Category Archives: Social media

Posts about Social media and learning through the internet.

Facebooking with students

I know it makes a lot of teachers nervous/sick-to-the-stomach, but I absolutely LOVE communicating with students through Facebook.  Yes, I Facebook with students.  In fact, I accept every request they send my way, because it is an incredible way to take seriously what I believe about relationships and learning.

I bring it up, because I had a fantastic exchange with an Algebra 2 student yesterday, and it couldn’t have happened if I refused or was prohibited from using Facebook with my students.

* * *

An Algebra 2 student of mine sent me a message last night saying, “Those Vi Hart videos are pretty crazy, The doodle games can get so absorbing.”  I of course loved this for lots of reasons.  Math was seeping its way into his life, and he was spending his own time thinking mathematically and scratching the math itch.  This, more than anything, in my opinion, is the critical trait present in the lives of mathematical thinkers.

We started talking about this video, my personal favorite, all about different kinds of stars.  I said something about how all stars with a prime number of points come in one piece, and he said “something i was thinking about with stars that might not go anywhere, what happens if you arrange the dots that map points into a shape other than a square or a circle? do the shapes change or do they just get a bit warped?”  A question of his own – the sure sign of a mathematically active brain.

I spent a ton of time thinking about this last Spring, so I started telling him all about my research and a few of the intriguing questions I worked on.  In fact my own weird path led me to a remarkable fact about triangular numbers in modular rings, and that somehow led me to write some pieces for a DIY music box I bought last year.  I played it for our class one day, and he was amazed to hear the mathematical design.  For me, this is “math in the real world.”

We went on for a while talking our way through a few things.  He was clearly ready to play with the ideas on his own, so I tried to give him just enough to fuel his curiosity and send him on his way.  Here’s my favorite part: “yeah okay i feel like theres a piece of this that im missing, and with the increasing skipping of points when do you stop? is the star closed or composed of polygons.”  I didn’t have to wait for our next class to chat (something I can never find enough time for anyway).  I just went to his profile page, hit record on the webcam, and drew him a few diagrams!

[Have you noticed his grammar and spelling were less than impeccably proper?  Can you think of any reason why I should care at all?!  I can’t.  Not when we’re in the middle of great math thoughts.]

This whole conversation was a perfect lead-in to the Mathematical Art seminar I’m leading with Justin Lanier and two other colleagues starting next week that this student will be taking.  Talk about bringing motivation and interest to class.  He also posted a picture of his own “string art” drawing earlier this week (deeming school Facebook worthy), so he’s clearly ready to play around with mathematical projects of his own.  I’m thrilled and honored to mentor that process, wherever that may occur.

* * *

My school puts the relationship between teacher, student, and subject at the center of its philosophy, so I feel rock solid about stories like this.  In fact, I wonder if it gets any better.

We have a policy about email that says teachers and students are free to communicate this way, but feedback on classwork should come during class time. To me, handing back a piece of paper with written comments seems rather equivalent to emailing it, but whatever.  I suppose I get it.  That’s fine.

Luckily, our policies don’t yet preclude me from interacting with students through other social media, though I know some administers are worried about having “official classwork” populate there and would probably wring their hands at me.  I’ve heard a new social media policy is coming down the pipe, but I’m just praying my students and I can continue to connect as successfully as we have.

We are friends.  Not the kind that enable your bad habits or exist for status in the often uncomfortable school social scene.  We’re friends with shared interests, and Facebook is where we show them off and connect around them.

I’m not on Facebook to gossip or read whiney statuses or relish in school drama.  I’m there to share content.  Posts with real substance.  Quotes worth reading.  Pictures worth seeing.  Links worth clicking.  Ideas worth thinking about.  The kind of content worth filling your life with.  This is what a life of learning is about.

By interacting with students through Facebook, I can help them fill their life with good stuff and play the role of their intellectual friend – the one who challenges them and points to great stuff they can explore on their own.  Isn’t that teaching?

I just hope whatever policy comes down the pipeline lets me continue to do what I’m already doing well – making real connections with students around content.


Ambassador to the Internet – Math Munch and more

I’ve been more and more impressed with the internet lately.  By reading blogs and twitter feeds, I have an overflowing stream of incredible math content flowing my way.  I want to put my students in a similar stream.

It’s not like putting iPads in the hands of seven year-olds makes everything easier at school, but man, when you’re interested and want more of something, the internet has got it going on.  Here’s a small ode and the story of a new website, “Math Munch.”

* * *

A Magic Square

First, a quick story of something I found and shared with some colleagues.  In a magic square every row, column, and diagonal add to the same number.  These have historical origins, known to the Chinese as early as 650 BCE, but the geomagic square is an amazing recent twist on the idea.  (see below)  My colleagues were blown away and decided to share these with kids.

I see incredible things like this everyday, and just like that, by putting my friends in contact with it, their teaching changes.  Their classrooms become just a notch more “content rich.”  For this I was called “Ambassador to the Internet,” a role I am happy to play.

Can I do the same for my students simply by putting them in contact with rich math sources more often?

* * *

This year I’m working harder to show my students how much they can learn from the internet if they take it seriously.  It’s important to me that they know math exists outside of classrooms, and that I am not their only source for math expertise.

Justin had the brilliant idea to start a blog and share with our students, so three weeks ago we started Math Munch, “a weekly digest of the mathematical internet.”  I wrote my first entry today, so I thought it was time to share.

Each week we try to post three good math sites covering all kinds of math.  We feature creative and artistic aspects of math as well as connections to number concepts.  We’re also thinking about trying to showcase the people behind the work and include a diverse group of mathematicians.  Hopefully we do more than amaze our readers; we aspire to spark creative work.

Justin asks his fifthies to check the site once a week and write a journal reflection on what they’ve seen.  I haven’t shown it to all of my fifth graders yet, but I did have one girl check it out during her free choice time on Friday.  She heard about it by word of mouth and after playing around said “this website is so cool!”

Nothing better than that.

* * *

I hope you’ll take a look around Math Munch and enjoy the huge and fascinating mathematical internet.

Bon appetit!

Social media and misconceptions

I’ve realized more and more how truly powerful the internet is for learning, if you want it to be. This is why I am so pleased to see that Google+ is available to the public today. Aside from its innovative privacy settings and excellent video chat, Google+ is social media right there with your gmail, google docs, and reader. (If you don’t have some of this stuff, you may be missing out, especially if you seriously want to get into something.) Google+ and Twitter are now central to the way I grow as a mathematician and a teacher. I once heard, “Facebook is for the people you went to high school with. Google+ is for the people you wish you went to high school with. G+ is for people you want to talk with over coffee, and Facebook is for people you wouldn’t meet for coffee if they were in the same town.

Two great places for exchanging ideas are the #edchat and #mathchat on Twitter. Tonight’s question was, “If you could clear one misconception about mathematics and/or teaching it, what would it be?” (Share your own in the comments?) I found this more enticing than my Field Theory class, so I fired a few off. Thought I’d share this mini-manifesto. (140 characters at a time)

* * *

must change misconception: geniuses do real math. Otherwise math is math class.

you have to get As and 800s to do math or like math.

you’ve gotta climb the ladder to get to the good stuff in math.

you need the high school math to do ______ And you definitely can’t study topology until ______!

you’re either an applied person or a pure math person. Bleh.

math is math class and homework should look like homework.

you really need to know algebra for the real world.

fractions are wrong if their not reduced.

practice is the best way to get better. (personal experience actually is)

you have to play the role of “teacher” to get class to work.

must change misconception: “there are problems I need to solve, and I need someone to show me how to do that.” – Salman Khan! No joke!

“they” write the problems. I just answer them. Can we tell what “they’re” asking?

must realize: math is made by humans like the ones in the classroom. So let’s make math.

must change misconception: it’s ok to say “I’m so dumb at math. I’m not just not a math person.” especially for kids

stick to the book or you’re in trouble (aka I don’t trust you)

go with your first instinct. Your second is wrong (aka don’t trust yourself)

you need the teacher to learn math. You need school to learn math.

texting in class is bad. (I’m in field theory class enjoying this much more)


oh ok. Boo! Too many to choose. How about this one: you can tweet forever without battery death. (I have to go)

* * *

Lots of old thoughts there, and I could include links to old posts, but this is already too self-indulgent.

The preponderance of general misconceptions about math seems so overwhelming and frustrating at times. A large part of my teaching is an attempt to give math a good name with my students by showing them mathematical traits and habits already within them. This is my little force against the mathematical boogeyman. I’m glad I got some of that off my chest.