Authentic Audience


Next year, my math class will hopefully involve each week ~2.5 days of problem-solving, followed by ~1.5 days of writing/videoing/making some product about a chosen problem.

Over the past months, I’ve gone back and forth with being concerned about motivating WHY we have to make products. I mean, I plan to talk to students about why explaining your work is good for you and good for others. But those reasons aren’t always the most compelling.

Then, I read Drive which (if I remember correctly) posits that if you have met people’s need for competence and autonomy, purpose is less important, though awesome (and I plan to have tons of choice and mastery all over my class). And I took Developmental Designs, which identifies student needs as competence, autonomy, relationship, and fun. So I worried a little less about motivating the why of products.

But then I was talking with (one of my) my awesome student teacher from last year, who was thinking about an authentic audience (which would so much more clearly motivate why). And I got thinking again.

For awhile, I’ve wondered why so many high schools have Literary Magazines but no math equivalent. And then, post talking with said former-student-teacher, I thought — why not make it happen?

So, to start (baby steps) to address the authentic audience/why we make products issue, I am committing to the following for this coming year.

1. As often as possible, involve choice in what product students make to explain their math work.

2. As often as possible (which will be less so than #1), define or have students define an audience for their product (or maybe this can be all the time and just often be “other students who need help” or “myself for reference” and then work on getting other audience in the future … hmmm).

3. Have a classroom website (thanks, Mom and English Teaching Vegan for helping me get mine started last night!) where students somewhat frequently post products for parents/anyone to see. (I think this is a cool first step and am interested in developing it more in the future, maybe with purposeful interactions with  … someone(s).)

4. Twice during this year, convene a group of interested BPS math teachers and their students and a bunch of submissions to produce a “Math Mag” either in print or (more ideally) online.

I think these steps are doable (though suggestions for how to structure the students-posting-on-class-website would be welcome) and a step towards making our math output authentic. What do you think?


7 thoughts on “Authentic Audience

  1. It just seems like so much time. I get the benefits. The time cost of projects just seems like a deal-killer to me. Looking forward to hearing how you manage that downside while maximizing your upside.

    • Do you mean that the time dedicated to making/revising a product isn’t worth it after the student has solved the problem?

      I’ll have to think about this. I generally think that the process of making/revising products allows students to be metacognitive about their process and integrate whatever they learned from doing into their understandings.

      But. That could be total wishful thinking.

  2. This is an inspiring post! Go Sarah! Finding an authentic audience beyond the classroom has been tricky for me and I would like to work on this as well. I am going to add “Drive” to my reading list now. I hope you continue to write more about how you incorporate the DD routines into your class once the school year gets going.

  3. Very cool! I like the idea of a math mag/website. Question – English class is English class. But the magazine is the Literary magazine, not the English magazine. It wouldn’t have grammar/sentence structure/etc. exercises, but it does have standard “forms” e.g. poems, short stories, essays, interviews, etc. Do you think you’ll have “forms” in your math magazine, and do you have any idea of what they might be?

    • I could imagine proofs, and then a lot of different ways of representing/explaining a problem (written, visual, video, graphic organizer, flipbooks, pamphlets) and maybe a comics/story section.
      Do you have more ideas?

      And Amy, I hope to! I’m getting nervous because I feel I’ve talked a big talk and now school is about to start and I’d better do all these things!

      • Some thoughts that came to me immediately ( I haven’t had a chance to think too hard about this yet…)

        – I definitely think interviews would be cool.

        – In the last 5 years, blogs have popped up by mathematicians where they post detailed and visually interesting explanations of other peoples work they’re interested in (a nice way for them to internalize the work and to encourage discussion in their areas of research). Cool examples are, I think this is in line with your idea of explaining a problem in many ways, with the problem being a classic and elementary problem, e.g. prime factorization, infinite primes, 4 colors, planar graphs with no crossings, etc.

        – Applied topics – i.e. how math we know is used in modern technology. Probably coupled with some research or an interview, e.g. “why prime numbers allow us to put our credit card numbers on the internet without them getting stolen”, “how we estimate how much a bridge can hold without actually breaking it first”, “how traffic patterns are designed”, “why predicting the weather is hard (its chaos out there!)”, etc…

        – A “cool pictures” section, of visually interesting representations of mathematical ideas and how they were created… (cellular automata, fractals, etc.)

        …. I’ll let you know if I think of anything else (if this was at all useful)….

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