Blogging in Math (History) Class

Plimpton 322, the Babylonian mathematical text that started off our math history class. Image: public domain, via wikimedia commons.

Plimpton 322, the Babylonian mathematical text that started off our math history class. Image: public domain, via wikimedia commons.

I am teaching a math history class this semester, and in addition to trying to teach my students math and history, the course satisfies an upper-level writing credit. It’s a lot to try to cram into one three-hour course! With 40 students enrolled at the beginning of the semester (enrollment has dropped a bit since then, but it’s still large), I wasn’t sure how to get my students doing a significant amount of writing, give them meaningful feedback, and let them revise their work without burying myself in a mound of paper every time an assignment was due.

In part because of that concern and in part because I like blogging, I decided to start a class blog. I have a rolling deadline system that keeps the flow of new writing somewhat manageable, and doing everything online means I can easily email comments and suggestions to my students. Now that the semester is about a third of the way through, almost all of my students have written at least one post for the blog, and I think it’s time to share it with you.

The blog is called 3010tangents because the course number for our class is math 3010, and the posts on the blog should be at least tangentially related to topics we cover in class. We started the course talking about how we write numbers, so we have some posts up there about different base systems, including an impassioned plea to switch to dozenal and an exploration of a binary monetary system in the Book of Mormon. (The religious text, not the musical.) Subsequent classes have touched on a lot of different topics, and my students’ posts reflect that. They have written about Euler, Ramanujan, Noether, al-Khwarizmi, and Zhao Shuang. They have also written about art, religion, limits, and women in math. And of course, the perennial question of whether math is invented or discovered has gotten some treatment.

One of the reasons I started the blog was to get students who are interested in math teaching and communication involved in the wider online mathematics community, so I hope some of you will stop by and give them (kind, helpful) comments on their posts or read and share them. You might even learn a little something about math history!

This is my first time running a class blog, and I am keeping track of what goes well and not so well about the experience. I’m sure I’ll write more about blogging in a math class when all is said and done.

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2 Responses to Blogging in Math (History) Class

  1. Avatar Brian Heck says:

    Great post. I stumbled across this because I’m trying to learn about how to incorporate blogging into my math courses. It’s a bit intimidating however, I think primarily because I don’t regularly blog. I have a LOT of questions, but I also feel like I don’t even know where to start with them. Here’s a few if you have a sec to help me out:

    1. Do you think I should have extensive experience blogging before I try to require my students to do it? How will I assess it if I’m a novice?

    2. If I do try to do this, how do I start? They all create their own blogs on WordPress (or similar site) or do I start one and we all post there?

    3. The few examples I’ve seen of student blogs are EXCEPTIONALLY entertaining and articulate and interesting. Is that pretty much the norm? Thinking over my typical students, I struggle to imagine them being *that* into this. Am I underestimating this generation?

    I’ll cut myself off there. Any help you can give I’d appreciate!

    • Avatar evelynjlamb says:

      1. Unless you want something pretty fancy, you should be able to handle it. WordPress makes it very easy to create and manage a blog, and any problems you run into probably have a Google-able solution.
      2. I made one blog that the students all contributed to, but I think either way can work. My friend Casey Douglas uses blogging in his foundations of math class, and he has them all create their own blogs. He did a Q&A about it here: http://blogs.ams.org/blogonmathblogs/2015/10/19/blogging-in-math-class-casey-douglas/
      3. I had a big range in how engaged my students were with blogging, and a corresponding big range in how exciting or entertaining their posts were. I think it can be difficult to get students to buy into any new teaching methods/course organization you do, so getting that initial buy-in is probably the most important thing you can do to make it successful. I hope it works out for you!

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