These days, students don't have to look far for [credible] math instruction and resources online. Gone are the days of attempting to hide this from students. In fact, now it seems quite silly (and embarrassing) that we ever did this! I look back ashamed to admit that I previously I didn't want my students to look around online for fear that they would find a way of doing things that was not the way that I showed them. It takes a lot of guts to admit this, but I know that it was a part of my thinking early on in my career! Thankfully I have changed this perspective 180 degrees, and now teach kids how to responsibly consume information online as a supplement to my instruction. Teaching technology is important and central to getting students college and career ready!
As the students explore the lessons that correspond to what I would be teaching in person, I want to give them an opportunity to process what they like about receiving instruction online, as well as what they don't like. Many students will enroll in online college courses (or even high school courses) and be subject to similar methods of instruction full time. It is important that they process the pro's and con's for themselves, and what they can do to maximize the experience. Whether they go on to college or enter the workforce right out of high school, changes are that they will experience some form of online instruction. This writing activity helps them to process the experience so that they can continue to maximize it to fit their educational needs.
At this time, I avoid disrupting the students and allow them to write. This might sound like a silly addition, but I also play soft music in the background just to break the silence as the students work to organize their thoughts on paper.
I grade the writing prompts according to our district-created rubric. Each class is required to give a writing prompt each nine weeks. After scoring the prompts, we enter them into a school-wide database that allows us to track and target individual writing performance over a student's four year career. My students write in math class for more than just the four district writing prompts, but these targeted approaches are a great way to monitor and celebrate growth.
Prior to the onset of the Common Core, and a corresponding shift in my thoughts about mathematics education, I did not count the writing activities as a formal grade in my course. However, with the introduction of the math practice standards and a realization that PARCC and Smarter Balance both hint at elements of writing, I have reformated my course grading so that 10% of the students overall grade is written (and/or oral) communication. As said before, this 10% is made up of much more than just these district writing prompts.
Aside from the importance of developing writing skills in mathematics, I am excited about how this activity gives the students the opporunity to reflect on their learning in a digital world!