The great blog experiment

I’ve got two sections of Calculus for Life Science I.  Ninety students total.  (There’s also a Pre-Cal with another 45 students in it.  I’m just glad they capped my classes at 45 instead of 48 like last semester.)  School starts today, but these classes are MWF and MW, so it will be tomorrow that I get to announce the big project.

I am worried that students who arrive for a math class with a traditional idea of what that entails will be hostile to the idea of being asked to write.  The blog is only required if they want an A, otherwise it’s optional.  But I’m bracing myself for cries of “Not fair!”  (Honestly, I’m hoping for 50% participation in the blog project.  90 blogs would be a lot of work, given the way that I want to do feedback on these.)

I’ve been going back and forth as to how much I should say for the instructions.  This is one of those things where I think saying too much is worse than saying too little, but then again I feel like the expectations I do have should be made clear to the students.

This is what I’m putting on the syllabus:

The purpose of this project is to provide a vehicle for students to build the following:
* critical thinking skills
* metacognitive skills
* communication skills
* technology skills
* creative engagement with the material (having fun with it)
* an adventurous “tinkering” outlook (trying things without being certain how they will work)
* a sense of contributing to a community of learners

Minimum Requirements:
At least two blog posts per week, one of which must be substantive. “Substantive” can refer to the length of the post, but ideally involves deeper thought or greater creativity.
If a period of eight days goes by without a post to your blog, you will need to meet with me if you wish to continue the project
You will post a reflection of the blog project and self-assessment of your blog between April 16 and April 18.  It should link back to earlier blog posts and relate those posts to the purposes of this assignment.  You should consider this as a type of portfolio, where you can describe your progress over the course of the semester and also showcase your best work.  This post is what I will focus on when grading your blog.

I keep changing it, but I think that’s more or less final as far as what goes on the syllabus.

There’s a bunch of other stuff that I’ve got written out.  I’m not sure how much of it I’m going to share with students, at least in writing.  It has help me clarify my thoughts though, and since there’s no harm in students stumbling on it (I don’t plan to keep this blog a secret from them, although I don’t expect that they’ll be that interested).

Most of this will probably just be said in class. Also, I plan to get a separate blog and post things for them to look at. Not so much to model, as to be part of the community that I’m trying to foster. Some of this might get posted there. Or maybe I’ll stick it all in a handout. I’m still not sure.

Expectations and Suggestions:

  • You should read and comment on your classmates’ blogs.  If one of their blog posts sparks an idea for a post of your own, link to their post when you write yours.  When you do that, a “pingback” shows up in the comments of their post automatically linking to your post.
  • You should similarly link to content that inspires you elsewhere on the internet.
  • You are encouraged to post more than the minimum amount, especially if you find it a useful way to work through your own thoughts on the material, or if you have something that you want to share.
  • Good grammar and spelling are aspects of good communication, but don’t let yourself get so hung up on small details that you’re afraid to express your ideas.  Informal language is fine in a blog.  The ideas you have are more important than your grammatical correctness.
  • You can edit a post after publishing to fix errors, but you should recognize that evolving ideas are both interesting to read, and provide proof of your building critical thinking skills.  I would prefer if you edit for small changes, and write new posts if your ideas about a topic change.  You should learn to recognize the difference between evolving thinking and errors that need correcting.

On grading:

A blog deserving of a grade of D will meet the minimum requirements.  Substance in the posts is more likely to be found in the quantity of words, rather than the quality of ideas.  A D-level blog shows competence in dealing with the technology of the blog itself (the ability to post content, embed images, and use simple latex commands for the display of math content), but there’s no demonstration of proficiency with technology other than that.  The mathematical content is dealt with at a very superficial level, showing little depth of understanding, and may contain errors that go uncorrected. Metacognition, if addressed at all, is dealt with at a superficial level as well.  Communication of ideas may be unclear, with little improvement over the course of the semester.  A blog that gives the impression that its author is simply going through the motions deserves a grade of D.

A blog deserving of a grade of A will show repeated evidence of excellence.  Note that this doesn’t mean that there aren’t also weak posts– in fact the presence of weak posts may mean that the student is willing to take risks, which is a very good thing–  but the student makes an effort to address these weaknesses through comments or future posts.

I’ve only written summaries for A and D.  B and C are somewhere in between.  Blogs will get letter grades, since I don’t really see the point in trying to distinguish an 83 from an 84.  Which then raises the question:  how do you combine a letter grade and a bunch of numerical grades to get a letter grade for the course?  So I came up with this, which gives the minimum numerical grade needed:

To get a grade of:

Blog Grade A

Blog Grade B

Blog Grade C

Blog Grade D

No Blog

A

83

89

B

70

74

78

80

80

C

55

62

65

70

70

D

38

42

46

55

60

Which I think is the most useful way to express the grading scheme, but you can also express it this way:

Numerical Grade

Blog Grade A

Blog Grade B

Blog Grade C

Blog Grade D

No Blog

89-100

A

A

B

B

B

83-88

A

B

B

B

B

80-82

B

B

B

B

B

76-79

B

B

B

C

C

73-75

B

B

C

C

C

70-72

B

C

C

C

C

65-69

C

C

C

D

D

62-64

C

C

D

D

D

60-61

C

D

D

D

D

55-69

C

D

D

D

F

46-54

D

D

D

F

F

42-45

D

D

F

F

F

38-41

D

F

F

F

F

0-37

F

F

F

F

F

Does the second table help at all?  I’m thinking of not including it, but my husband says he thinks the first table is confusing.  I’m planning on asking the student workers in the math office for their feedback today.

I’m both excited and nervous about this.  Well, I’m always nervous for the first day of school.  Doing something new just amplifies that a bit.

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4 thoughts on “The great blog experiment

  1. bretbenesh says:

    Hi!

    Thanks for sharing this. I was only skimming initially, but I missed the point of the first table the first skim. However, I immediately figured out what the second table was saying while I was skimming.

    So I think that the second table is clearer, although I think that I could have understood the first table if I had just slowed down a little.
    Bret

    • Thanks for the feedback. I ended up putting the second table first since it’s clearer, and then said “This information might be more useful in this form:” and put the first table with a header of “Minimum Required Numerical Average”, and everyone seemed to get it.

  2. Melinda says:

    This is a great idea — having your math students write. My husband is a software developer and I work in corporate communications, and he’s often mentioned how coding is very similar to writing. Creating declarations, arguments, variables, etc. It will be interesting to see how this goes!

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