(1) What type of math and which grade levels do you teach?
Currently I teach 7th and 8th grade math, pre-Algebra and Algebra.
(2) How did you come up with the concept of math podcasts for 7th grade?
Every Saturday I look forward to listening to "The Splendid Table" which is a food-centric podcast that's been around for twenty years! Since there is so much unnecessary stress around math, I thought students would more readily engage the topic if it was presented in a novel and entertaining way. Math, as a subject, is wildly interesting! It's also a universal language that links so many ideas and peoples together. I simply want students to see beyond theorems, and realize how far they can take their knowledge.
(3) Why did you think of applying this idea to 7th grade math?
I think 7th graders just want to get out of the textbook. I've found that I can broach more difficult topics if its within the scope of a creative project. Also, I finally wanted to stop answering the question: "When will I ever use this in real life?" I think math students need to hear it from someone who is not their teacher that what they're learning is entirely applicable to all their other interests.
(4) How did the students come up with the questions they wanted to ask?
We had a few quick discussions about what the goal of the project was, and which targeted questions could address this. Students also researched the people they were interviewing with a view to eliciting valuable feedback. My primary involvement was that I would glance at their questions before the interview. I think what was fascinating was that groups had dozens of questions, but once the formal interview started, they just let that happen. This brought out a more natural and organic feel to the podcasts.
(5) How did you select the adult participants?
I think my husband wants the answer to this question. Poor man was very insulted that I didn't ask him! I was very purposeful in finding people who had careers seemingly far outside of the realm of applied mathematics; that meant no engineers (sorry husband), architects, accountants, and financial gurus. I think the math is very clear in those professions, and I wanted my students to see that math is used in every career!
I'm entirely blessed to have a wildly diverse and creative group of friends. I looked to them and lucky for me, they were all game. Well, Will Connors, a journalist, was vaguely terrified he would have to graph an equation, but his students assured him he would not. I tried to appeal to my students, really finding out their interests and choosing adults accordingly. For example, I have a group of students who are fascinated by the beauty industry. I have two girlfriends who own an acclaimed organic beauty salon. They were a perfect fit for each other! I felt more comfortable asking friends (because of the time commitment for the interview). However, I would be happy to reach out to a wider community, and get out of my own comfort zone.
(6) Of course learning to make a podcast is new learning for many students as well. Did the students face any technical difficulties with actually creating the podcasts? If yes, how did they overcome them?
YES, on so many levels, yes to the technical difficulties! To make matters worse, I'm not particularly technologically savvy so I felt like I was a poor source for the students. We brought in advice from our tech department, and they were great. However, they weren't always available during our class time, so the students really had to use their own skill set. We were all really struggling with linking some versions of audio editing software products with some multi-media formats which we had used for the recordings. The students quickly took up the task themselves, and migrated to iMovie. I will add that part of the reason I chose this project was because it was so outside of my own comfort zone. I think it is great for the students to see me struggle. When they have more expertise than I do (as was the case on the editing section), they shine.
(7) Do you think students have a renewed appreciation for math now? Do you have any particular student observations you can share with us?
I sincerely hope they feel more strongly about math now! I really tried to pair groups of students with adults I thought they could connect with, and learn from. I loved the fact that so many students asked their interviewee if they had liked math in middle school. The adults didn't necessarily say yes, but they would explain why. This was such an important moment for the seventh graders; they need to know that they don't have to love math in order to be confident with it, and use it. There are so many hilarious anecdotes from the interview process...the laughter that I would hear from the students as they were chatting with my friends was incredible. I loved that they were all so at ease with one another.
(8) Will you continue to make podcasts in 7th grade? If so, what will you change in your process?
I would love to continue this project. I have lots of ideas. I would certainly get the process going earlier in the year! I have one idea to just do a single podcast per class, really put it on the students to do ALL the work. I think this would force them to choose their roles very carefully, and be more responsible about their actions. Also, for my sanity, fewer podcasts would mean less scheduling on my part. It took a lot of organizing to make sure all interview aspects happened when they needed to.
(9) Expanding the idea, do you think podcasts would be a good idea for any other grades?
Absolutely. Interviews know no age limit and honestly, different ages discover different aspects of the same subject. I wonder how I could use a rep. from each grade to create a math podcast!
(10) Any final thoughts?
I am still excited by this project, although that's not to say I didn't find it exhausting. It's a lot of scheduling and planning for students’ free time during the day (not wanting to take up too much of class time). I think this is why I am drawn to the idea of fewer podcasts per class. I love that this was so outside of my comfort zone. I'm still nervous about editing and that's ok since I can learn from my students. I think it's also healthy that I was told by my associates to step away from the editing process, and let the final product be a clear representation of the seventh grade brain. That's tough for me, but it's a learning process for all. I love teaching...every year I am challenged to inspire my students, not just to learn, but to love math.