Dr. Sabrina Goldberg is the extraordinary 7th grade math teacher here at The School at Columbia University. It’s about that time of year for Sabrina’s students to embark on the Great Mathematician Project (GMP). Each student is assigned a mathematician to explore deeply. They learn about that person’s history, education, skills, interests, life-work, and contribution to mathematics and beyond. Later, students write a research paper and eventually participate in a GMP Expo where they make a large informative poster, set up experiments, dress up in costume, and interact with their audience of students, teachers, and parents.
A few years ago, Don Buckley had the idea to use our in-house social network (powered by Elgg) to create fake profiles for these mathematicians. This gave students an opportunity to learn about how to fill in an online profile, connect with others, blog as their person, and locate commonalities amongst their mathematicians. Yesterday, I created accounts for each of the mathematicians. Today, students started fleshing out the profiles with an image, an image citation, a list of skills and interests, and a bit of background bio in the “About Me” section. We discussed how a social network is where people share who you are, who are your friends, and what do you do. I reinforced that we archive the previous year’s social network and use a blank social network every year. Thus, they see that a social network is empty and full of nothing until users willingly populate it with information. I quoted Danah Boyd a lot.
The students have had great success with the GMP over the years. Recently, Sabrina wrote a scholarly article about the GMP, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) chose it as their cover story for the December’s Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School journal.