Kids blogging in math class: Why and how

I often ask my 7th grade Pre-Algebra students “why do you think this is right?” when I look over their work.

Early on in the year, students assume they’ve got the answer wrong…surely a teacher wouldn’t ask that question if they got it right.

They begin to realize that I will ask that question regardless if they got the answer right because I’m interested in their thought process.  There are countless times I’ve asked that question to a student who got the right answer. However, as I probed their thinking, I found out they either got lucky or they just remembered a couple of rules to follow but couldn’t say why the rules worked the way they did.

As a math teacher, it’s hard to gauge your students conceptual understanding by just looking at the right answers.  A lot of times you don’t NEED conceptual understanding to get right answers. You can take this number, multiply it by that one, put a negative sign here, and then hit this weird button on your calculator and then just write whatever number shows up.

These informal conversations with students serve as a great formative assessment of where they are at, but I wanted a more formal way of assessing a student’s conceptual understanding.  Blogging seemed like a great format and would give me a chance to teach them a few digital citizenship skills as well.

Math in my own words blog

We call it the ‘Math in My Own Words’ blog…or MiMOW.  Once a semester, students pick one lesson from a unit we just finished to write a blog that explores the ‘whys’ behind the mathematical concept at hand.

In this MiMOW Blog, one student explored square & cube roots.

Most students won’t know what to write if you just say ‘tell me the whys behind the math.’  To support them, I give them 3-5 writing prompts for each lesson that will help them dive a little more into the ‘whys.’  They get to choose which lesson they will write about.

For example, in Unit 1 we had five lessons:

1.1 Number Sets

1.2 Properties

1.3 Exponents

1.4 Square & Cube Roots

1.5 Order of Operations

If they wanted to write about square and cube roots, they were given the following prompts:

• Walk  the reader through what a square root and cube root are.
• Discuss how we used cheez-its to figure out square roots and how we could use base-10 blocks to figure out cube roots.
• Give an example of several perfect squares and perfect cubes and discuss why you think they call them ‘perfect squares.’
• Some people refer to raising a number to a power of 2 as that number squared and a power of 3 as that number cubed. What does it have to do with the shapes we call a square and cube?
• How are square roots and cube roots similar and different?

I came up with several of the prompts myself, searched ‘square and cube root writing prompts,’ and checked the back of the chapter of any textbooks as they’ll sometimes have a writing prompt.

Which blogging platform do they use?

Google Sites & Adobe Spark are both easy to get started on and even your less tech-savvy students can end up with a fairly polished product.

Sites is better if you’re planning on having multiple writing assignments.  Students can create a simple homepage and then each writing assignment can be its own separate page that is linked from the home page.

Spark is better if it’s more of a one-off written assignment.  Use the ‘web page’ format if going that route.

I didn’t want to be the only person reading their blog…otherwise we could just do it on a Google Doc.  In an effort to get their blog in front of more people, a very small part of their grade comes from the number of comments they get on their blog.

They can have classmates, parents, and other teachers read and comment. To get full credit on the comment portion of the rubric (see below), students have to have someone outside of our community read and comment. That can be a neighbor, family friend, a colleague of their parents, a teacher from another school, etc.

I give them an email template they can use when asking people outside the community for a comment. The email explains the assignment, gives the due date, what type of comment would be helpful, etc.  It’s a great opportunity for me to teach them how to send an email where you’re asking someone you may not know very well to do something for you.

One issue is that neither Sites nor Spark has comments build in so I had students use the website powr.io to create a comment box that they could embed at the bottom of their blog

How are they assessed?

I created the following rubric explaining where most of their points are coming from. Most of the points come from how much they delve into the ‘whys’ of the math.  They’re also assessed on how many of the prompt questions they answer, the readability of their blog, and if they got comments.

Want to try blogging in your math class?

Get the Google Doc above emailed to you HERE.  Included with the rubric are some links to help students get started on either Sites or Spark, an email template for students to use when asking for comments, as well as an instructional video for students on how to create the comment box using powr.io.

When you get to the doc, go to File – Make A Copy to customize it for your class.  If you end up doing it, let me know over on Twitter! (@gibsonedu)