So it’s been a week and a half, and I am so psyched about how the blog project is going. I’ve got students who are really reaching out of their comfort zones already. I’ve got other students who have told me that they love the idea of writing in math, even if they’re not quite sure how it will go yet, because it gives them the opportunity to bring their strengths into the subject that has not traditionally been their strongest. I also have some students who are still baffled by the idea of writing about math, and some that I’m not sure whether they’re trying to get by with minimum effort, or if they’re in the baffled camp as well. Or possibly it’s that they’re testing the waters slowly.
At the beginning of both classes, we had a little chat about how pleased I was overall, how I saw some students were still struggling with the idea of the project, what “substance” is, how substance can be length or depth, but the goal is to build towards depth. I reminded them that their actual grade will come from their “portfolio post” (as I’ve taken to calling it) and so as the semester progresses, they should be building content that is worth linking back to in that post. They also finally got me to commit to a definition of substantive, at least as far as purely-length substance goes. I qualified it emphatically beforehand, reminding them that the goal was substance of thought, and that you could have a good substantive thought in very few words. But if they really have no idea what to write about and decided to type up an excerpt from the textbook, then one or two sentences isn’t enough to qualify as substance (where it might be if they had crafted those sentences themselves). If it’s going to try to qualify as substance purely on terms of length, it should be at least 500 words. Some students looked relieved by this. Some students looked shocked by it. I’m still not sure it was the right thing to do, but I do think that I successfully made the point that going for length alone is not the ideal, and that a substantive post of original thought could be much, much shorter than that.
They asked good questions, mostly about what was appropriate to write about. One student said she was fascinated by Fibonacci spirals, and thought they were really cool, and asked if it was okay to write a post on that. I said sure. As long as what you’re writing about is related to math, learning, or learning math, it’s appropriate for the blog. I told them that they do need to have posts where they are engaging with the material of the course, but this project is designed to be loose and open-ended and give them room to play around with stuff that interests them.
I set up an aggregator blog that pulls in the feeds of all of the individual student blogs (I got the idea from the open course DS106 and it’s awesome!), so if you’d like to see what’s going on, feel free to take a look. I’ve been referring to it as the Meta-Blog, but several of the students have started calling it the Mega-Blog, so I may adopt that.
Right now, you’ll see a lot of posts on limits and continuity. They’re required to have at least two posts a week, one of which must be substantive. I’ve encouraged them to use their non-substantive post to share useful resources or just have fun. So you’ll see some silliness, some links, some community building, and a whole lot of trying to wrap their head around the wacky idea of limits. I’m loving just about all of it.