In the workplace effective teamwork and collaboration is essential to achieving goals. In the publishing industry the author is part of a team including, artist, graphic designer, type setter, proof reader, editor and team leader all working to produce the end result, a book. In my experience the two most important skills of an effective team member is the ability to meet deadlines and effective communication (quick and clear). If the author doesn't deliver on time the artist can't work on the images, the type setter can't do whatever she does and the window of opportunity at the printer will be lost. Working as a teacher the team aspect is not so apparent, I have my own lab, students come in, I teach them and they go out again. I am of course a member of a team of teachers working on different aspects of the students education, it's just that the team is so well organised within the constraints of a very tight timetable that we don't always notice the other parts. We collaborate by letting the students go on time, to be a bad team member you'd have to actively work against the system. (There are many aspects of working as a teacher that do involve more close cooperation, I'm just ignoring the here).

Working as a team doesn't always seem like the best way of completing a task. During the group 4 project students work on projects such as spaghetti bridge building or constructing wind turbines from paper. The best results are often from individuals who refused to work as a team, this is however a problem with the way the teams work rather than the team concept. In the real word a wind turbine would never be designed and built by an individual. If students are to learn team skills it is important that they are successful.

A student does not have to work in a team to be a brilliant physicist this can be done alone studying from books. In fact poorly organised collaboration can be a bad thing. We want all of our students to learn some basic skills such as using Excel to manipulate data. Working in a team it would seem obvious to get the most skilled Excel user to take on this task meaning that other members of the team would never get to learn these valuable skills. Within the old IA system doing practical work as a member of a team (or in pairs) was problematic since each member of the team had to collect their own data. To get around this students would often have to do the experiment twice which rather defeats the idea of teamwork being more effective.

The Group 4 project

The group 4 project is a time when we can really emphasise teamwork and collaboration so it is important to choose projects that can be efficiently tackled by teams of students. You can find more information on the  Group 4 Project pages but here is a summary.

  • Teamwork is best developed doing activities that require a team. Measuring the length of a fish doesn't require a team measuring the length of 1000 fish does.
  • To enable participation there should be roles for a diverse group of students. Building a radio would favour students with specialised knowledge, making an environmental survey of your school could involve everyone.
  • It's good to have a goal, it gives the team something to work towards. Building projects are good in this way as there is a concrete (or spaghetti) end product.
  • It should be possible. This year students tried to light an LED using wind from a desk top fan by constructing a wind turbine and generator. No one got close (I didn't manage either, the photo is the one I made).

  • Make teamwork an obvious aspect of the project, talk about how to organise an effective team and reflect on the way the team worked after the project.
  • Don't make the teams too big, a team of 4 can work effectively to build a spaghettis bridge a team of 10 is too big.
Lab work

It's not particularly efficient to perform labs with large groups however a pair is perfect and with the new IA there is n o problem with them sharing data (except for the investigation of course). I always do labwork with pairs:

  • It's more fun.
  • Encourages communication.
  • Enables weaker students to learn from their peers.
  • Requires less apparatus.

The fun part can get a bit out of hand and you some times have to make sure that all the communication is about physics. Maybe it's pushing it to call this teamwork but Still classifies for encouraging collaboration and communication. When it comes to the unit planner I will call this "working in pairs".


I have written a lot of worksheets on how to create simulations with GeoGebra. The point of using GeoGebra is to help students to understand the connection between some physical phenomenon and the underlying maths. I think it works really well but students must do the work individually, however I have tried to include some questions along the way that can be discussed in pairs or small groups. For example on the suvat (GeoGebra) worksheet there are some questions asking students to sketch graphs for different situations, these can be discussed in groups before preceding. I find that while doing these exercises there is a lot of helping each other as well as the inevitable competition of who finishes first.

Problem solving

Problem solving is generally an individual activity but on occasions it can be interesting to split the class into groups and ask them to solve a problem together, agree on the answer and present it to the rest of the class. Not all problems lend themselves to this approach. Recently I tried by presenting the scenario of a helium balloon in a car and asked them decide if it would go forwards or backwards when the car accelerated and to formulate an argument as to explain why. There was some interesting discussion. Sketch graphs also work well as collaborative problems.

Role play

Ummm, no. Not my cup of tea but if you like that sort of thing I'm sure there are possibilities. Play to your strengths.

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