A Science Teacher Shares Her Experience with EnTeam Games
Renee Ganley has been teaching for over 10 years, and has just completed her sixth year as a science teacher at Busch Middle School in St. Louis. She first learned about the EnTeam approach to cooperative learning when Ted Wohlfarth ran a workshop for staff at her school. She appreciated the idea of students working together and decided to incorporate EnTeam games into her classroom work.
EnTeam reporter Dina Rinder caught up with Ganley, and obtained some insights on her success with EnTeam. Following are brief excerpts from the interview:
How have EnTeam games changed classroom dynamics?
Ganley observes that, where previously students did not work well together, they do so now. “There is a spirit of cooperation” in the classroom, she says. In previous years, the students would only rely on the teacher for answers; now the students use each other as a resource. Ganley’s philosophy is that “The teacher should not be the final destination for answers,” so she is very pleased with this development.
Have there been noticeable changes in individual students?
Students seem more comfortable asking questions and are more likely to go to each other for help. “It takes the pressure off of them, when they can talk to each other,” Ganley says, and reports the comment of one girl, who exclaimed: “I can’t believe I actually understand science!”
Are there noticeable changes in participation levels among students?
In the beginning, many students would just do their own work but say they were working together. Now, they all really do work together and “the level of engagement has gone up,” Ganley says, adding, “Peer pressure has been my best friend.” In other words, now all the students actively participate in group activities, as their friends get upset if they are not working together.
Ganley recently surveyed 84 students, and 82 of them reported that they enjoy the games and enjoy working with others.
What are the benefits to EnTeam games?
The greatest benefit that Ganley sees is the increased opportunity for menaingful and enjoyable social interaction among students, something that is very important to middle schoolers. “They don’t have to sit quietly in class and copy stuff down; they get to move around and talk more,” she says. It is easier for them to “connect with the information” when they are working together.
And the good news? The students don’t get into trouble for talking in class, as long as they get the work done in the allotted time!
Do you notice that there is less bullying as a result of EnTeam games?
As a result of teamwork, the students have built relationships with everyone on the team, and Ganley often has them switching aprtners with this aim in mind. As the students’ “initial frustration” of working with others has decreased, “It has been more peaceful this year. There are less behavior issues and the kids have really gelled. There is not a lot of teasing and making fun of each other.”
What is your experience using EnTeam scoresheets and recording student scores?
Ganley’s experience is that scoring can be tricky and cumbersome at times, and even slow the classroom momentum. However, scoring helps keep up the motivation levels of students. When the whole class or team gets the same grade, it tends to engage everyone—and the approach works well.
On the other hand, Ganley finds that hardworking students are unhappy when they receive a low score because of others who are not working quite so diligently. She is working with EnTeam to come up with a way to ensure that students get individual credit when they demonstrate solid effort.
Do students learn better through games? The results speak for themselves!
An experiment with Ganley’s four classes provides positive data in this respect. She currently teaches two higher level and two lower level science classes and used EnTeam games in just one higher level and one lower level class, and not in the two others.
In the classes where the games were not used, Ganley notes, class time dragged on and there was less energy in the classroom.
She gave all four classes a test on the same unit they had all been studying. The results? The two classes that used EnTeam games:
Gave better examples on tests
Finished their test in half the time allotted; and
Earned much higher scores than the two classes that had not played the games.
The lower level class that played the game did just as well as those in the higher level class. The students in the lower level class that did not use the games did not score as wel,l and their answers were not as clear. “You could tell that they didn’t understand the concepts and that there were big missing pieces,” Ganley observes.
Ganley does acknowledge that incorporating the games resulted in moving more slowly through the material, although they had the opportunity to go more in depth with the topics. “The games slowed us down because it is fast to lecture and tell kids what they need to know, instead of letting them explore and discover for themselves,” she comments. Testing and other end-of-year activiites also prevented her from getting fhrough all the material. “My goal next year is to try to increase the pace, but still use the games,” Ganley says.
Based on Ganley’s experience with her science classes, the Busch Middle School is working to bring EnTeam into other classes as well.