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Collaborative problem solving at Eltham High School

Our schools need to prepare students for jobs that haven’t been invented and technologies that don’t yet exist. How can teachers prepare them?  Along with core skills and knowledge employers are already demanding school-leavers who can collaborate and problem solve. 

These are essential skills for an information-rich economy which demands creativity, problem solving, collaboration and communication, and are central to The New Success.

Eltham High School has been using an online tool to measure Year 7 students’ collaborative problem solving skills and how teachers are using this data.  The school has been working with Patrick Griffin and Esther Care from The University of Melbourne’s Assessment Research Centre since 2014.

Known as the ATC21S™ assessment tool, it involves pairs of students working online to solve a problem.  Each partner has different information on their screen and they need to communicate and share information to solve a problem.  The students communicate via a chat box and they may need to adjust their language and communication style so that they can work effectively as a pair. 

An example of one of the problems students have to solve is growing a plant: one student controls the temperature and the other controls the light conditions for the plant and they need to work together to make the plant grow.

Data from the assessment tool captures the sequences of actions and chat allowing observations to be made while students are working together online. The data for each student is summarised into a social and a cognitive report for each student and provides information such as who initiates conversations, whether students negotiate and whether they work through the problem systematically.  Teachers are also given a report for the whole class, which provides guidance about how to cluster the class for future teaching.

For Eltham High School teacher Loren Clarke there is joy in “being able to see the effect we have as teachers; real evidence of learning.  We can understand the impact we’re having.”  She says that “there are often students who are strong in one area – so data is used to identify what should be taught, but also to review whether teaching has developed equal strength in both skills.”

More details about the Collaborative Problem Solving Case Study are available: http://www.all-learning.org.au/resources/case-study-collaborative-problem-solving