Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Math Blogging vs. Arts Blogging

I regularly read the blogs of several teachers who use blogging as a part of their teaching. Only one of them teaches math and the rest teach courses in the arts. Two examples are here and here, and another (from my town) is here. I won't include all of the URLs because there are so many and because I want this post to be a summary of the arguments. Their ideas sound great, but I keep reading a lot of theory and not much of what is practical. I'll finish reading a blog entry and think "that sounds great, but what do I DO?" Much of what they write is great for teaching the arts but needs modification when teaching math and science. Don't tell me that our schools need more problem-based learning, that involves digital tools, to help the students solve the problems. I knew that from the time I was in the Faculty of Education! Many of us know that to maximize learning, students need the freedom to experiment, make mistakes in those experiments, and start again. Tell me instead how I can get the board to buy the digital tools, and let me have (or see) some course outlines and lesson plans that involve those digital tools. In return, I would contribute some of my lesson plans and BLMs (Black Line Masters i.e. handouts).

The majority of these teachers teach classes in the arts, such as History or English. So they write about giving an open-ended question to the class and letting student groups deterimine the answer, with little guidance from the teacher. The teachers write of not recognizing answers as right or wrong. They emphasize the process, not the answer. Due to the phrasing used, these teacher-blogs can lead one to believe that the students are just dying to blog about the homework assignment, because all that is mentioned are those reactions to blogging from the students who are enthusiastic for blogging. Nobody, however, is giving an estimate on what percentage of the class is enjoying the blogging.

In my opinion, the ideas they put forth sound great for arts classes. But could you see a math teacher telling the class "we've seen average, mean, and mode. Now here is the equation for standard deviation. It is the average deviation of all data points from the average of the data points. Tell me why this equation makes sense." Or "your answer of the calculation is neither right or wrong, it's the process." I don't think so. There has to be more guidance from the math teacher. The lecture format will always have a place in math instruction. And there is the point of time--many curriculum expectations mandated to be taught in 1 semester allow for limited experimenting done by the students. Also, my experience tells me that there will always be students who don't give a damn about blogging or learning, they just want the credit to get into university.

These blogging teachers stress making the content relevant to the lives of the students. This is an excellent idea. I do want to make the math more relevant to the students, but that is very tough. For example, how does one make derivatives (from Calculus) relevant to students? It is possible, I'm sure, but this confidence is based more on gut feeling and my strong faith in my skills, than it is on evidence and experience. I teach Data Management, so I'm sure I could find some modern, in-the-news ideas on which I could produce problem-based lesson plans. I must try.

So...I must try to develop more open-ended questions or tasks, which are as student-relevant as possible, and which involve digital technology, all so that the students become better thinkers, and so that they will be more motivated to learn and become better writers, respectively.

I can use Bloom's Taxonomy, EQAO questions (for the grade 9s), newspapers' RSS feeds, and data from other countries . I hope to use Web 2.0 tools to motivate them and get them to practice their writing. I don't think I should expect myself to perfect the implementation of these ideas all in the next academic year. This will take time to do well. But I want to start this September.

Your thoughts? Any ideas?

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1 comment:

Darren Kuropatwa said...

Hi Frank,

I know you've already found my blogs so you have an example of at least one blogging model that works in mathematics.

Your comments about students who do not enjoy learning or blogging is one that has been discussed a lot in the edublogosphere this past year. I wrote about it in a post called Resonance and Disonance. That will give you at least one teacher's perspective on this issue.

There's still a lot more to say about it. I suspect it will become an even more pressing issue in the 2006-07 school year as the number of blogging teachers increases. Let me know what you think. ;-)