MTBoS Books: Pushout (March 3) & For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood (April 14)

Hey everyone! We’re now on to MTBoS BookClub #4 & #5.

Book Club #4: Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris on March 3rd.

Pushout Cover

Book Club #5: For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all too: Reality Pedagogy & Urban Education by Christopher Emdin on April 14th.

for white folks book cover

EVERYONE is welcome to join in. We’ll meet in person in Minneapolis at Urban Growler, and for a twitter conversation online right after.

The New Jim Crow: Discussions

TL;DR Black and White people use and sell drugs at remarkably similar rates. The New Jim Crow does and EXTRAORDINARY job of laying out the systematic ways that Black and Brown people have been unjustly locked up in the “war on drugs”. It goes (deep) into the history of the war on drugs, the ways police are incentivized to over arrest, how and why Black communities are targeted even though data would point police elsewhere, and how courts have been used to solidify the system. We don’t allow Jim Crow laws anymore, and we call out overt racism, but racism has just morphed to fit this new system. Honestly, don’t read this blog post, go read the book. 

The next #mtbos book club meeting is next Saturday, January 20. In person in Minneapolis, on twitter if you can’t join us here. It’s on The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Full confession, I am not yet done with the book. I’m about 2/3 through it, but I want to get the ball rolling, and Marian Dingle (@dingleteach) made the very good point that MLK day would be a good one for this book. 

Instead of summarizing the book here, what I’d like to do is share conversations I had with my class over the past week. I’ll be tweeting out lots of things from the book throughout the day once this is posted.

On January 8th, “The New Jim Crow” was trending on twitter. Marian forwarded me a tweet from Sean King.  Continue reading

#MTBoS Book Club! The New Jim Crow January 20th

Join us! January 20th, 3PM in person in Minneapolis, 4PM for a twitter chat, and on this blog (and yours! Or guest post here!) to discuss The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

New Jim Crow

For those unfamiliar, this is a book club primarily for math teachers (but honestly, EVERYONE is welcome!), because math teachers, like everyone else, have a responsibility to educate themselves on race and equity in America. We’re reading, we’re learning, we’re talking, and you should totally join us.

If you’re around Minneapolis, we’ll meet at 3pm at Urban Growler. (RSVP here so I know how big of a table to grab!)

Let me know how excited you are (then I’ll try to tag and actively engage you) in the comments, and join us!

I would love to hear suggestions for the next book, too!

The #MTBoS is Exhausting and Exhilarating #unsexy






Oh my gosh. It’s 6:30pm, and I’ve been wondering for a least an hour if I can go to bed. This time of the school year is totally exhausting. And just for fun-zies, my school decided to LOSE THEIR GOSH DARN MINDS by concocting a torturous schedule today that included…

  • Late start (read: 2 hours of meetings)
  • An assembly that included a 10 minute video with no words
  • An hour long advisory period
  • And, oh, did I mention that I found out about this schedule yesterday?

I tweeted about this last night, and true to form, MTBoS did their darndest to give me excellent suggestions.

It just wouldn’t end. My god. All of these thoughtful, helpful suggestions. I’m not even including them all because I’m tired of copying and pasting the darn links.

Allow me to be perfectly clear. I adore each and every person who gave me suggestions (especially Bowen, I really needed that laugh). It was nothing if not thoughtful of them to see, “Geez, Annie needs help planning for such absurd classes, allow me to remind her of all our MTBoSy awesomeness!” (I imagined each and every one of these people wearing a cheerleading outfit as they typed to me.) I am not here to disparage them. I am here to declare instead of planning an awesome, amazing lesson using their super duper helpful suggestions: I spent 15 minutes answering kid’s questions and had them make a cheat sheet for their test tomorrow. That’s right. I went #UNSEXY, and I feel freaking fabulous about it. 

When I’m up and excited, MTBoS is constantly cheering me on and totally there for me. When I’m grouchy and exhausted…MTBoS is….constantly cheering me on and totally there for me. Which, frankly, is occasionally dreadful. Yesterday, I just wanted to vent that I was going to have an horrifically disrupted day, but MTBoS was all, “Come on, Annie! You can do it! Think about how awesome all these teachers are, and they seem to never ever get tired or ever feel overwhelmed!” Like a twerpy little sick kick that’s always trying to pump you up. All thoughtful and s***. Ugh. (But seriously, I love you guys.)

I completely understand that I am a jerk for whining that I have a supportive community that’s always trying to pour energy and love into me. I know. And I know that I have been that twerpy side kick many, many times. But I just wanted to make sure that OTHER people also know that while I love the MTBoS completely, am SO stinking grateful for all it has given to me and my students, it’s okay to occasionally plug your ears, say, “LALALALALALA!” and give the kids a worksheet. It is emphatically NOT okay to do this on the regular, but if it’s what you need to do in the moment, don’t necessarily feel like you’ve let them down, nor that you’ve utterly failed your students.  Teaching is a long game, and if you’re volunteering for every play, you’re going to run yourself down and burn out. I truly believe that.

And you know what? The day was fine. By not having a phenomenal activity planned for our fifteen minute sprints, I had time to chat with students that I don’t have every day. I got to have some conversations about what I really love about math and what I think is ridiculous. I got to hear about what they’re up to. So, honestly, I feel pretty good about phoning it in on the lesson planning today.

And then when I got home, I saw this kind mention, which brought me back to a blog post I’d written over a year ago, that reminded me of all the good stuff.

Teaching take a lot of energy, and it’s okay to conserve for a while. I’ve learned my lesson that MTBoS is not always the best place to get an empathetic “that sucks”, (although I’m sure that if I asked for it, I would get it) but it is a great place to turn for help when you need to know that someone out there believes in you and wants you to do well for your students.

Guest Post! Marian Dingle on “Weapons of Math Destruction”

I have been extraordinarily blessed to have Marian Dingle join me in reading and discussing books for a #mtbos bookClub, and she has graciously written a reflection on the recent book, Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. Enjoy, then follow Marian’s blog and chat with her on twitter @dingleteach

Weapons of Math Destruction: Post-Chat Thoughts

By Marian Dingle

First, I’d like to thank Annie for her work and dedication in starting and maintaining this #mtbos book chat series. I am humbled she has allowed me to share my thoughts here. I am afraid that I have far too many more questions than I have answers. But we are all here to learn together, right?

Briefly defined, a WMD (weapon of math destruction) is an algorithm that seeks to quantify certain traits in order to predict outcomes. This alone is not a new concept; we are taught to model in this way throughout our K-12 mathematical experience through algebraic relationships, calculus maximization, and even micro- and macroeconomics. What separates the modeling in WMDs is the curious ways it enters our livelihoods and the scale at which it occurs.

Initial reactions ranged from shock to validation, mixed with an urge to act.

An important point is that the author, Cathy O’Neill, a former quant who participated in creating and applying these WMDs, began as one certainly meaning no harm, but had an epiphany, ultimately leaving this lucrative field. Sherri, below, made a great point that the fact that O’Neill is female, and probably a Wall Street outsider, enabled her to see things with slightly different eyes.

Now for my (tangential?) thoughts. Of the many topics O’Neill discusses, I was struck by college selection. Although I do look at rankings, they were not much of a factor when considering college choices for my two children. As a person of color, I have learned not to solely rely on such rankings, as the information that is crucial to my family is often not captured there. Yes, I want my children to attend a “good” school, but my definition of good includes support of marginalized students, their graduation rates, and the number of faculty members of color. A brand-name university can potentially be more harmful than beneficial. This is a reality that many people of color face.

Informal algorithms like these are often generated through social networks and aid in other decisions such as where to live, work, and enroll children in K-12 settings. Would it be helpful to have more quants of color designing algorithms for big data? Perhaps, but is it even more important to control the question the algorithm seeks to answer? Would this help us with results of standardized testing? Are tests designed to justify the existence of an achievement gap? Can we design one to dismantle oppressive systems?

As we think about our roles going forward, I think it’s worth pondering our roles up to this point. More and more educators are agreeing that education and teaching, even in mathematics, is not neutral. What we choose to discuss, and not to discuss, reflects our politics, and affects our students. Do we discuss the purpose of mathematics with our students or colleagues? Have we created a space for them to discuss how mathematics can be used to support bias? Do we even ask them what they think? Do we know what we think?

What I know for sure is that we can no longer afford to be silent. Courage is required to analyze our own agendas and roles in this work.

Geez, These Links are Complex

Many of the drawings I do are the ones that simply seem to me as though they’ll be interesting. Sometimes they meet my expectations, sometimes they don’t, and occasionally they wildly exceed them. This drawing is of the latter quality.


I’m not actually that pleased with what it looks like. It’s not particularly pretty. I also spaced out and mixed up the purple and red in the bottom right image. But the mathematical results are really neat. Here’s what I was hoping to do with it. These are what I would call 4×4 grids, each that has exactly 1 break in it. For reference, here’s what a 4×4 looks like with no breaks.

4 by 4

Up until now, I’ve been thinking of this as 4 distinct links. In my head, I have labeled them 1, 2, 3 and 4 starting at the top left of the image, and moving right along the top. Thus, in this picture, dark green is 1, light green is 2, pink is 3 and purple is 4.

link numbersI now think this might be incorrect, and I should instead think of it in symmetric terms where 1 and 4 are the same link with a plurality of two, and links 2 and 3 are the same, also with a plurality of 2. Allow me to explain why.

In planning the image at the top of this post, I wanted to try putting a single break in all of the unique places a single break might exist in a 4 by 4 grid. Those are shown below. Each yellow line is a unique breaking point, with the white lines representing the duplicate breaking points that could be obtained by reflections or rotations. (Note that all the vertical breaks can become horizontal if you just rotate.)


I also disregarded the any breaks on the farther outside spaces because the resulting link would have to have a section traveling vertically rather than at the usual 45 degree angle. Maybe I should have considerd these, but they seem to be an expansion beyond the type of link I wanted to consider for now.

disregarded break

Okay. So, I started drawing. Part of what I like about the length of time these drawings take is that I have built in time to ponder what’s happening. I decided on the fly to color in all of the links affected by the break first. I wasn’t particularly surprised to find that each break had essentially connected two of the four links. 2017-11-12 18.11.38

In fact, I thought, “That makes perfect sense!” Because if the break connected 2 links, and if I had, in fact, found all the unique breaks, I should have 4 choose 2 different images! Brilliant. So I should have a graph that connects links 1 & 2, 1 & 3, 1 & 4, 2 & 3, 2 & 4, and 3 & 4! I dutifully started to identify them aaaand… well, crap. For one thing, link 1 appears FIVE times. What the hell?!

link 1

I mean… that’s ridiculous. Link 2 appears twice, Link 3 appears three times, and Link 4 appears only twice. So are some links… more…. important (?) that others?

For that matter, there are TWO images that connect Links 1 and 4. Yet there’s only one image that connects links 2 and 3. Upon inspection, I can see why this is. There are two totally different breaks in the 1 & 4 images. One of the breaks (bottom row middle) connects to the center opening, and one of the breaks (bottom row right) doesn’t. Clearly, those are different. And the image connecting links 2 and 3 only has one unique type of link because I had disregarded the second type since it would give me a weird looking link. breaks connecting

Had I not abandoned the links on the furthest outside, I would have gotten two more images that would connect links 1 & 2, and links 2 & 3. The images I currently have shown are in grey below. The missing images are shown in green.

link net

I think I can resolve some of this by no longer naming the links 1, 2, 3 & 4, but rather naming them in symmetric pairs, but it’s getting late and I should finish up some school work before tomorrow.

In the meantime, here’s a time lapse for your viewing pleasure.



If you would like to join in on the fun, please add thoughts or comments below. Please do not join in if you happen to have already solved this problem and just want to show off or give out answers.


UPDATE (11/13/17)

I have created the ghastly disregarded links in the name of mathematical inquiry. I feel justified in abandoning them as horrible, but the data may be useful, so here they are.

#mtbos Book Club: Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil


It’s today! If you’re in Minneapolis, please join us at Urban Growler Brewery at 2 pm. If you’re not, we’ll start at twitter chat at 4 pm CST using the hashtag #WMathD and #mtbos.

A HUGE thank you to Marian Dingle who graciously offered to help me formulate questions. If there’s anything good in here, that’s Marian’s doing. If there are things that are terrible and dreadful, those are mine.

In the hopes of helping people contribute best, here are the questions that will go out on Twitter starting at 4 pm.

My greatest hope is that you all take the conversation in whatever direction you like best. To that end, if you would like to ignore the questions and discuss other things, you go right ahead. These questions are simply to help stoke the conversation if we should need it.

Book Club Questions!

Q1: In reading the book, I often reflected on how WMDs have affected me in the past, and my relative awareness or lack of awareness about them. How did you react to learning about these WMDs? Which hit closest to home for you?

Q2: O’Neil had been an enthusiastic player in Wall Street until the crash happened in 2008, at which point she had a change of heart and began examining the mathematical structures that led to the recession. What are your reactions to that transformation? Is it a transformation we believe can be duplicated? Why or why not?

Q3: Many of the WMDs O’Neil outlines disproportionally affect already disadvantaged populations. If one’s goal is to do the work of anti-racism, how can we approach the proliferation of WMDs and their disproportionate impact? Would WMDs look differently if there were more quants of color? Which, if any, of these WMDs deserve wider attention? Are there WMDs we believe are more impactful than others?

Q4: The proliferation of WMDs seems to stem from our innate attraction to numeric rankings. Often, an “anti” WMD would require significant investment of time, money, and human capital to evaluate whatever metric (teacher performance, expected criminal recidivism, credit history etc.) is currently being assessed by a WMD. Is there a scale on which we believe we can replace the efficiency of WMDs with the more expensive alternative? Are algorithms our only answer to tackling big data? 

Q5: In nearly every chapter, O’Neill outlines the purported reasonableness of each WMD before raising her own objections to it.  Were you surprised by any of O’Neill’s objections? Were there any you feel were unfair? Any you feel did not go far enough?

Q6: How can we help prepare students to be proactive about how WMDs will affect them? What can we do to empower them to dismantle them? Is that even possible?