Monday, November 29, 2010

Blogging With Students

My district has just begun a blogging pilot project. There are about 20 teachers involved ranging from elementary to secondary and across a wide variety of subject areas.

I wanted to get involved for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important is that I strongly believe blogging is a skill that many of our students will need to use later in life.

The second, more immediate reason, is that I want my students to express in words what they understand and don't understand about the math they are doing. If they can think about what they don't understand, they have a better chance of being able to rectify the situation. I also want them to talk about how they learn best, what study habits they have and how they can improve.

On Thursday my students began writing their first blog post. I wanted to make sure that all of the technical details were taken care of so I booked out a lab and had them write a short post on how they planned to prepare for the upcoming test. Within a minute four of my students had explained that they don't actually study for tests, what should they write.

This blogging process may be more fruitful than I imagined. I never would have guessed that I would learn something about my students before they began writing. I can't wait to learn more.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Group Work

I have never been a big fan of group work in a math class. I think it's mostly because I'm not good at coordinating it or making it effective.

I'm currently involved with coaching project where a group of teachers are helping each other become better at their practice. One of my goals through the project is to improve the way I use group work in my classes. Last week I assigned group work and it failed miserably.

The task I gave was a simple one. I gave students a distance vs. time graph which displayed two different bicycle trips. The students had to give a commentary of the bicycle trips. Without any sort of creativity or group work the assignment could have been completed in a period (or at the very least finished up for homework).

My colleague suggested that we spice up the assignment by having students create a performance that included a commentary on the bike trips. We left it open-ended on purpose to allow for a wide variety of submissions (live performance, videos, animated videos).

Generally speaking, the results were terrible and I reaffirmed the reasons why I tend not to give group work. I'm not blaming the failure on the students. I'm blaming myself for not being able to set things up effectively.

Here are some of the things that I noticed:
  • We need to work on presentation skills. I assumed that they had these already.
  • Most of  the class time I gave was wasted.
  • Most of the groups had 1 or 2 people do all of the work, even though I offered suggestions on how to divide the work.
  • Technology problems were great excuses for not getting things done on time.
  • Rarely were all of the group members present, which became an excuse for not doing any work since the absent student always seemed to have the work.
All of these things made me realize that the time spent on the assignment didn't yield a good return on investment.

Here are some things that I've thought about for improving:
  • I need to be explicit in addressing presentation skills. Talk about it on a daily or weekly basis, model good presentation skills, talk about when I do things wrong, etc.
  • I have no idea how to address the issue of wasted class time.
  • I also have no idea how to address the fact that some students didn't pull their weight. I had them complete self-evaluations and evaluations of their group members but that didn't seem to help.
  • I need to lay some ground rules to let my class know that  they need to have a backup plan in place. The failure of technology does not excuse you from having to present.
  • I need to teach them how to share files, etc. so that the absence on one student doesn't cripple the entire project. 
I may have jumped into the deep end a little too quickly. Perhaps I should have started with a smaller task that could have been completed in class, or even a small portion of the class, and had students working in pairs instead of larger groups.

Please help! What do you do to make group work effective?