On How I (currently) Use MTBoS

In light of recent conversations, I would be remiss if I did not begin by clarifying that #MTBoS is a hashtag used by many in the math teaching community. It stands for Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere. If you aren’t already, you should follow it!

This post was sparked by this thoughtful post by Dylan Kane and the comments made by Michael Pershan & Dan Meyer. I’ve been posting responses there, and this is definitely related to that, but it’s a bit of a tangent and decidedly excessive to post in someone’s comments.

Essentially, this post is about how I use MTBoS. I would be curious to hear if there are others using it in a dramatically different way than I am. If you are, please share!

I flipping love MTBoS. Things I love most about it are the wait time I can give myself and the encouragement I get to keep going. The fact that it is person-to-person, but that people aren’t sitting right next to me makes it fantastic because it helps me choose when, whether, and how much I want to process the things I find there.

I am a person who needs a great deal of processing time on my own. I am not capable of taking in and making sense of ANYTHING unless I have time to sit with it myself, write a little, do a little math, let it sit for a bit, and then come back to it to reach some conclusions. I don’t move fast. Or rather, if and when I do move fast, nothing long-lasting or meaningful results from it.

I am also a person who loves to talk stuff out. My poor, long suffering boyfriend patiently sits through me talking aimlessly at him for hours while I process some idea. You can check my twitter feed or read any of my blog posts for more evidence. I struggle to be concise. The process of writing and talking somewhat aimlessly helps me regard ideas skeptically, tweak them, and either adopt them for a while or disregard them as not useful to me (at least not in that moment).

The reason I love #MTBoS so much is that it satisfies both of these needs so gosh darn well. Here are two examples of how I use MTBoS – one directly connected to teaching, and the other less so.

Teaching example

I am teaching a geometry class for the first time this year. At the beginning of the year, I went through a flurry of “Who has geometry ideas for me?” I used Evernote to bookmark many of these – far too many for me to actually consume meaningfully at the time, and I began to sift out voices I found useful to me on twitter. After that initial flurry, I now have a few core, go-to things that are grounding my exploration of geometry as a teacher. First, a suggestion from Carolyn Frye (@MrsFryeFrye) to rely heavily on ELL tactics for teaching vocabulary in geometry.

She probably doesn’t even remember sending me this tweet, but I think about it in passing often, and it’s helped me be a better geometry teacher this year.

Secondly, I read Sam Shah’s blog semi-regularly – partially for concrete ideas, more often for a refresher on how I would like to explore geometry – the tone of his blog is appealing to me and helps ground my thoughts.

Thirdly, I frequently scroll through @solvemymaths media on twitter for ideas for problems – they’re interesting and challenging. His problems help me get away from rote work.

It is unlikely that any of these 3 people are aware of their influence on me unless they happen to be reading this post, but that’s just fine. Their materials are out there, and I can seek them as often or as infrequently as I like.

The last influence MTBoS has on my geometry class is when I need a kick in the butt. I’m sure none of you have ever experienced this, but every once in a while, I feel exhausted and it occurs to me that I could just do some dumb lesson and go to bed. This is when I get on twitter, or go read some inspirational blog, and I think to myself, “Perkins, don’t be a jerk, your kids deserve better than this, Look at what all these awesome people are doing! You don’t even have to make something awesome, just steal it.” I need that kick in the butt. It’s hard to physically get into other teacher’s classrooms, but I can see into them every day if I scroll through twitter for 10 minutes. I’m keenly aware that people probably tend to post their better lessons – very few people post ugly selfies online – my guess is few people post ugly lessons there for similar reasons. I have to remind myself of this sometimes, but I nevertheless appreciate the kick in the butt.

Non-direct teaching example

If you follow me on twitter, you are likely to be thoroughly unsurprised to hear that I find Edmund Harris (@gelada) to be absolutely delightful. He recently ran a kickstarter campaign for something called “Curvahedra” which I enthusiastically backed with great joy. When Curvahedra came in the mail, I didn’t even wait to sit down before I opened the package and started playing. I pretty quickly discovered that the woven ball is, in fact, a dodecahedron and iscoahedron dual. I was utterly delighted. I made the zometool equivalent and posted it on twitter.

It was immediately obvious to me that I needed to make a 2D version of this because… obviously. I quickly started posting my successes and failures (OH so many failures…) on twitter because if I was enjoying myself so much, I’m sure others would just as tickled, too, right? And if they’re not tickled, and they think its dumb or just don’t have the energy, great, they can just scroll on by!

Martin Holtham (@GHSmaths) quickly became a phenomenal collaborator with me on this. He started creating gifs and electronic versions of what I was doing on paper. It has been really enjoyable working with him. I hope he feels the same – that we are working together. We’ve shared ideas back and forth and here’s where the beauty of twitter comes in: When I have needed more time to think or not been ready to keep going, I can pause. All I have to do is not respond. For all Martin knows, I’m off eating dinner. We can keep up a semi-constant chatter, but because we’re in separate places, there’s no pressure to finish immediately or keep going when I’m ready for a break. He has also been extraordinarily kind in waiting before posting spoilers for me, even though I assured him he could go ahead.

If and when I did take needed breaks (see above – I need processing time) I still got notifications that he’s sent me something, and I have been encouraged to keep going. It’s highly unlikely that I’d have abandoned this problem without his encouragement, but I have gotten further and had more fun collaborating than I would have without him. The problem is richer because of the collaboration. AND it has lead to at least two in-person interactions with other people and this problem. I hijacked a break among math team coaches, and I brought the problem to my math club and explored all sorts of fun new avenues.

I love that I’ve been able to share this problem with others,and I love that I’ve been able to collaborate with Martin. I used to do this all the time when taking classes – but even then there was some sort of time pressure. Right now, I just get to play. Another benefit is that as I’ve been recording my progress via tweets, I’ve been able to go back and see my progression through the problem (still not done). I’m even planning to show it to some of my students tomorrow as talking piece for growth mindset. I figure it can’t hurt for them to see me screwing up all over the place and not quite sure where to go next.

This has been long and rambling so I’m going to cut it off here, but it has been good processing time for me. So thanks, MTBoS! Please, if you got this far and have ideas, I would love to hear about how you’re using MTBoS and if there are unseen ways I should be using it. (Also, if you want to join in with Martin and me I would LOVE more ideas and more avenues to take this problem.)

3 thoughts on “On How I (currently) Use MTBoS

  1. Thanks for writing this! It’s funny how different people find the MTBoS valuable. I think a huge part of it for me is just a way to encourage me to write and think through my teaching, and inspiration to become a better teacher as I see all the amazing things other people are doing. I am also really interested in learning more about whether people see their use of the MTBoS as selfish or not, and how that influences their participation.

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    • “I think a huge part of it for me is just a way to encourage me to write and think through my teaching, and inspiration to become a better teacher as I see all the amazing things other people are doing.” I agree completely.

      I don’t really understand the selfish thing. If you mean people use it selfishly because they’re trying to further their own learning, then yes, we’re all doing that.

      If you mean we use it selfishly because we only take (using other people’s ideas and posted lessons) and don’t give back, then I guess… yeah? But what I’ve found is that as I wade deeper into MTBoS, certainly as I’ve started blogging, I’m finding it easier to “give back”. Primarily for me, that’s via the Mathematicians post which gets viewed pretty regularly and I hope is used in many classrooms. That’s small – I’m not posting project templates and the like yet, but I may be working my way up to that.

      It’s terrifying to put up some resource you think people might judge. I’ll share pretty much everything I have with people I know, but that’s people I KNOW. They know me and I feel less judged by them. I can explain why I made the decisions that I made. But just posting things for the world to see? That’s intimidating to me. Who knows how people might judge it.

      Is this fear all about ego and I should get over it? Yes. Absolutely. Am I there yet? Not quite.

      Is that what you mean by selfish? If not, help me understand.

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