Last year my favorite course was my hardest to teach. I felt very strongly about the material, thinking almost constantly about it and how we could spend our time experiencing it. And yet, most days I felt class was stale and that the students felt and thought little during the experience. No matter what I tried, class wasn’t consistently satisfying. Fatal flaw: Class was too much about me, and not about them.
Some of what we did was spectacular – analyzing structure together, sharing and presenting creative insights. I’m also certain there is a terrific course in my approach that year, but most days I did most of the talking, to what felt like crickets. I was driving content. The students saw me speak passionately about the math, but the feeling wasn’t mirrored.
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As the year ended we spent some time working with geofix, building polyhedra and tessellations. This went rather well, with almost everyone enjoying their work and talking a lot about their projects. Later that night, I got a pleasant surprise in my news feed. One of my quieter students, who was nonplussed all year, had posted Facebook pictures of his work in class that day, not on my wall, but out to the world of his friends. Though I didn’t say something at the time, I thought this was extremely cool. He posted again on both of the next two days. By the end he had posted eight pictures of three different projects, and I was thrilled.
In short, because people use Facebook to post things they care about. They post things they’re proud of, like new recordings and videos, clever thoughts, and their favorites from around the web. By posting, Facebook users are sharing themselves with their friends. I was so pleased to know he took that work personally. At least for those three days, class was about him, and his classwork was a part of his identity.
“And yet”, I thought, “this never happens.” Kids post about school all the time, but how often do they post their actual work? Is school too often not about them? I believe students need a personal relationship with their school careers. School should be a place to strengthen and develop who you are and want to become, but how can this occur if your courses and class schedule are largely out of your control, both daily and over time.
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Isn’t it completely obvious that Facebook is important to young people? (and a lot of the rest of us too.) Social media is an incredible way to share ourselves and our ideas. Is school a part of that? I think it should be. Otherwise, we retain a disturbing chasm between student personal identity and their work for school.
If I told you students spent hours there a day, openly and passionately expressing themselves to their friends, often giving articulate thoughts and opinions, would I be talking about Facebook or school? I’m going to spend a lot of time in August thinking about what kinds of math activities my students can take personally. I want school to be like that.