Student blogging has me thinking… (reaching out for help once again.)

I think I want to try student blogging next year in my Algebra II classes. I’ve only ever taught Algebra II once and I didn’t do a particularly wonderful job.

It was the sense-making that really got to me. My students were pretty good at learn procedures and algorithms, but the long-term retention was remarkably low. I have seen several examples of student blogging and feel like if I framed the discussion questions properly and encouraged the students to read each other’s posts, and comment. That could… COULD… open up a different mathematical thinking experience for the students.

If that were used to supplement the number-crunching practice, and the group problem-solving and exploration, that could potentially act as a way to deepen (or at least broaden) the thinking that the students were being asked to do. In addition, the opportunity for the entire internet to read and respond can add an extra-level of interaction. The students wouldn’t have to apply their real name if they didn’t want to. There is a chance for creative anonymity.

All of that being said, if you have your students blog, will you please comment on this so that I can pick your brain on what’s worked, what hasn’t, what to watch out for and what to definitely do! Links to other blog post would be much appreciated. E-mail this post to people you know who do this. I would love a rich, challenging comment section on this one. And trust me, if you don’t help me, I will make my own idea and learn this the hard way!



The Value of Face-to-Face

Today I got an opportunity to facilitate at EdCamp Mid Michigan, which was just the second time I served in any manner of leadership role at a teacher professional development workshop. The format was designed to be casual and conversational. Facilitators opened the conversation and the participants contributed for 45 minutes or so asking questions, telling stories, stating concerns and helping each other.

Sam Shah, a math teacher to whom I have received tremendous support developing a calculus class for next year recently posted a fantastic piece about the power of community. I encourage you to read the piece and reflect on how powerful a member of this sharing and learning community that you are. Each contribution matters, each “like”, each comment, each bit of dissent. We impact each other and we take it back to our classrooms.

And while I can completely embrace Mr. Shah’s post, I would like to offer a bit of a “yeah, but…”

Today’s EdCamp was a great microcosm of that greater community. There weren’t as many people, but each person was expected to contribute, because each person brings value to the table. They bring experiences, questions, concerns, anecdotes, advice… all of these parts are necessary for the community to flourish. The “mathtwitterblogosphere” or (MTBoS as it has come to be known) is a similar community. Some do a lot of writing. Some a lot of reading. But it is inclusive. (Shoot, if they’ll welcome me, they’ll welcome anyone.)

But EdCamp included one part that has been missing from my experience with the MTBoS: eye contact. That’s the one missing piece. The overwhelming majority of the teachers that I have communicated with through twitter and my blog are people who I have never met face-to-face. And while the MTBoS does it’s very best to facilitate conversations among folks all over the world… (I say that as though I have forgotten how remarkable it is that such technology even exists)… I wish that more could be done to create opportunities to get a chance to break bread with so many of the fantastic folks that I am meeting through twitter handles and avatar photos.

With that eye contact today, I tried (as Mr. Shah describes similarly in the aforementioned piece) to describe the value of the MTBoS to some math teachers who hadn’t explored the community much. I’m pretty sure I did a poor job. You see, one of the most important functions of face-to-face interactions is the power of facial expressions. Truth is, I am grateful for conversation because I often don’t know how well or poorly I’m explaining something until I see the faces people make when they are listening to me explain it. As I have moved out of my 20’s and into my 30’s, I am finding that I am doing more and more explaining to other people. The ability to look someone in the face and converse is one that I find incredibly valuable.

Bottom line: Thank you for all the support that you’ve provided MTBoS and thank you EdCamp Mid-Michigan for the support you’ve provided. I am thankful to be a part of both communities and hope that I’ve been a meaningful contributor. Today simply reminded me that while it is fantastic to embrace the resources and contributions (and amazing that it is even possible to do so) it is equally important to embrace the community that exists nearby me, too.

State of the Sphere…

So, I woke up this morning to an energetic discussion going on about an apparent chat on the state of the Math Edublogosphere (as it has come to be called by some). I prefer “math blog community”.

I read Dan Meyer’s response.

Then I read Kate Nowak’s response.

From what I can gather from the tweets and discussion, Chris Robinson was provided the energy for the sake of becoming a more cohesive community and also for the better integration of new folks.

I’ll enter into the record that I have been keeping up this blog for a bit over two years now and I wasn’t told about the discussion. So, you know, there’s that… Anyway…

Two years into this blog experiment (which I still consider an experiment), I feel like I have been welcomed especially by the aforementioned Mr. Meyer but also by Fawn Nguyen and Joseph Nebus, who have been commenting practically since the beginning and by Sam Shah whose contributions to my developing calculus course cannot possibly be overstated. I have also found that keeping a concurrent Twitter identity has helped. Ms. Nowak mentions this in her piece as well.

As I consider what I’ve gotten and contributed to the community, it is a lot easier (especially at the beginning) to take than to give. This was largely because I don’t have a very large readership and also because the community is so vast. I could spend hours chasing links from post-to-post, and blog-to-blog, taking great ideas away from each stop. The primary means of giving back is to comment on the posts that I read. I suspect that for a new person getting involved in commenting on new blogs would be very valuable as it introduces the new blogger to the authors and other commenters. It would also give them an idea of what other bloggers are doing.

But the key is to be authentic and honest. Let your readers know who you really are. Don’t try to be other bloggers. Be confident about what you can offer to the community and be honest about what you would like the community to do for you.

And give lots of shout-outs. Like I am going to do right now. These are all of the people I know personally who also blog: Tara Becker-Utess (focusing on flipped model and instructional technology), Rob Reader (who speaks directly to his students in his blog posts), Jesse Mays and Josh Greve (who are not math teachers and thus blog about other things… as if there’s anything else worth talking about…)

Linking other bloggers let others know that you are reading them, another way to introduce yourself to the community.

In the end, this community is like any other. You give, you take. Each according to his/her strength and according to his/her need. The more you interact, the more the community gets to know you, the more they fire stuff your way.