Category Archives: Middle School

And You Thought it Could Not Be Done: Blogging in Math

Sometimes I am still amazed that not more Language Arts teachers have taken a good look at blogging. It seems such a match made in heaven:

  • giving students an authentic audience for their writing…
  • incorporating modern skills of writing & reading in digital spaces… (hyperlinking, transmedia, research, etc.)
  • platform designed for feedback


It surprised me even more (in a good way), when I saw a Math teacher starting to take advantage of the primarily thought of “blogging is about writing- hence for a writing class” platform.

The Math teacher instinctively understood that blogging is not just about writing. It is about “presenting” your work, your thoughts and products to a large audience FOR feedback. Blogging is a platform that allows students to think about their Math work.

In a previous blog post,  Telling a Story with Data, you  read about Laurel Janewicz‘ upgrade of her traditionally taught lesson of data analysis, graphing and misleading graphs. Laurel was also the teacher, you read about in Making Thinking Visible in Math regarding her work on metacognition in her sixth grade Math classroom.

Blogs played a major role in the upgrade. As the process of creating the data story presentations unfolded, students started to test and recommend various graph-generators or presentation tools. Laurel created a post on her classroom blog to share the recommendations that students shared with her. She then opened the post up for her students to add further links in the comment section. [Note the times students posted to appreciate the extended schedule to share and receive ideas/support for their project development.]
Ms. J s 6th Grade Math  Data Project Discoveries-blog

Ms. J s 6th Grade Math  Data Project Discoveries-comments

Students had created a presentation, analyzing and articulating a story of the data they had been presented, Part of the learning cycle was to share these presentations on their blogfolios. This could be accomplished by inserting images (screenshots) of their presentation with text, by embed a slidedeck, movie or other presentation platform with an embed code.

The rubric for the blog post had included the following requirements:

  • Include a title to hook the reader
  • original data
  • measure of central tendency
  • all graphic displayed
  • complete analysis
  • complete list of resources

Students were then assigned to look at, view and listen to 2-3 other classmates’ presentations. Keeping the rubric in mind, the teacher had distributed at the beginning of the project, students were to give “helpful” feedback beyond a short “Cool presentation” comment.

At the beginning of class, Laurel gave students clear instructions regarding her expectations of quality comments. She stressed that feedback is designed to make a product better and it was meant to be addressed and responded to when someone had taken the time to leave it.

  • What about the blog post title hooked you?  Are there any suggestions you have for it?
  • How did the presentation of the data keep you interested and engaged?
  • What inferences can you make or what conclusions do you draw about the actual data that are different from the project creator’s?
  • How would you extend the story, meaning what would the next episode be about?  (e.g. What data would you want to survey and collect? Who would you want to collect it from?  Share it with?)
  • Think about all of the elements of the graphs, including the misleading ones: title, colors, axes titles, legends, readability.  What comments do you have?

Natasha, who graciously allowed me to use her image, demonstrated great presentation design and digital citizenship on her blog post,You can Never Go too deep When it Comes to Data , when she decided to take her own photo to match the topic of her blog post, instead of having to search for a Creative Commons or Public Domain one or infringe on copyright by using one she had goggled.


Laurel shared the following three blog posts that stood out in her own mind as examples:
 I just think she does a great job of having the data tell a story in an engaging, interesting way.  She is the first to have shared her project with me for feedback and I used it to share as an exemplar with classes.
The title hooks me.  Her analysis from different perspectives is quite good.
Jack incorporates a student and parent interview as a way to provide their perspective of the data.

Still surprised that a Math teacher is using blogging with her students? Learning how to read, write and communicate in different Media in Math is another puzzle piece in making Math more authentic and less abstract for students. Adding and amplifying an audience for students adds engagement and perspectives as well as improves quality of the work as it is transparently shared.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs supports a more language based Math instructions with technology tools. She has also long advocated to teach Math as a foreign language. In an interview with Visual Thesaurus in 2010 she shares the importance of students to internalize Mathematical vocabulary and to be able to use them when one is speaking.

“If Maria cannot say the words fraction, numerator, and denominator, then she certainly can’t read them, let alone carry out her fourth grade math assignment.” […] Mary White from Harvard did a study on decibel levels in comparative levels of math classes in Japan and in our country, and they were significantly higher in Japanese math classes because they have kids speak out loud about what they’re doing. You can’t even ask a question about math if you can’t say the words, polynomial or fraction, for that matter, let alone read them.

Using blogging as a pedagogy, as a method and practice of teaching, in the Math class supports Heidi’s claim of treating the teaching of Math as a World Language instruction. Get the students talking, communicating their ideas, receiving and giving feedback and having conversations…. about Math!

How are you using blogging in Math instruction?

Reading through commenting examples from our students:

  • I am seeing the process of blogging unfold.
  • I am seeing students being exposed to receiving and giving feedback.
  • I am seeing students seeking and responding to feedback and incorporating it to tweak, improve and share their updates (feedback loop)
  • I am seeing the transparency of creating and sharing lead to improvement
  • I am seeing the amplification on an author’s own perspectives by the addition of a commenter’s point of view
  • I am seeing students exposed to more than their own work (ideas, interpretation, creativity, execution, etc.) and feedback from one teacher

data-analysis-project2 data-analysis-project3 data-analysis-project4

Telling a Story With Data

6th graders, under the facilitation of their Math teacher, Laurel Janewicz, have learned to take data, analyze the data and tell a story with it. They are demonstrating their understanding of Math concepts, data graphs, misleading graphs and communication skills.

Laurel chose to give authentic, relevant and meaningful data (not invented data) to her students to analyze from the results of a Challenge Success survey taken the previous school year at the school. The survey compiled data about the school’s extra curricular activities, homework habits, parent involvement, student engagement, sleep patterns etc.


Laurel’s plan was to have students analyze the data and then create different types of graphs to be able to communicate their findings in a presentation. Students were to tell a story of the data. The rubric below showed students Laurel’s expectations in terms of content, communication/presentation and a blog post.

Laurel also made connections to standards clear:

The bottom of my rubric has the content standards for statistics and data, but Common Core also has 8 Mathematical Process standards and this project hits on a lot of them:
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
Make conjectures, justify conclusions, communicate them to others
4. Model with mathematics
Identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using diagrams, graphs,etc.
Analyze those relationships mathematically to draw conclusions
5. Use appropriate tools strategically
Be sufficiently familiar with tools appropriate to make sound decisions about whether these tools might be helpful, recognizing both the insight to be gained and their limitations.
Identify relevant external mathematical resources, such as digital content on a website, and use them to pose or solve problems.
Use technological tools to explore and deepen understanding of concepts.


Laurel, in her own words, lists some of the observations and comparison from teaching the same unit in previous years.

What is different this year?
I used real data that is relevant to them because I created a survey which they responded to and shared the results with the students and assigned each student a question/results to analyze.
I pulled all the parts of this unit into one project.  Instead of making and analyzing graphs for one set of data (real or fake), finding and analyzing measures of central tendency for another (real or fake), creating and analyzing misleading graphs for another (real or fake), they do all of it for one real, relevant set of data.
I added the element of making the data tell a story- using it to communicate or persuade.  Data and a narrative go best together.
I incorporated use of technology so they could share this on their blog not just with their classmates and the Graded community, but with a global community.
I dedicated a lot of class time for working on this and shared student work along the way so students could see exemplars and offer and receive feedback.
I designed specific questions for students to offer feedback on the projects on the blog posts.

graphing graphing2 graphing3 graphing4 graphing5

From the perspective of modern skills and literacies upgrades:

Good teaching is good teaching. Adding technology to bad teaching still will not increase student learning. Adding technology to good teaching can add new layers and open up new dimensions of connections and learning. Laurel’s lesson on data analysis and graphing (including misleading graphs) was well planned, developed and executed to begin with. The lesson could have stood on its own and would have addressed the Math standards.

By tweaking the lesson, as Laurel described above, so many more instructional methods, skills, literacies and standards were addressed:

  • making thinking visible
  • being able to visually tell a story with data
  • communicating that story via an electronic media for a larger audience (potential global connections)
  • communicating math concepts
  • going through creation cycle: data analysis, creation, sharing, publishing, feedback, revision
  • differentiated
  • personalized
  • student choice
  • media literacy: choose appropriate media, possibly “media/app smashing”, by mixing several tools/media to create one project
  • network literacy: writing for an audience, receiving feedback, responding to feedback
  • information literacy: analyzing data, recognizing misleading data, visualizing data, interpreting data from multiple perspectives
  • digital citizenship: be aware of copyright of digital images (Creative Commons, proper citation)

Natasha, one of the sixth grade students summed up her experience in her blog post:

In math, we have been working on a project with data from the responses we got from the Challenge Success Survey.  I thought that this project was extremely interesting because we got to incorporate our knowledge of most of the things we had learned about in that math unit.  I really liked taking on my project from a different perspective.  I also got to experiment with different websites that were really cool.  I got to learn all about misleading graphs, graphs and so many other things that I hope you find as cool as I did.

Student examples (created in Wideo, Google Presentation, PowToon, Piktochart, Prezi) of presentations:

How Much Time are Graded 6th Graders Spending on Homework? by  Maya W.

Come to Graded by Jack

Is it Fake or just Misleading? By Yael

Let’s Get into This by Rens

You Can Never Get Too Deep When it Comes to Data! by Tashi

Homework? Time? What’s Going on?  by Laura

Do you do as much Homework as I do? by Alyssa

The Challenge is Complete by Felipe

math-felipe-infographic math-felipe-infographic2 math-felipe-infographic3

Interested how this story continued to unfold? Watch for an upcoming blog post of Blogging in Math class, with student samples and model lesson video of Laurel introducing her expectations for quality blog commenting in Math.

Another Glimpse in the Classroom: Annotated Circle Share Out of Book Reading

Another glimpse into the classroom!

Previous video clips: Socratic Seminar & Backchanneling, Visible Thinking Routine: Chalk Talk, Mystery Skype Call, Collaborate & Curate

In the spirit of opening up classroom walls and creating a ripple effect of teaching and learning by sharing ideas,  methods, action research and modern literacy upgrades,  here is another video clip. You are watching a 7th grade Humanities classroom, led by their teacher David Jorgensen at Graded-The American School of São Paulo.

The students are reading The Giver, by Lois Lowry and have been annotating their thoughts as they are reading individual chapters in a Google Doc chart/table, labeled:

  • Observations
  • Inferences
  • Rituals
  • Questions/ Predictions

David uses a circle share out technique to have students articulate out load their thinking and annotations of their reading. It is a faced paced method to allow kids to contribute and listen in a short amount of time. A follow up that David practices is then for the students to get in smaller discussion groups to talk in more in detail or get clarification about  what they heard.

Visible Thinking Routine in Action: Chalk Talk

We are fortunate to have a Visible Thinking Routine (VTR) expert at our school. Claire Arcenas, our MS/HS Physical Education teacher, previously a third grade classroom teacher who has done extensive readings and research in experiencing, implementing, embedding VTR in teaching and learning.  Recently, she started sharing her experience and reflection on her professional learning blog: Visible Thinking Across Subject Areas.




Claire invited me to an 8th grade PE class before a unit on Volleyball skills and allowed me to film her facilitating the VTR called Chalk Talk. She explains the overview of her volleyball unit on her classroom blog post Setting Goals for Player’s Success

Grade 7 and 8: Exploring our Enduring Understanding and Essential Questions for Volleyball…

Enduring Understanding:
  • Volleyball requires the application and coordination of skills necessary to contribute collaboratively in achieving a common goal
Essential Questions:
  • What is volleyball?
  • What movement skills are needed to play volleyball successfully?
  • What are players’ responsibilities?
  • How is organization needed in playing volleyball?
  • How can the skills and attitudes learned in volleyball be used in other sports and activities?

In the movie clip, you will see Claire giving an introduction to the Visible Thinking Routine, get kids in groups to rotate around posters with an Essential Question on each. Silently, students added their thoughts, drew visuals or documented questions that they had. After all students had the opportunity to add to each poster, Claire collected all the posters and saved them for the second part of the thinking routine after the actual volleyball playing experience in the gym.


At the end of the unit, students met in the same groups to come full circle with the chalk talk routine. Claire distributed the posters, gave students time to re-read their original ideas and thoughts. They then turned the poster over to add new understanding, any connections or new questions.

The final part of the process and to conclude the learning process is for students to reflect on the classroom blog using the VTR: I used to think… but now I think…

Be the Fly on the Wall: Mystery Skype

There can never be enough examples from the classroom to share. The benefits are many, from creating a ripple effect  of digitally documenting and sharing to a glimpse in someone else’s classroom by having the opportunity to be a fly on the wall via a video clip.

I have shared the Excitement of Learning that can unfold with a Mystery Skype call before. The following video clip is from David Jorgensen’s 8th grade Humanities class (São Paulo, Brazil), recorded during their first Mystery Skype with a class from rural Iowa, USA.

Take a closer look at the collaboration, roles of each student (based on Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm), and their practice of questioning techniques.