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Revamping Student Blogging in Math

My algebra and geometry students have been creating digital portfolios (using blogger) for the last 4 school years. Summer 2013, spurred on by my school's upcoming 1:1 laptop program, I attended CUE Rockstar conference. While there, I had time to think about how I might have my students use their laptops in class. I wanted them to be able to look at virtual manipulatives, graph things quickly and interactively using desmos, create constructions using geogebra, use online formative assessment tools like socrative and generally be able to use the internet as a tool to enrich their learning.

All of these enhance learning, but I was also looking for a way to build in reflection and creativity into class also. After all, as Dewey said “we do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.”

My theory was that blogger would be the house for my students' reflections. 

Via the blog they have...

... Reflected on in class problem based learning tasks
... Embedded videos they created
... Published problems they created and results of long term projects

In addition to using varied methods to showing what they know about math, they have also learned a decent amount on how to use tech tools 
(basics of blogger, how to embed videos and presentations, screen-casting, video editing...), which was surprisingly harder than expected for these digital natives.

All of this sounds lovely - students using lap-tops to enhance their learning in a meaningful way, publishing their work, focusing on process and reflection...

...but, blogging takes a lot of time. Time in class, which I am short on given my 135, 40 minute class periods per year. Also time out of class for them to wrap up details and for me to give feedback. Additionally, other teachers of the same course at my school don't require a blog. Is it fair for me to have an added element in my course?

Yet, I know that students creating a math portfolio is a good learning strategy. While some class activities - like formative assessment (socrative, white-board games, Desmos classroom activities, kahoot), don't lend themselves to blogging, other engaging activities like PrBL tasks and opportunities for inquiry are perfect for blogging. Not reflecting would be a waste of a chance to amp the learning. When students reflect, personalize, get creative, their learning is stronger. It allows all kids, not just the extroverted, a chance to interact deeply with the material. Blogging builds metacognition and helps to give students positive, memorable math experiences.

Having both sides in mind, I am throwing in one more challenge for this school year as I started the year seven months pregnant and will soon go on maternity leave. Thus my challenge for the school year is figuring out how to edit my courses such that the the teaching and grading is manageable for a substitute. I want my students to have a cohesive experience AND I want that experience to be rich with student centered, engaging, standards-based-grading, reflective, PrBL goodness.

Slight compromises will be made. One of them is transitioning student blogging to consist of simpler posts that still provide opportunities for reflection. Last year I had a thought to have my students made Interactive (digital) Notebooks. I like how some teachers are enabling their students to create a portfolio of important problems, that will act as a study guide throughout the year. While not truly interactive with fun, foldable elements, students will take key problems from each unit, work them out step by step on paper, and label them with key vocabulary. For the blog then, they will snap a picture of the paper, upload the image and add a reflective caption - not too technical and not too time intensive to complete (or to grade).

We are calling them Concept Poster Blogposts and each one will feature 3 - 4 key problems (with reflections) per unit.

Student samples:





My hope is that when I return from maternity leave in late March, that my students' digital portfolios will be evidence to time spent engaged learning key concepts through inquiry and problem based learning.