Redefining Digital Learning in Mathematics

Individual Student Blogs in Secondary Mathematics

Redefining Mathematics Education with Student Blogs

In order to be considered an innovative educator, you must constantly strive to improve and push yourself forward. Doing something unique in your classroom may have your colleagues classifying you as innovative; a driver of change in education. If you get content with your current innovative ideas and they are effective in practice, you’ll eventually look around and notice that those innovations have become the norm.

Striving to Move Up The SAMR Model

When I first applied for my 1:1 iPad grant for my math class through the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP), my intentions were to create a digital environment that would cut back on students copying useless notes and allow them to focus on the actual math tasks. Two years later, I realize that I was augmenting my classroom with 1:1 iPads according to Ruben Puentedura’s Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model. SAMR is an acronym for classifying how technology is used in the classroom:

  • Substitution
  • Augmentation
  • Modification
  • Redefinition

Puentedura states that your classroom is enhanced in the Augmentation Stage when:

Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement

Although my initial use of 1:1 iPads and effective instructional practices in my mathematics classroom resulted in very positive results, I realized that there was more I could do to help redefine what it means to learn mathematics in my classroom.

Multiple Options for Representing Understanding is Not Enough

This past school year, I stressed modelling many apps such as Explain Everything, GoodNotes and Evernote for students to allow for multiple representations of their understanding. This modification using technology in my classroom was well received by some students, but I found that others still stuck with written responses due to comfort I suspect. Over the summer I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about ways that I could actually redefine my classroom by utilizing real world mathematics such as 3 Act Tasks by Dan Meyer (see tasks by John Scammell, Andrew Stadel, Brian Marks and myself) as well as finding a method that will encourage students to perform at their best when completing these authentic tasks daily.

Sharing Thoughts With the World, Not Just Your Teacher

I feel the natural next step for my students is to provide them a platform to share their work daily with the world. It wasn’t until I was struggling to begin writing a reflection for an Additional Qualifications course that I turned to writing a post on my blog in order to find the motivation and focus required to get my thoughts on the screen. Following the reflection, I began creating posts for all of my remaining assignments and found myself much more passionate when I was writing.

What I had failed to realize was that I needed to know that my effort would not go to waste by simply rotting on my hard drive after submission. Just knowing that my thoughts would be shared with the world as opposed to with a single person (my instructor) was enough to make me want to think deeply and possibly make a difference in the educational community.

Lazy or Logical?

Is it possible that the students who routinely give less than their best are simply uninspired? Sometimes I think this particular group of students that teachers have referred to in the past as “lazy” or “slugs” are simply too smart to waste their time working hard on something that will be read by one person and then fade away in a binder.

Let’s put the teacher in the shoes of the student. You walk into your Administrator’s office for your preparation meeting for an upcoming Teacher Performance Appraisal. The Administrator discusses the particulars about the appraisal process and just before you stand up to walk out the door, you’re told that the long-range unit plan you must submit will correspond to a course that you have no experience teaching. All of your hard work may never be of use to you, since you may never have the opportunity to teach the course.

Would you learn something from the experience? Absolutely. Would it motivate all teaching staff to put forth their best efforts? Maybe not. This is similar to what we demand of our students on a daily basis. The lessons learned may be valuable, but it may be difficult to ensure all students have the motivation or drive unless they can see value and take pride in the finished product.

Enter: Individual Student Math Blogs

Beginning in the first week of school, after all introductory iPad activities that help students become familiar with their device, students will be creating their own mathematics blogs to post artefacts throughout the semester. This isn’t a new phenomenon, as many students are blogging in many subject areas, however I’d like to introduce a unique framework in which we will follow in my math class. The framework will state that students will:

  • maintain their own individual blog,
  • post a minimum of one artefact (photo, screenshot, PDF, audio, video, or similar) that demonstrates an understanding of the learning goal for that day,
  • categorize each post by overall expectation for the course, and
  • tag each post by individual learning goal and their self-assessed understanding level.

My vision has students working in a project-based learning environment, where the learning goals and success criteria are clearly stated and/or co-constructed at the beginning of a unit and students can work collaboratively to create their artefacts for each. Making use of WordPress categories and tags or Blogger labels will allow me to quickly determine which learning goals students have created artefacts for and which areas the students believe they need to improve upon.

Peer Assessments and Descriptive Feedback

The comment section for each post will allow students from our school as well as other schools across the globe to provide descriptive feedback to help the author improve their work. Apple Distinguished Educator, Dean Vendramin has already agreed to get his grade nine math bloggers in Alberta collaborating through the comment section with my Mathletes from here in Windsor, Ontario and we are both excited to get started. Kristen Wideen and I had also discussed working out a schedule where my grade 9 students could comment on her primary student blogs and provide them feedback, guidance and support in their mathematical efforts. If you’re interested in getting your class collaborating with us regardless of the grade level, we’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

Teacher Descriptive Feedback Without Numbers

The comment section will not be limited to student interaction. I will also use the comment section to provide descriptive feedback, but will not assign a numerical assessment value. I am trying to move from a very numerical grading system in which I provide number grades for all formative and summative assessments to simply descriptive feedback for any formative assessment and a numerical value for the summative. Students can always work to improve their work up to the final day in any my courses, so it seems silly that I am constantly tossing out a number. Solid descriptive feedback should guide the student to perform at their highest level on any summative task following a unit of study.

Uncertainty: Blogger or WordPress?

The blogging platform will likely be Blogger since I recently created a Google Apps for Education account for my school and having a single login seems logical for Google Drive cloud storage, Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar. However, I am most familiar with WordPress and wonder if Blogger will provide as many useful features that I know exist with WordPress.

If you have any experience with individual student blogs in any subject area, I’d love to hear about your experience, suggestions and guidance as I look to do the same. Suggestions in regards to blogging platform would also be appreciated, since I am very well versed with WordPress and would love to use it if it were not for the GAFE accounts I just recently setup for my school.


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About Kyle Pearce

I’m Kyle Pearce and I am a former high school math teacher. I’m now the K-12 Mathematics Consultant with the Greater Essex County District School Board, where I uncover creative ways to spark curiosity and fuel sense making in mathematics. Read more.

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