Facebook in Math Class? Yes, Please!

I spend a lot of time trolling through my PLN on Twitter.  Sometimes I’m looking to keep up with current technology trends.  Sometimes I’m looking for resources I can use with my elementary and post-secondary students.  Other times I might be looking for motivation to go for a run or just trolling for fun. 

Recently I saw a tweet that caught my eye. I was instantly curious.  I love analytics, and I’m still enjoying Facebook somewhat.  Further catching my attention was the fact that this application was done using WolframAlpha.  I’ve got twins in 6th grade; WolframAlpha is a reputable site that is a staple in my house when the kids need math help that I can’t complete or explain off the top of my head.

WolframAlpha is a “computational knowledge” engine (that means it computes answers and provides knowledge), and is not a search engine.  It differs from Google. Google searches for pages or links with answers that may apply to your search query. YOU are responsible for finding the answers within those pages.  WolframAlpha gives you the answer; not a page to find the answer on.  While the Zumpano household uses this service mainly to find answers to math questions WolframAlpha goes beyond just math.  Students can locate information on history, science, health and more.  See examples here.

So how was a computational knowledge engine going to connect with Facebook, and what type of information is included in their report?  I began by visiting the site.  Their homepage background (which now allows you to change the color) looks like a series of pencil drawings.  Each of these drawings is actually an interactive illustration.  When you hover over an illustration it will pop up with a link to click on to find out more. 

You’ll need a (free) WolframAlpha account in order to run the report.  Once you have logged in to Wolfram Alpha and selected the “Get Your Report” link Facebook will ask for your permission to access your status updates.  You need to give permission for this.  It also asked to access some information from my friend lists.  This feature I chose to skip.  I should note that I ran the Facebook report from home.  ChicagoPublic Schools blocks access to Facebook.

Here's What You Get

Some basic information, in case I forget how long it is until my next birthday.

Recent activity broken down into status updates, photos and links.  Notice I have no status posts for a period of time.  This was part of my self-induced "Facebook Cleanse" (which I highly recommend).

The friends' gender and relationship status are nicely displayed in pie charts.

The WolframAlpha report will also show which posts were the most liked and commented on as shown above, as well as which photo received the most "likes" as shown below.

The weekly distribution illustration does a great job of showing when you are most interactive with Facebook.  Good old fashioned post statistics are also available in the report.

Where are your Facebook friends located?  The report breaks down the top 5 locations.

The most commented on photo stat gives you the original post as well as when it was uploaded and how many comments were attached to the post.

Similar to Wordle this feature will make words that appear the most in your posts appear larger than surrounding words.  It's an easy way to see what words you use the most.

You’ll notice in the corner of each picture there is a "clip and share" feature.  This allows you to create a shareable page of the individual data piece that can be distributed via email, Twitter or through other social media sites. 

Classroom Connections

I thought the information was very cool to see broken down.  It got me thinking about how this could be used with students.  Statistics are a dry topic to many middle school students.  Would they still feel this way if they were analyzing their own data?  Would they be able to formulate some questions or hypothesis based on these charts?  Here are some ideas that came to mind:

  • Create an Edmodo group for your students.  Ask them to choose one piece of data and analyze it.  For example, post the weekly distribution chart.  Analyze what time/day of the week do you post the most pictures.  Why is this? 
  • Post the “Friends location” data.  What is the furthest location?  What percentage of your Facebook friends reside outside of the United States?
  • Embed the “word cloud” report.  Which words are the largest?  What does this tell you is important to the author of these status updates?
  • Look at the birthdate of each class member.  Create a digital timeline of class birthdays.
  • Use the "Gender" report to introduce pie charts
  • Practice finding averages with post statistics
  • Good old fashioned subtraction:  find out how many days have passed since your most commented on post
  • Have students blog about what surprised them about their data
Good teachers can come up with dozens more ideas than this.  My point for this post?  We need to meet our students where they are.  If we are responsible for teaching math and they are into social media we need to find a way to bring their world into our teaching world. Do we need to do this for each lesson?  Certainly not.  Our students, if we are fortunate, will be exposed to multiple experiences, persons, surroundings in their lifetime.  We need to find ways to meet them where they are, teach them to problem solve and create and sometimes teach the boring stuff too (no offense to all the math geeks out there). 


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