooperative group problem-solving.

You can also use the cooperative group problem-solving approach with many other types of research-based activities.

Bronze Validation
This is the third highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 1 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 1 of the "studied using" categories
(Categories shown below)

Research Validation Summary

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication