Let’s make school Facebook worthy

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

14 responses to “Let’s make school Facebook worthy

  1. In my college art courses, this sort of thing happened a lot, because art is something particularly fun to share and easy for other people appreciate. I’m not sure how easily it can apply to non-art projects outside of academic circles that are highly passionate to begin with.

    • There is something so compelling in the arts, you’re exactly right. So many mathematicians feel the essentially artistic and creative element in mathematics, yet our students are too often bored to sleep by it. I’d love to be able to say that each math student had proud mathematical stories and works to share. I think this can be done anywhere there is passion, even FarmVille.

  2. Agreed, big time.

  3. I teach in a middle school (5-8 here) where Facebook is not allowed. I love it for reasons I can get into at some point. Anyway, our students express their math happiness in other ways (because they have to). Actually, they have to express much of their identity in different ways because we have a uniform too. They make extra credit videos about formulas and edit them on iMovie, sharing them with wild laughter. Their teachers proudly post projects on their classroom walls and students look forward to showing parents and grandparents during back to school night and grandparents’ day. Math teachers keep a folder for each student starting in 5th Grade that contains certain crucial assignments, then in 8th Grade they get this folder back. Kind of like a “look how far you’ve come” type of thing. I think my point is that even without Facebook, this idea of “show off worthy” education is right on the money, Paul. And I couldn’t agree more about making class about the students. I’ve gotten to the point where I know my best classes are when students walk in the door and I say “OK, everybody, get to work. You know what to do!” and I hardly talk at all.

    • Great comments!

      When you say Facebook is not allowed, do you mean the school asks parents to prevent their kids from signing up? Or do you mean it’s blocked at school? I’ve also been thinking a lot about how to bring portfolios into my classes, but I haven’t yet figured out how to fully hand it over to the kids yet. It wouldn’t be enough to say, “we’re going to work on this now and you’re going to put it in your portfolio, so work really hard, because this will stick with you.” Done wrong it could be just one more dangling carrot.

      From your description, your place sounds quite nice. Schools certainly teach culture, and if community members buy in to that culture (most importantly students), then school can be an engaging centerpiece for student life.

      It’s awesome to be learning about who you are as a teacher. I can’t wait to hear more. Look at us both, sharing our work on the internet. We must really care about what we do.

      • Hi again! So to clarify, Facebook profiles and access to Facebook as a whole are not allowed at school or at home. Having an account is actually grounds for suspension or expulsion! We talk about whether we’re doing the right thing here all the time, but our current stance is to teach them how to navigate social media while they are young, then once they graduate they’ll be prepared and can fire it up. We are currently exploring a school-only facebook-type platform that is not public. It’s definitely an ongoing conversation.
        I also totally agree with your thought about teaching culture. With true buy-in from parents and kids, it’s amazing what behaviors or policies can work. Maybe that’s what happens with the math portfolios, I’ll have to get more info about the logistics of that from our math teachers. Also, keep in mind, the kids I teach are younger and more willing to do stuff that’s kind of cheesy.

        Paul, your blog rocks, looking forward to reading your next post!

      • Thanks again, Kate! That’s very interesting stuff about your school, best of all that your community is really thoughtful about its policies. I’ll look it up and hopefully hear some more from you in the future.

  4. Very interesting stuff! It’s a great feeling when you get people excited about what they are doing in the classroom. When I ran a middle school math club, the most successful day by far revolved around what I would call the poor man’s GeoFix; straws and pipe cleaners. I noticed that students loved producing things and they looked at their creations the way I now look at multipage proofs. So the thing I need to wrap my head around is when I made that shift to looking at a proof as real creative output that is “Facebook worthy.” I’m wondering if it is just that I’ve gotten far enough in my studies that even the most uninspired teacher will give me an interesting and complicated problem with little to no guidance so that I’ll be able to take real ownership of my solution. It’s like that Paul Lockhart example with the paint by numbers vs. a blank canvas.

    ..ok I’m going to drive to Texas..

    • Yeah. When is proof exciting? I think proofs (and answers in general) may only be interesting under two conditions. 1) You care about the question or claim. 2) They are cleanly and elegantly explained. Students might share proofs and solutions more often if they took a clean, elegant form. Thinking carefully about what issues are at hand, weighing the significance of your work is probably also crucial in a student deciding that they like something they’ve done.

      And of course, Paul Lockhart. More than anyone I know, I suspect he would say the work doesn’t even matter if you don’t care about it.

  5. That is, indeed, a really awesome moment. You know you’ve reached kids when they’re showing it off on Facebook. A couple of my kiddos have their own blogs and sometimes schooly stuff shows up on there. It’s making me think of kind of a fun assignment: imagine having to define a word or concept (mathematical or otherwise) in 144 characters a la Twitter, or perhaps create a Facebook page for some historical figure. There are definitely ways to harness social media in the classroom. Your post got me thinking…always a good thing!

    • Did you see Missouri made it illegal for teachers to have social media relations with students? Another post coming on this for sure. Too much fear.

      Twitter is really nifty, as is Facebook and g+. Blogging is perhaps the most immediately awesome option.

      I’m fascinated by the impact of 140 characters on the language and culture of twitter. Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Pingback: Let’s make school Facebook worthy « Cooperative Catalyst

  7. Pingback: Facebooking with students | Lost In Recursion

  8. Pingback: Facebooking with students « Cooperative Catalyst

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