I posted the other day about one of my plans for the spring semester, and Christopher (quite rightly) pointed out that I needed to articulate why I wanted to have my students create public blogs. And so, since right now I desperately need a break from the grading of projects and writing of final exams, here is a first stream-of-consciousness-style post of why I want to have my students blog publicly.
First off, I want students to write. I want students to write about math, and I want students to write about learning. Writing about something forces you to clarify your thoughts, helps you strengthen what you know, and realize what you don’t know. Writing also provides an avenue for exploring the metacognitive skills and building the critical thinking skills that I want my students to have.
Of course writing doesn’t necessarily mean blogging. Deciding to make the writing public has a whole other slew of motivating factors. For one thing it’s more “real”. I really do think that that authenticity is important. So much of what students have been asked to do– so much of what I have assigned myself in the past– is either monotonous skill practice, or just feels superficial or fake. If I’m going to make a writing assignment of explaining a particular idea to a hypothetical student, then if I’m the only one reading it, it’s artificial and the main thing most students will think while writing is “Is this what she wants?” whereas if the assignment is going to be public, my gut feeling is that more students will think in terms of “Is this a clear explanation?” and “Would this actually help someone understand?”
Which brings me to another reason I want them to create public blogs. I firmly believe that every person has a responsibility to contribute to their culture. I don’t know if that sounds heavy-handed or not, but it’s a strong belief I have, and I could go on about that a bit (and might in a future post), but here I’ll just say that this is a value that I want to share with my students. I want them to grow to see themselves as creators, rather than just consumers, and to recognize that they have something to give, and that the giving helps them grow and learn. (And now I’m being both heavy-handed and cheesy.)
Another goal I have is for the students to get more comfortable with technology. So often, people assume that the current generation was raised with technology, and comes to college tech-savvy, but that’s not really been my experience. There are some that are, but so many more that aren’t. And that misperception also assumes that all of my students are 19 years old, which is far from the case. But even the traditional-aged college students aren’t usually great about dealing with technology. They’re on facebook, and they play video games, but they’re not comfortable tinkering. I’m not sure exactly what it is — a lack of courage? — but I want to encourage them to tinker.
I also want my students to have a little fun with it. A few years ago, I had a student that made up a quotient rule dance. Making up something like that, and posting a video would be great.
Funnily enough, when I think of what I’d ideally like to see in student blogs, I think of some of the quilting blogs I follow (for those unaware, there’s quite a large crafting blogosphere). The posts of my favorite ones are fairly focused on the subject matter of quilting, but there are all different kinds of posts– there are posts that show off finished projects, posts that describe frustrations in mastering a technique, posts that talk about fabric choices, posts that have detailed photo- and/or video-tutorials, and maybe even a post that’s just a cute picture of a cat sleeping on the current work-in-progress.
I would want student blogs to focus on learning math. Posts about learning would be great: describing trying out different study strategies, evaluating how well they worked. Posts about math: summarizing concepts; creating graphical organizers to connect concepts; creating tutorials; finding existing tutorials on the internet and possibly reviewing them. I also plan to encourage posts on technology. There are tons of math tools out there. Students could review one, or write a tutorial on how to use a particular tool to achieve some particular goal.
That’s an initial brain dump, anyway. Now I really do have to go write some exams– I promised myself I would get two of them done this weekend so that I could focus on meeting with students next week. I look forward to hearing any initial reactions, and I’ll be posting refinements soon.