By Ellen Greenberg
Four years ago, I created a Twitter account for personal and professional development. It was an entry point for my curiosity in the digital world. I have been teaching mathematics and statistics for more than 20 years after a 6-year career as a computer programming. I found Twitter to be an easy medium to use and one that was adaptable to my iPad and laptop, as I did not, and still do not own a cell phone. I followed sites that fed my statistical interests – people who tweeted about teaching, shared sources for data and news. I did not explore usage much beyond that, but for a teacher and mom of three teens with little free time on her hands, Twitter provided me with a regular dose of information. I tweeted pictures of my students and my kids, but was more an observer than an active participant.
One tweet changed all that and a spur of the moment decision led to #Math530. Just before classes began in September 2016, I saw a tweet linking to a Chronicle of Higher Education article from April 20, 2015, “With Twitter, Statistics 101 Takes Flight” written by Professor Mark Ferris of Saint Louis University. I don’t often read the Chronicle of Higher Education, but Twitter brought it to me. I didn’t know Mark Ferris (@ferristician), but Twitter introduced us. With his encouragement, I followed his lead, amending my Math 530 AP Statistics syllabus to include having my students create professional looking Twitter accounts, follow statistical sources, write Twitter journal entries, and be open to assignments yet to be determined. Classes began the next day and I had ventured down an unknown path with my 36 students.
I have taught the AP Statistics course for many years, and I try to bring a fresh idea in every year (thank you @STATS4STEM, @AmStatNews, #JSM14 Beyond AP Statistics, StatKey (http://www.lock5stat.com/StatKey/), student peer review), and so trying Twitter felt like the right thing to do.
It did not take much to amend my syllabus, my homework assignments, my grading policies, and plans for the first day of class. It was a harder leap of faith to imagine how I could find the time to prioritize getting my students on Twitter amidst the time constraints of an AP syllabus and the pull of other interesting sidetracks.
Typically, on the first day class, I emphasize that we are all learners; I have students get to know one another and try to foster an environment of cooperation. We go over what we will study over the course of the term – statistics, data, and how to evaluate information. I also lay out my expectations: students will rely on lectures, applets, games, visuals, homework, writing, AP problems, reading articles, postings on Blackboard, projects, contests, TI-84 plotting and programming, cookies and reading their textbook. In addition, students would now be expected to actively participate on Twitter.
I took time on the first day to explain that maintaining a Twitter account could be a potential launching point for future careers in statistics, connecting with future professors and job opportunities; as a result, their Twitter history should be a point of pride. This discussion fell right in with the stories of former students who had careers in statistics or were studying and using statistics in college. I sent them home with an assignment to create a Twitter account (for our class only if they already had a personal account), add a statistical profile picture, follow 10 organizations, follow my account (@ellenmgreenberg) and join the class Twitter list that I had created. Truly I did not then and still do not now feel like I know how best to use Twitter. My students helped and we helped each other, and grew a collective Twitter identity, using #Math530 in our tweets so what the class produced would be searchable.
Professor Ferris had a weekly assignment that he labeled a journal entry and I reached out to him for permission to use the same. From his syllabus, I quoted “Every week students must choose one of their weekly tweets and do the following: (1) write two sentences summarizing the article they chose to tweet about; (2) write another two sentences evaluating the credibility of the article and its sources; (3) come up with two questions about the article.”
I was not sure I could keep up with the once a week journal entry, and in fact, I did not. It will take a bigger commitment from me to keep that pace up in the 2017-2018 school year.
I found other ways to keep students on Twitter: tweeting their fall term regression project topics and pictures of graphs they planned to use; tweeting their sketches of winter term poster designs; linking students together when their topics converged; tweeting questions to ask guest speakers (thank you @JesseEhrenfeld) both when they were with us and after their departure. Some of my students leapt into the fray, tweeting at me when they found something that was pertinent to our class discussions, following the presidential election through Twitter, and making the journey their own just as I had.
While not every student was enthusiastic, I received no pushback from the class on using Twitter. Many students shared articles via Twitter that were referenced in other classes. I believe the year using Twitter in the classroom was a positive experience for my students as I know it was for me. Once a #Math530 student, always a #Math530 student, and I will be curious to see who will keep their accounts active, who will delete their profile, and who I might hear from as they venture on to other exploits. I will be sure to let the new #Math530 community know what I hear from my former students. This excursion down a Twitter stream has been worthwhile and educational for all.
Here is an excerpt from my syllabus.
“By the end of the term you will have many tools available to analyze a variety of data sets and to draw some conclusions. We will cover chapters 1 to 5.1 of our text (& section 12.2) and consider many outside resources, including Twitter; you will have the opportunity to research a data set, perform a regression analysis, and consult with fellow students.”
“Homework might include watching a video, taking notes on the reading, tweeting or seeking Twitter resources, or undertaking some type of activity.”
“Your grade for the fall term will be based on the results of your three tests, any graded writing assignments, the project, class participation and homework, your Twitter feed, and a final assessment.”
“Plans for Day 1 Math 530”
Who—our class, we are all learners, we will get to know one another, form study groups, foster an environment of cooperation, and have fun while learning valuable skills. Hand out class survey
What—study statistics, data, and evaluate information
How—use of lectures, applets, Twitter, games, visuals, homework, writing, AP problems, reading articles, postings on Blackboard, projects, contests, TI-84 plotting and programming, cookies,…get access to the text
Why—I’ve got stories to tell (Rumpus Toys, Cleveland Browns, college credit, placement, and confidence). Ask the students, read the news. Will this course actually ever be useful????? Look at my Twitter feed”
Get to work: Greed, survey, human box plot on miles from home, the course, the calculator, Twitter, variables, stem and leaf plot, 5# summary”
Ellen Greenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org and @ellenmgreenberg