Last year, I had a (mostly) optional project where I asked my applied calculus students to blog. It had some very interesting results, and some students wrote some really interesting posts, but it was too unstructured for it to be beneficial the majority of students. When I went to the Technology Integration Workshop a couple weeks ago, they helped me figure out how to add structure to the project.
At the time, I didn’t have a schedule yet, but all of the sections of the course I was designing it for were assigned to other faculty members. At first (before the workshop), I was really disappointed about having to wait to do the project I was re-designing, but during the workshop I realized I had a lot of work to do, and maybe having a few months to do things slowly was not a bad idea. I planned on asking if I could teach one section of Calculus I for Life Sciences in the Spring semester. (Spring is usually significantly less crazy than Fall, and they will grant a request like that if they can.) But then the schedule got rearranged, and I ended up with two sections of the course.
I decided very definitively last time around that there was no way that I could assess the writing of 90 students, do everything else that is required to teach mathematics well, and maintain my sanity, so only one section will be doing the blog project. Which is the perfect opportunity to evaluate whether writing about math really does help their conceptual understanding. I’m still looking for the best way to do that.
Last time, I told students they had to post twice a week, and they could post anything related to math or learning math, although I wanted them to focus on the material we are learning in class. That will still be the case, but I am defining several types of posts that they can write, and I may require that at least one of certain kinds is required. So many students had trouble just getting started last time. The type of post that I got help with in the workshop is one I’m calling an “exercise report”. This is basically making up a problem similar to a homework exercise and writing about the strategy (and why that particular strategy was chosen) and showing how to solve the problem. I am still more interested in seeing students reflections on the concepts of calculus then their exercise reports, but I think that having a nice well-defined type of post with examples and a rubric will give students with less confidence an entry point. And writing mathematically is definitely one of the standards I want to assess my students on.
I’m planning on writing up rubrics and examples for “application reports” as well, but that probably won’t happen before the semester begins. The other types of posts will just get descriptions for now.