Context: Earlier this year, NCTM sent out a call for “Grand Challenges”; ambitious, meaningful, yet attainable goals that would advance the teaching and learning of mathematics. There were plenty of excellent responses; I’m partial to Mr. Honner’s.
Then, Michael Pershan comes along and extends the challenge to the MTBoS. Seems appropriate — the math teaching internet community created Nix the Tricks, Twitter Math Camp, Productive Struggle, and more. Math teachers are clearly willing to work together to advance teaching. So what’s next?
My challenge, context: The MTBoS is, by its nature, lacking structure, constantly evolving, and hard to define. That said, there are an enormous volume of incredible resources. Some are the labor of love of a few dedicated individuals — Robert Kaplinsky’s lessons and Open Middle, Andrew Stadel’s 3-Act Tasks and Estimation 180, Curmudgeon’s Math Arguments. Others are more fractured — teachers here and there creating their own tasks, or awesome Desmos activities, or sharing ideas on giving students feedback or facilitating productive mathematical discourse.
To add to the volume and complexity of the resources available on the internet is a trend — hard to quantify, but largely agreed-upon, at least at Twitter Math Camp — that conversations in the MTBoS are moving from blogs to Twitter, with fewer teachers blogging, and more high-quality discourse on Twitter. I’m a bit worried about this trend. I blogged about it here. But I think it could have a significant positive impact on what the MTBoS does to help teachers teach.
I think that there are three different functions that the MTBoS does really well.
- Conversation. Twitter is best for this. There are always math teachers willing to answer questions. I love commenting on blogs, and I hope people continue commenting on mine, but it feels like much of that conversation has moved to Twitter — where it is thriving.
- Reflection. I don’t have any evidence, but I feel like 180 blogs have exploded in the last year. They aren’t written primarily for an audience — they’re reflection, and reflection is a great way to get better at anything (at least according to the book I’m currently reading).
- Sharing Resources. Some people are better at this than others. People like Dan Meyer and Geoff Krall have created resources that are modular, easily shareable, and permanent. Meanwhile, the average blogger has plenty of great ideas — but they get buried in the deluge of blog posts.
I think that, right now, the MTBoS is good at facilitating #1 and #2. I think there are great resources that are going unused because we are not very good at #3.
My grand challenge is for the creation of an open, accessible, organized collection of MTBoS (and beyond) resources: tasks (to introduce concepts, assess concepts, practice, or develop understanding), high-quality problems, full lessons from places like Mathalicious and Illustrative Mathematics, resources for practice, interactives, blog posts on the topic, and more. This is not so different from Mr. Honner’s NCTM challenge, but I think that the MTBoS is uniquely well-positioned for it, and the Common Core provides an avenue to make this easier to organize.
I think the MTBoS is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge because of the types of resources that we share; we are not looking for textbooks — we are looking for tasks, activities, and problems that promote and reveal student thinking, provide opportunities to facilitate discussion and connections between concepts, and promote student-constructed understanding. I think that the MTBoS, more than any official entity, can create this because the MTBoS is informal and unstructured — we have no agenda, and no responsibility other than that to our students and their learning.
All of these resources are being created, talked about, and shared already. But it’s happening in a way that is hard and time-consuming to find. I’m imagining a single place where resources are shared and tagged by Common Core standard, in different categories. Resources can be “favorited” or similar, so excellent resources float to the top — but all are still welcome. Teachers use, and share the resource — to do what they did before, but better. Maybe before, you used Mathalicious and Yummy Math — now, those are tagged by standard in the same place as other resources, and you can see how other teachers like them, while also grabbing a quick question from Open MIddle on the topic to probe students’ understanding.
This is my grand challenge because these resources already exist — but they will be enormously more useful if they are well organized for teachers who don’t want to comb the internet to find them. The Common Core provides an incredible opportunity to make the most of common standards, and we should use it. Finally, this type of organization is uncommon in the MTBoS — but when a huge number of teachers collaborated to produce Nix the Tricks, the results were amazing. Let’s do it again.
I’m not sure what the next step is. I’ll be thinking about it; I hope you will as well.