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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  • I too have been struggling to find ways to redefine learning with technology while engaging students with a real audience. I know I need them to write much more and be more reflective. I hadn’t thought about using Blogger in math ~ how do you have students show their thinking about fractions? Love the idea of video and pictures. I work with students in my school that struggle with math. I never know what I’ll be teaching until I spend a week or so with the students and learn what their needs are. I am interested in creating an authentic audience, so I’d be interested in chatting more with you.

    I’ve dabbled with Blogger, but have not used it to its fullest advantage. My student have Google accounts and individual netbooks. I’m in Colorado.

  • Hi Kristi:

    My aim will be to have students upload visuals to make the math and communication of algebra easy for the reader, with the student explaining their understanding of the problem with reasoning in words. My students are in a 1:1 iPad Class, so we use GoodNotes to do annotations whenever completing math tasks so it should be easy for them to take a screenshot, upload a PDF or even create a screencast video of their work.

    With netbooks, this could be a bit more difficult as you may have more trouble getting their math work digital. However, assuming that there are a couple smartphones in your class, it wouldn’t take much for students to take a quick photo of a math task to use as their artefact for that learning goal. Maybe the purchase of a classroom iPad (or iPod Touch devices) might be worth the while if blogging is your goal.

    If your students have Google Accounts, Blogger would be the logical first choice if you have no prior preference to a content management system (CMS). With Google accounts already active, students can create a blog in minutes. Google Sites is also another option with a Google Account, however I am not sure whether Google Sites would provide the blogging features (labels/categories, etc.) that would be ideal.

    Would love to stay in touch and bounce ideas off of each other as we look to redefine the delivery of content and learning in our math classes!

    • Kristi Steele

      The netbooks are suppose to have the ability to screencast this year . . . I’ll know for sure when I return in a week. Students also can take pictures of their work with the netbooks. Google Sites don’t work very well for blogging especially within the district’s domain.

      Because my 5th graders have such a wide array of skills, and more importantly levels of confidence, I think I’ll be creating a workshop model. I’ll teach/demonstrate a strategy then have the kids work at their confidence level. I want to end the class with reflection. I had considered many options for this piece and the blogging would be perfect.

      Looking forward to staying in touch.

      • Awesome to hear. Very interested to hear about screencasting with the Netbooks. I would assume the screencast would be via a mouse, which could be tough for math. The benefit of having an iPad (or other tablet) is that students can write on the screen with their finger or stylus and keep things pretty simple.

        I think going Blogger over Sites would make most sense. However, feel free to play with WordPress as that is a great option, IMO.

        Cheers for now! I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from each other this coming school year.

        • I too think blogger is a better choice as it is more user friendly than both sites and wordpress.

          • Ill have to give Blogger a closer look. Because I am experienced with WordPress it seems like the easier option to me.

            I know blogger has labels like categories, but can you also tag posts?

  • Shannon DeFord

    Thanks for an insightful article. I teach at a 1:1 ipad high school. I thought about using blogs for students last year, but the task seemed huge. I wondered about students utilizing Explain Everything to create concept explanations for their blogs. Our district uses edublogs and will set one up for each student, but am trying to figure out the logistics of teachers being able to evaluate 160 blog entries 1-2 times per week. Any ideas?

    • Hi Shannon,

      Thanks for the positive feedback!

      If you are new to blogging, it can seem like a daunting task. However. Maybe that means starting with a single class blog and setting a expectation of one post per student each week, biweekly, etc.? My goal of a post a day may not be realistic from a timing standpoint, but I do want to head In that direction.

      When it comes to reading student blogs, I wouldn’t allow that to slow you down. You don’t have to evaluate or even read every post, just like you don’t have to collect student notebooks daily. My aim will be to take a look at each student blog approximately once a week, spread out on a schedule. Leave feedback for at least one post and have a conference with students as often as possible.

      Explain everything makes perfect sense to allow students to create an artefact and upload directly to their blog and/or YouTube and embed the link.

      Hoping you decide to take the blogging plunge this school year!

  • I have been concerned with the number of posts that students will make, since it is the first year they do it, Will they post daily or a once a week requisite.

    What do you think?

    • I’d like to see my students posting an artifact each day since I believe the posting is what will make the tasks feel worth the while. I didn’t mention it in the post, but I’d also like students to be able to take each artifact and compile an iBook as a culminating task for the course. Having a quick way to look back to their blogs for all of their work would be a benefit.

      However, will posting once a day minimum be too demanding in a 75-minute secondary math class? I’m interested to find out!

  • Algebra’s Friend

    My students are blogging this year … just twice a six weeks. The blog posts are opportunities for them to explore math beyond what we do in class. It has been very beneficial … but I want to make it even better next year. Glad to have found your article on blogging.

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