I have always loved having my students work in cooperative groups. Middle school students, by there very nature, are social beings. Having them work in groups naturally lends itself to their learning preferences. Last school year I visited a school that used a lot of project based (sometimes called problem based) learning. I loved the way the students were so engaged. They were working on real life problems that tied to their core curriculum. I want my classroom to be more like the classes I visited.
I tried a few PBL ideas last year, but I want to try even more this year. One of the major components of PBL is expectations. The students must have clear expectations for working in a group as well as for the assigned task. I used one of the bulletin boards in my room to post my year long group expectations.