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Group Projects: All Hands on Deck…Not Quite

Written by Emilie Mueller and Maxine Moss. Art credit: Alina Kalmeyer

We’re all familiar with the group project. For some, it’s a blessing: a chance to work with friends, an opportunity to lead, an easy way out of work, maybe even a grade saver. For others, it’s a drag: forced collaboration with disagreeable classmates, an often uneven division of work, a waste of time. Regardless of public opinion on group projects, they are a core part of the curriculum at M-A. In classes ranging from Life Skills to Physics to AP Environmental Science, students are given assignments that require collaboration with their peers. We asked students and teachers how fair they think group projects are and why we do them.

Many students felt that group projects have their ups and downs. “I usually like group projects, although sometimes it can end up that some people aren’t working as hard as others,” said junior Natalie Grover. Junior Milo Yue has also noticed a disparity in participation. “I think they’re never group projects because I always get footed with the bill and have to do all of it. Everyone looks at me because they don’t know what they’re doing and I have to do everything,” he said.

Many female students observed that girls tend to have a higher level of participation in group projects. Senior Meghan Child stated, “I think that people who care about their grades more, which is usually girls, do a lot of the work for group projects. I think that girls are more responsible in general.”

Sophomore Indie Berkes noticed an inequality as well. “I feel like girls generally do more of the work,” she said. Senior Carly Jespersen commented, “I always do all of the work in group projects. I think that girls in general do more of the work.” Junior Cristol Cholico stated, “Women do a bit more, but there are also some men who do some work.” One male student interviewed, senior Nils Glader, said, “females generally do more work.” However, most boys observed no imbalance in contribution regarding gender. Senior Hector Maldonado commented, “I don’t really notice that stuff, but usually it’s about the same.”

“There are both men and women in all of the classes who have more of a priority to do well in the class,” said junior Eli Jones. “I think it’s based more on that.” Some students believed that participation was dependent on the class. Jones said, “I think that the quality of the group project is directly correlated to how much respect the students have for the teacher or the class.” Junior Eline Berenger felt likewise. “I think it also very much depends on whether it’s an advanced class or not an advanced class,” she said. “In an advanced class, for the most part, 95% of the class or 90% of the class cares about their grades–it’s important to them, and they’ll help participate, at least partially…[in other classes] it’s such a gamble. Sometimes you have people that care and sometimes they couldn’t be bothered to do anything.”

AP Environmental Science teacher Lance Powell believes that “learning how to communicate with our peers is key. In fact, if we were just going to work as individuals, there’s an argument to be made about not even coming to school. Why have all these minds come together and not take advantage of that?” Powell added that “labs and projects really lend themselves to group work. So I’m definitely a fan, while recognizing there are some challenges that come along with this approach.” Powell admitted that “super motivated students tend to want to take over… which is much easier than communicating with less productive members of the team.” However, this does not have to be a negative. In fact, Powell acknowledged that “this happens in professional settings too. And it’s a great opportunity for those students that want to jump in and do more than their share to take leadership by delegating the tasks.”

To combat the “unfairness” that tends to come along with group projects, Powell doesn’t  “usually have high stakes grades attached to the actual group project, knowing that inequities in work loads are normal. For me the group work is more of a means. Usually there is an individual aspect of it as well where the individual has to perform on their own in some way. So that being said, it tends to not sway grades in a huge way…or if it is going negatively impact with a particular group I encourage them to revise the work.” Powell will also “give groups an additional chunk of points and have them divide them up amongst the team which is nice. People that were absent are usually quick to compensate people that they know did more work; people that didn’t do as much are usually happy to recognize if someone pulled a bigger share, and then that person gets some extra credit out of the project.”

Physics teacher Lee Trampleasure sees the key part of group projects as the way they “present a different modality for those students who learn better that way.”  To prevent unfairness, Trampleasure tries “to have a post-project assessment that allows students who paid attention to do well, where any who didn’t contribute will likely not be successful.”

Many people agreed that group projects help prepare students for professional environments. Senior Timmy Berthier stated, “In your life, later in your career, you’re going to be working with people all of the time.” Physics teacher Kari Brown also said, “I think group projects, if the collaboration is done well, are the best preparation for future work.”

Although equal participation is an often idealistic goal when it comes to group projects, it seems that in general both students and teachers see value in collaborative assignments. For now, they’re here to stay; whether or not these projects are actually “all hands on deck” is up to you and your classmates.

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