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The site approaching its 500-th question and the end of the first 90 days imminent, I thought it might be a good time to create a thread for collective discussion about the development of the site so far.

The intent here is not so much to gather ideas for activity, but rather to get a sense of how everybody sees what happened so far (which then might, as a next step, inform future activity).

What went well, what not so well?

How did your expectations of the site compare against reality: what were pleasant surprises? what is a disappointment?

And so on. All kind of feedback is solicited (with the obvious restriction that even if critical, it should still be constructive).

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Questions: Most of the questions are good. Many can be edited into something good. The site needs more to thrive.

Answers: I've refrained from saying "tl;dr", but I'd enjoy more concise answers, and think they'd often be more useful.

Pleasant surprise: People talking about math education online! I didn't know how much I would enjoy it until it existed.

Disappointment: I expected an online community thinking seriously about math education to favor more reform.

Maybe it's worth collecting my ideas on curricular reform for high school and college math in one place: Less factoring, less trigonometry, less epsilons and deltas in calculus, less symbolic integration; less Galois theory; less proofs; more numerical calculations, more calculators and smartphones, more computers, more statistics, more applications. For anyone else who sympathizes, at least now I have these ideas written down.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sadly, discussing such (rather radical) reform ideas isn't the staple of SE... $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Jun 15 '14 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ Discussion is not encouraged at SE, but carefully-phrased questions on reform issues could be acceptable, I would expect. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Jun 17 '14 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. Your remark on "answers" is intriguing. Personally, I am positively impressed by the effort some frequently put into their answers. But nevertheless I find your remark interesting. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Jun 17 '14 at 21:43
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Since this is a Q&A site, I will structure my response accordingly.

Questions:

I see that the number of visitors per day has dropped off somewhat substantially. Still, with 628 visits/day (at the time of my writing - edit: now 494; a precipitous drop...) that seems like quite a bit considering that over the past week we have had an average of about 3 questions/day (edit: converging to zero).

My sense is that the main issue right now is obtaining high-quality users. Where are they and how can we recruit them? Perhaps by identifying the locations of such potential users, current MESE participants could try their own hands at recruitment. Here are some potential locales, and, if you know math educators from these places (or others), then perhaps you could recommend they ask a question!

  1. Schools, including: public schools, private schools, charter schools, parochial schools, international schools, home schools; pre-K, early elementary, primary, middle, secondary, tertiary, graduate.

    Question: Can those of you who are teachers ask your colleagues to consider joining the site?

  2. Bloggers. There seem to be many math educators who have their own blogs. I am not in touch with this world of Math Ed blogging, but I believe some MESE users are.

    Question: Can those of you who are blogging actively or responding to / reading blog-posts or otherwise aware of blogging endeavors ask Math Education bloggers to consider joining the site or posting about it on their blogs?

  3. Graduate Programs in Math/Education/Math Education. There seem to be a number of users who are currently students or professors in one of these three disciplines, and having research based answers to complement practice based answers is an important aspect of the site.

    Question: Can those of you who are involved with graduate programs in Math/Education/Math Education ask your colleagues to consider joining the site?

  4. Other sites, including: MO and MSE, but also reddit (e.g., /r/math, /r/matheducation), and The Mathematics Teaching Community, as well as others of which I am probably unaware.

    Question: Can those of you who contribute to these sites try to use them to spread the word that MESE exists?

I think to make a real dent we would need somehow to become better known within entire institutions or perhaps even school districts. There is a definite paucity of $\leq$ secondary instructors. Meanwhile, with our answer rate hovering around 100%, and a per-day visit rate at over 200 times the rate of new questions asked, I think MESE users would welcome the challenge of trying to tackle more problems.

Can you recruit at least one math educator to pose at least one (good) question?


Answers:

I'm still not sure quite how to use community wiki vs. comments vs. answers vs. no response at all. Here is my own personal feeling with a request. Rather than down-vote me if you disagree, perhaps you can post your own feelings: in a separate response, in a comment, or even by editing my answer (but please make it clear where your edit begins and ends).

My feeling is that if an answer can be fit into a comment then it should be left as one, unless it is a canonical answer. In the latter case, then I would certainly say you should post it (example of a question with an actual answer: The “water triangle” proportional reasoning task). Mostly, though, the questions here have plenty of potential answers. In my mind, if you are going to post an answer, then it should be descriptive/detailed, with either links to research (ideally with some brief summary of what you are linking to) or notes about your own personal experience (again: descriptive and detailed!).

Again, in my opinion, there are too many "answers" here that are just a couple of sentences long. If the question is good enough to stay open, then (with the exception of something like a reference request) it should be amenable to answers longer than would fit as a single comment.

Separately: I must admit I am a bit worried about the naming conventions for some of the questions. More precisely, I am concerned that some of the questions have such general names that it seems like it would not be possible to accept a single answer. Here are just five titles that have accepted answers:

  1. How to handle the situation where a student insists I am wrong during the class?

  2. How do I motivate my students to go to office hours?

  3. Student: Why not use calculator?

  4. What to do when you get “the empty stare”?

  5. What to do with students who think they “already know it,” but actually don't?

Surely not one of these has a single answer that is correct. Is the "single answer" the best way to determine whether or not you give a response the green check? I'm not sure, but it feels to me like doing so suggests site users have figured out a canonical answer for extremely nebulous (yet often common) questions among math educators. Do we really know how to motivate students to go to office hours? No, we really don't. Do we have some good ideas about things to try? Yes, I think answers on that post and others provide some quality guidance.

More generally, I suppose this re-focuses on the question of when to accept an answer - a decision that I readily admit is totally up to the question poser, but, still, I think this is a consideration worthy of further discussion.

Of course, one of the benefits that would come with an increase in questions and users would be that those who answer would be able to focus more on their own areas of expertise. So far I've been able to draw from my own specific area of interest on a few questions, including How can mathematics educators encourage innovation and creativity? (does any answer deserve a green check here? I'm not convinced...). I've certainly had fun tracking down information for some questions that I did not know the answer to offhand - I quite enjoyed chasing down leads for Why aren't logarithms introduced earlier? - but I would prefer to read answers from users who draw on their own more specific area(s) of expertise. On MathOverflow, one can ask a question about set theory and have a set theorist answer; I would like to see it be the case that on MathEducators, one can ask a question about pedagogical content knowledge necessary for teaching division of fractions and have someone with the corresponding expertise (a researcher, practitioner, or both) respond.


Closing note: How are we doing? Pretty okay, I think. I'm enjoying the site, and there have been some very informative answers and very intriguing questions posted already. I hope we can increase our user-base to keep the site improving, but also that we can think about other ways to build on the site. Lastly, please allow me to re-iterate my earlier challenge to those of you presently signed up on MESE:

Can you recruit at least one math educator to pose at least one (good) question?

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the detailed and thought out reply! On your edits: yes unfortunately we "hit" zero questions with some frequency, sometimes even on consecutive days, but then these breaks seem often followed by increased activity. Yet, I fear that the summer could be a bit idle. (It is typically quite a bit less active on MO, IIRC.) $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Jun 17 '14 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ @quid The hope would be, I think, that teachers - many of whom do much of their preparation for the year during the summer - would join during this "break." However, I am still unsure about how to reach these networks. In particular, it would be very helpful if some of the blog people could put the word out; but this is not a group to which I (currently) belong, opting instead to put most of my public thoughts on mathematics education here. $\endgroup$ Jun 18 '14 at 1:43
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    $\begingroup$ I have mentioned the site to my colleagues on a couple of occasions. I plan to continue talking about it. I think there's definitely a need for MESE. $\endgroup$
    – JPBurke
    Jun 18 '14 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ I might point out that in many places, teaching tapers off in the summer. Things might rise again come August as many of us prepare for the Fall. $\endgroup$
    – Chris C
    Jul 3 '14 at 14:27

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