George Lucas Educational Foundation

Cooperative Learning Fits into the Calculation

Master teacher Chris Opitz shares resources for integrating social and emotional learning into math class.
By Chris Opitz
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Skills and understanding in social and emotional learning don't just happen. The ultimate hope is that children come to school with healthy hearts and minds and the skills to communicate and interact effectively. But we all know that this is often not the case. Children come from wildly different backgrounds and experiences, and they bring their diverse skills and struggles to school.

As social, emotional, and academic abilities continue to span a wider spectrum and the pressures of testing and accountability continue to mount, how do teachers ensure that their students are meeting the required standards for the content areas they're covering? In my district, the Anchorage School District, we're implementing SEL standards side by side with traditional content areas.

VIDEO: How to Teach Math as a Social Activity

Running Time: 9 min.

When I think about this daunting task, I have to be a realist. Most people I talk with ultimately realize the importance of SEL skills and knowledge but feel overburdened with the sheer amount of content we are expected to teach in a very limited amount of time. A common statement is "If I am to get through these math lessons, or this language arts curriculum, when am I supposed to teach the SEL skills? That's the parents' job."

I understand this position and have had those thoughts myself, but my question becomes "Without SEL skills and knowledge, how can we possibly teach and have students learn effectively?" I believe that social interaction is a key ingredient to productive and efficient learning environments.

With that said, how do we incorporate SEL into our day and into our lessons?

The ideas here are from years of collaboration, professional development, books and journals, research, and experience. This is a culmination of many people's ideas, and to give credit where credit is due is simply impossible. I think it's safe to say the credit goes to teachers who share their knowledge and experience. I've listed the person responsible for specific rubrics whenever possible. This is in no way comprehensive, and it is simply the way I think about SEL.

I have organized my thinking on this topic into five constructs: professional planning and reflection, climate and community, direct instruction, infusion, and student reflection and self-assessment. Of course, these continuously overlap, and at times, it is difficult to speak of one without the other.

For each construct, I've provided a narrative that explains my thinking, along with a list of lesson ideas and possible rubrics. For a few of these ideas, I have included lesson plans, procedures, and rubrics.

This article is excerpted from Chris Opitz's SEL Overall Plan, below.

Chris Opitz is a master teacher at Bowman Elementary School, in Anchorage, Alaska.

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Dorothea Doyle's picture
Dorothea Doyle
third grade teacher

Many of these concepts have drawn my attention before as being THE ways to set the foundation for cooperative and PBL in my classroom, but they faded into my past memory. Now, as a result of watching this video, and especially because Chris Orpitz provided downloadable lesson plans, I will implement them as soon as school begins again.

kirsten Roos's picture

Thank you for posting these documents they are very helpful. I teach at a Middle School in your area and have watched your video many times - several times with my teaching team. So much to learn, and so many good reminders of things we know are good practice but forget and set aside over time.

depeatdoda's picture

This is exactly what I needed to see. For math, I want to create a math environment where flexible thinkers are valued. Watching your video, Chris, really helped me to undertand how I can introduce the idea of teams thinking together. Thank you!


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