Category Archives: MTBoS

#MTBoS Presentation at PCMI

I had the chance to give a 10 minute presentation on the MathTwitterBlogoSphere at the Park City Mathematics Institute this week. I had a lot of fun preparing it, and I think I hooked a few people in. Here’s what I did, and please feel free to steal any of these ideas for any similar presentation in the future.

First, my slides are here. They don’t make a ton of sense without my voice attached — they’re mostly pictures that I used to illustrate cool stuff in the MTBoS, and some I moved through quickly while others I talked over for a minute.

There’s a pretty solid crew of people already involved in varying degrees here — including a ton of people who read Dan Meyer, many more familiar with Fawn Nguyen and other “big names”, and a lot more people who read lots of blogs (lurkers?) than the few of us who are active tweeting and blogging. I had two goals with the presentation — first, to give folks a taste of the awesomeness in the MathTwitterBlogoSphere, and also to hopefully make it seem manageable to get them started exploring it. I began by saying that the community isn’t organized, no one is in charge, everything is free, and it’s really just some math teachers and math education people who like other math people and want to talk and get better together. I offered five reasons why I think the community can help folks at PCMI, and any math teacher anywhere.

Reason #1: Resources
There is so much stuff. I talked about Geoff Krall’s problem-based curriculum maps, Robert Kaplinsky’s lessons, Visual Patterns, Which One Doesn’t Belong, and the existence of virtual filing cabinets across math bloggers. I went fast — my goal was just to say, “Hey, look, something cool! Something else cool! And something else! And this is just the tip of the iceberg!” I think this did a good job of sharing what exists, but a bad job of making it seem not overwhelming.

Reason #2: Ideas
If you want a chance to push your thinking about math teaching, start reading math blogs. I mentioned Michael Pershan’s series on feedback, Fawn’s deconstructing a lesson activity, Dan’s most recent work on aspirin, headaches, and math, as well as a shoutout to PCMI participant Wendy Menard.

Reason #3: To Reflect
I just tried to tell my story here. Someone at PCMI says something smart, I go think about it and write stuff on my blog, and that process internalizes the learning for me. I go home after a good lesson, or more often after a bad lesson, and write it down, and it makes me better next time.

Reason #4: To Bounce Ideas Off of Humans
This is where I talked about Twitter, and where I think I left the most out. I’m not super active on Twitter — I’m an unabashed introvert, and I’m not always up for more human interaction at the end of the day. But I talked about asking random questions and getting a ton of awesome feedback, tweeting at #MTBoS and getting a ton of incredibly generous help, especially from folks who have sorted through awesome lesson ideas so you don’t have to, and the wealth of math chats around that are a great place to get started.

Reason #5: The Community
This is where I get a bit sentimental. Math folks on the internet are so incredibly kind, and generous, and give without any expectation of getting anything back, and it’s a pretty cool group to be a part of. I dropped in Global Math and Shadow Con here as two more examples of what the community does, and mostly sapped about how I love math teachers and want PCMIers to be my friends forever. Or something.

I wrapped up by trying to make the point that there is a ton of stuff out there, and folks should feel no obligation to do everything — but that, especially over the summer, it is worth the effort a dozen times over to check out what exists and what might be useful. I challenged folks to, before the school year starts, explore the MTBoS, see what they liked, and consider how it might help them teach a little bit better this year.

So that probably sounds really overwhelming. I closed with two resources — the Explore MTBoS page and a MTBoS starter kit I put together over here. I asked folks to pick one, poke around, and see what the MTBoS has to offer.

I still get nervous speaking in front of a group of adults. I gotta get better at that. Overall I was happy with the presentation, and a number of folks have followed up asking to learn more. There was definitely a significant group present who already know everything, and a significant group that is happy with where they are, but I’m hoping it made a difference for a good chunk of the rest.

I struggled with a few points. I hope folks realized that I was just showing them the tip of the iceberg — I forgot to make that point a few times, and I think it’s a critical one. I also came up a bit short on emphasizing that it’s ok to just read blogs and look for ideas and look for ideas and not tweet or blog or anything — I mentioned it at the end, but I think that’s a huge point that needs making. I also didn’t have the websites written on something up front — I am going to steal 40 seconds of time at the start of the day tomorrow to plug the links again so folks know where to go. But overall, it was a ton of fun presenting, and I really love sharing the MTBoS love with folks and getting more great teachers sharing their ideas online.

The MTBoS and Special Teachers

Dan dropped this on Twitter about two hours ago:

Takes you to a page that, if you’re a picker, looks something like this (side note, Polygraph by Desmos is awesome, check it out here):
Screenshot 2014-12-17 at 8.58.24 PM

It’s like a game of Guess Who, but over the internet and with all my favorite math teachers. Got me thinking about which teachers who I interact with are really special to me.

Well last night, I wrote this post, about how I want to be better at helping my students who struggle with math anxiety, have negative experiences with math, lack background knowledge, and generally don’t want to be in my class.

Conversations about these students don’t happen nearly as often as conversations about great tasks, best uses of technology, or best practices for facilitating discussion. And that’s logical. The beauty of math is that quadratics are the same no matter who or where you teach. Kids are another story, and I’m sure you’re bunch is more different than alike with mine.

Looking at my choices for an educator who was special to me, there’s one who jumps out as someone I don’t appreciate enough:
Screenshot 2014-12-17 at 8.31.18 PM

Justin Aion, and his blog, Re-Learning To Teach, is a favorite of mine in the MathTwitterBlogosphere. I was lucky enough to meet Justin at Twitter Math Camp this past summer, although I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time talking with him as I would have liked. Justin’s honest, reflective blogging is a daily reminder for me of the realities that teaching puts in front of each of us. He is not the only one, but in my opinion he is by far the best at sharing his classroom with anyone who wants to visit, warts and all. His frustrations reflect how I feel at the end of most days. I am not a great teacher. Many days I leave school unconvinced if I’m even a good teacher. There are days when all I want is to play with a cool new lesson, but there are also many days when what I need is someone to empathize with the challenges I have every day.

I’m happy that much of what I see shared on the internet is positive — that I see stories and resources from successful lessons and strategies that I have learned enormously from borrowing and stealing. But Justin’s blog is more important than any of them, because it is a reminder for me that, while teaching is the best work there is, it is challenging every day, and that is how we learn.