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Chemistry Classes Promote Teamwork

By Hyun Soo Kim
Associate News Editor

This semester, freshman chemistry courses will offer a pilot program called TeamWorks. The program emphasizes teamwork by offering students the option of working in groups of four to learn the course material.

The freshmen chemistry courses are Principles of Chemical Science (5.11) and Introduction to Solid State Chemistry (3.091).

According to Melinda G. Cerny, coordinator of education for the chemistry department, TeamWorks participants will help and learn from each other. "We're hoping to have members of a team who have a lot of chemistry background and other members who do not have as much ... and that people will learn from each other and eventually take on this [team-working] skill to use in other subjects," Cerny said.

The team will receive the same course materials as the rest of the class, but will meet at least once a week to discuss and work on problem sets. Team members will take exams individually.

Grading differs for 5.11, 3.091

In 5.11, a TeamWorks participant will get the individual grade or the team average grade, depending on which is higher and as long as the grade is passing. "If an individual receives an A and the team average is a B, then the individual gets an A. The higher grade is what you get. But if your team gets a C, and you get a D, you would get a D. The only time a team grade counts is if the individual has at least a passing grade," Cerny said.

On the other hand, grades in 3.091 will consist of two-thirds of the individual grade and one-third of the group grade. Professor of Material Science and Engineering August F. Witt said, "It lowers the grade of the top student and raises the grade of the student with the lowest grade in the group."

Including the team grade as part of the grade the student will receive provides incentive for the team to work harder together, with each individual pulling equal weight, Witt said. However, "if the student's personal grade is failing, he will fail. We don't want a student to find a shelter in the system," he added.

"The students will be working together on the problem sets, but not on the exams, and it won't help them if the brighter students do all the work," Cerny said.

TA's will help groups

To facilitate teamwork, 5.11 will assign teaching assistants to each group. "The TA's major role is to be a mentor, to step in if a person in the group is not doing the work. We try to help them work out difficulties. Also before theexam, they will work out strategies on how to prepare for the exam and will also go over the exam afterwards," Cerny said.

TeamWorks participants in 3.091 will have recitation instructors to assist the group.

Students participating in TeamWorks will have some choice in which groups they will belong to, but most will be residence-based, according to Julieann Villa '96, who was on the committee that organized TeamWorks.

"In 3.091, the groups will be residence-based as well as recitation-based. We are also trying to prevent students with similar capabilities from gravitating toward each other," Villa said.

"Students will get encouragement for working in teams and the program will provide some structure. A lot of times students can get so lost that they don't know where to go for help," Villa said.

Idea came from colloquium

"TeamWorks originated from the Colloquium on Academic Honesty held last fall. In the panel discussion at MIT about collaboration, we decided to form a committee to enhance collaboration to a system of enhancing teamwork skills," said Associate Dean for Student Affairs Travis R. Merritt.

Professor Bolek Wyslouch, Physics I (8.01) lecturer, said that 8.01 will not be implementing any programs like TeamWorks in the near future. Respondents to an electronic mail survey by Professor Walter H. G. Lewin, the other 8.01 lecturer this term, approved of the teamwork idea proposed by the physics department but did not like the grading scheme, which was the same as the one proposed by 3.091.

However, other versions of Physics I -- 8.01L and 8.01X -- will offer a smaller version of teamwork programs this term, according to Merritt.