Cooperative Groupings.

That Lenticular Shield from summer's Secret Wars seems to be helping.

That Lenticular Shield from summer’s Secret Wars seems to be helping.

Granted, the protagonist is nigh invulnerable. The Trojan Warrior behind her, on the other hand, seems pretty @#$%ing flammable, which is why she has the shield out, and is taking one for the team. Even magic dragonfire isn’t going to hurt her much…just annoy her. I dunno if the Trojan Warrior or the wizard will be back…they were narratively important today, and fit the Edu-Mountain setting. They were fun to draw, especially the wizard.

Notice that Zebra Pony is disgusted with the chaos of the whole dragon combat scene, and walking away from the mess in disgust. This is much like Zebra Pony sitting on my desk during Group Work, looking at the relative chaos with a kind of pity in his big blue eyes. Zebra Pony, or Mr. Z if you will, invented pity. Then, Zebra Pony invented Fools, so that he would have something to pity. (Mr. Z, obviously, is a pretty cosmic pony.) I say this, because I am continuing with group work for my students, at this the close of the semester, and when I see Mr. Z’s pitying look, I think that maybe, just maybe, I’m one of the fools.

I have, of course, the usual complaints about group work…wasted time, some group members monopolize the project, or some just try to free load. If you teach long enough, and are generally suspect of group work, you can find ways to circumvent those basic criticisms. I pretty much have…more often than not the partners are relatively productive, and pretty much on task. That’s easily done with a kind of graphical management system, so that’s not really what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is a two fold issue. Firstly…I have been graphing student productivity on every single thing that we have done this year. No matter how I “break up” a task into segments, it turns out that 70 percent of the total workload takes place on the day a project is due. Obviously, this means Friday (when my work is due) is generally a focused and productive day…but also very stressful for students. In addition, generally about 75 percent of students actually finish the work, the remainder have problems that are directly related to their own time management problems. This is frustrating…a complex project requires more time, but I KNOW, through statistical observation, that the final day would be the most productive day of all of them.

Time extensions don’t help either. I graphed that as well. Of the students that don’t turn things in, but can finish them after the fact, only half actually do. If I give a whole class a time extension on the deadline, the day of the time extension sees the same number of students (or groups) completing the work as if I had collected it the day of the project itself…and leaves the high producers that were on point bored to tears.

That’s problem one, which is student driven, empirical, and not what the art was about.

Problem two is the nature of group work itself. I like an orderly classroom. Too much noise…and I get cranky. Students out of their seats…that’s a No-No. Still…I have to have conversation…that’s the point of the work…it just needs to be controlled. Students should get up once in a while to get supplies or perform tasks…i just need to manage it. Then there are the questions…which I enjoy answering. Unfortunately, the modern American student believes that you could not possibly be in the process of answering another student’s inquiry, and will just interrupt if they feel like they need to ask something.

Incidentally, the interrupting question is NEVER on topic. NEVER. It makes it more frustrating. It’s always something like, “Can I go talk to my P.E. Teacher?” interrupting a discussion of the complex causes of the LA Riots in 1992.

That’s what the art is about. You don’t have an offense in that kind of situation, as a teacher. You have a chaotic, large, dragonlike situation, and you have to take the defensive posture, to protect the group’s productivity. That Greek Hero fella is the same kind of fellow I drew for the Senior T-Shirt…he represents the students (being the mascot) trying to take their best shot. That dragonfire could just chew him up though…

The wizard represents something else entirely. He’s the payback against chaos, against the kinds of things that stop achievement. You can see his fiery eagle spell of payback launching. I felt I needed a wizard for this, because for two weeks now, I have been consulting with the non achieving students, the ones that need the most management and produce the least. My eagle spell is less cool looking, but it is wizardly. Those conferences, in my “office” consist of a brief explanation, followed by Gandalf’s “You Shall Not Pass.”

I don’t shout it…but I do wear his hat. Got it from Amazon.

Today, then, is the culminating day of a cooperative project. I should see 70 percent of the work unfold today, and hopefully, have some solid stuff to look at. All I have to do is manage it, keep it flowing and on task.

Eight hours of managing 40 people in separate task groups is enough to make anyone want their own lenticular Shield…and anypony look on with mild pity.

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