Entry 17 – Needing Math Teachers Willing To Comment on Student Blogs

It’s Thursday of the first week of Christmas break.  Thought I’d reflect a bit on something new I tried in this last week of the semester.

STUDENT MATH BLOGS

My school is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.  In IB schools, students write an Internal Assessment (IA) in math their junior and senior year; a thesis on an exploration of some mathematical concept.  While preparing middle schoolers for the upcoming IA is part of why I have students writing about math in math class, the bigger reason is to give me a way to assess their conceptual understanding; can they explain a math concept in their own words and not just talk about ‘how to do the problem.’  I call these writings ‘Math in My Own Words’ or MiMOW.

My first year doing the MiMOWs, I had students do their reflections in Google Slides but in the past two years have moved to Blogger.  It’s easier to bring in mixed media (videos, links, etc) and their ideas can flow a bit smoother as they’re not forced to break it up into slides.

GETTING COMMENTS ON THE BLOGS

When I first started having students do the blogging, they would do a self-assessment as well as a peer assessment.  The only people seeing their blog besides themselves were me and another student.  This year, I decided I wanted them to get their blog to be read by people outside of our classroom.  A few things led me to this:

  • It’s a blog.  Blogs are typically meant to be shared with people (besides the person sitting next to you in class).
  • This year our school is experimenting with what we’re calling a math exhibition; a fair if you will.  Students will explore a math concept and visually present their findings with the community.  Why not get them started now in sharing their work with a wider community.
  • Typically when work is going to be shared, there’s more incentive to make the work presentable.  I’m hoping this gives them a desire to improve their MiMOW blogs.

I wanted to assess their blog comments in some way.  I added it to the rubric and said they would need three comments.  If they wanted to ‘exceed expectations,’ one of those comments would have to be from someone outside the community (not a parent, family member, teacher, student, admin, etc).  The students were pretty stressed out by this and I don’t feel I supported them efficiently.  They didn’t know where to look.  Telling 7th graders to just ‘find someone on the internet’ isn’t really helpful or safe.

I told them to Google ‘middle school math teachers on Twitter’ thinking that those teachers would be a little more connected as well as forward thinking and excited to comment on a student blog (I would be).  Students said BUT I’M NOT TWITTER!  ISN’T THIS DANGEROUS THOM!?  We discussed basics of online safety and not sharing any personal information.  That was the extent of the support I gave them.

This next time, I plan on having a template that students can use when reaching out to people to comment on their blog.  Other teachers were telling me ‘hey one of your students just sent me a link to their blog and said ‘comment please’ and I didn’t really know what it was all about.’  One of my students approached me and asked me to help him find someone outside the community.  I thought of another middle school math teacher blogger on Twitter, Justin Aion.  We went to Justin’s website, went to the CONTACT section, and I sat with the student and helped him draft a message that looked something like this:

Hi there Mr. Aion,

My name is Truman and in my Pre-Algebra class, we are writing blogs about a math concept we’ve been exploring.  Part of the assignment is to get someone from outside our community to comment and leave constructive feedback or questions.  Would you be willing to comment on my blog?  If so, here’s the link.  The comments need to be in by Monday.  Let me know if you’d be able to do this.  If you can’t, no problem; I know teachers are super busy.

Thanks so much for the consideration and have a great day!

Justin left some great feedback for the student.  The above message would probably be the type of template I would provide for students to send out to people.  I then got to thinking how great it would be to have a database of math teachers who were willing to comment on student blogs.  That’s where you come in!

SEEKING COMMENTERS

If you’re a math teacher (or anyone who is willing to read middle school math blogs), would you mind filling out THIS FORM?  You’ll be able to put your name, title, and preferred method of contact.  I’d love to get as many folks as possible.  Consider it 🙂

FAQ:

  • How often would I have to leave a comment?
    • We do a blog every unit so every month or so.  The larger the database of teachers willing to do it, the less likely students will pick you every time.  We may have some blog periods that no one reaches out to you.  If more than one student reaches out to you in a given time, just kindly let them know that someone else has reached out to you and that I’ve asked that you guys only comment on one blog a month.  Unless of course you actually want to do more but it’s up to you.  I’ll wait until I have a large pool of educators for students to choose from before I share the document with my students.  I want to avoid 5 teachers getting a ton of emails from students to read their blogs.
  • What if a student reaches out during a busy time of year and I’m unable to add anything more to my plate?
    • I totally understand.  Let the student know that you appreciate them asking but are unable to leave a comment at this point.  If at any point you’d like me to take you off the database, let me know and I’ll remove your name.

ASSESSING THE BLOGS

I’m currently in process of revising the rubric a bit.  I feel the language isn’t as 7th grade friendly as it could be.  I’ll also clarify where the points come from; how much come from the content, how much comes from the formatting and style of the blog, and how much comes from the comments.

Student feedback wasn’t super and I believe it’s because I didn’t support them very well.  Ideally I’d get a chance to review over the blogs before students shared them; give them feedback, have them revise the blog, and then send it out.  But alas, that really ends up adding to the grading; I’d be going through the blog twice; once before they share it with others and again after.  Of course that second time won’t take as long as I won’t really have to read through everything.  I could just check to see if they made the revisions I suggested as well as if they got comments on it.  Or I could skip the part where I do go through the rough draft and have them do a self-assessment, a peer assessment (which I kind of stopped doing this year), and then have them share with the community.  It’s also been really effective to walk through a really high-quality blog that one of their peers have turned in and ask them ‘what makes this a high-quality blog.’

 I’d love to hear any feedback on this.  Also, I’d love to hear from you if you are doing something similar in your math class.  This document of teachers willing to comment could be shared amongst any teachers doing blogging in the classroom.  Thanks so much to those who have filled out the form and hopefully you’ll be hearing from my students soon 🙂

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