Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: MetaBlog (Page 1 of 2)

My 2 Cents on this whole #MTBoS thing

So there I was enjoying time with fellow TMC newbies at a dinner. We had just finished singing Moana’s theme when my attention was drawn to my phone by a recent new blog post that read like a charge to fracture end of the group that I was happy to be dining with, or at least the name that the group has called itself for the last 4 years. I had trouble making sense of what this was, and naturally assumed it was a broadside at the whole thing. So I replied…

…and then my phone died. And my phone backup charger was at the hotel.

Because of that I had some time to think and reflect as I waited for the check, and to get on the bus, and to get up to my room. Reflection seemed good, so I kept reflecting, and decided to write this post instead to organize my thoughts.

First off, I’m going to assume the best of intentions behind Dan Meyer’s post. The name #MTBoS is confusing. If the name was easier, it would make it easier for people to understand what is going on. There is a larger world of Math teachers who exist outside of the hashtag and perhaps creating a new one will help those teachers connect to the ones who are currently inside of #MTBoS, and because we all think #MTBoS is great for teaching, that influx will help improve math teaching as a whole. That is my positive ‘reframe’ of the claim, I think it makes sense.

However, the post “Let’s retire #MTBoS.” can be heard as kind of inflammatory, and perhaps be interpreted as having some potentially stark conclusions. It is hard to interpret what someone else on the internet is saying, and instead of trying to psychoanalyze why this came out, and how it came out, I’m going to talk about the only interpretation of this that makes sense. That this is a strongly worded tweet and post to start a conversation that will eventually lead to a community-wide decision about a contentious issue.

If this is to be a conversation, and eventually a decision, then we should have a conversation about process. If things are going to be decided, it’s good to include the stakeholders in the decision. At least in part. With the internet it’s very easy to put out a conversation to talk about an idea, but how do you come to a decision? What are the norms of the group and how does everyone’s opinion get heard? The internet is rife with really bad examples of this.  Other online communities have conversation full of strong positions, selective listening, name calling and worse. If this community is going to go the process of conversation and making everyone feel heard, it will probably require some kind of clear process that can make sure people don’t feel hurt. On my device-less bus ride home from dinner I saw that emotional hurt on the faces of a lot of people that perhaps could have been avoided. If this was to be a conversation, it happened in a way that left a lot of collateral damage, and brings up a number of questions about process, decision making and leadership in this community that probably need to be addressed alongside this particular question about our less-than-inclusive acronym.

We do have the opportunity of enough people being in one place to bring up one or all of the issues that seem to have been brought up. Perhaps there can be a way to start this conversation in the #TMC17 flex sessions or something else and perhaps skype or periscope or webinar or other technology. If not it will have to live on the internet which will probably be difficult and lead to misunderstanding. Either way I will probably save my best my arguments for the name #MTBoS and for how large conversations like this should go down for another time.

But I will say this.

The #MTBoS is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It’s made me want to engage in this ongoing process to be a better teacher and a better person. I think that name, while slightly antiquated and unpronounceable, means something. The fact that people in many Math Ed circles are using the term #MTBoS seem to make a testament to that. It is hard to guarantee that those same people will immediately jump on board whatever the new term decides to be.

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So I wrote most of that last night, and I decided to sleep on it and then send it. Then I had this stupid hotel alarm clock go off at 6 in the morning, so now I have time to include this story as well that is like 80% relevant.

After I finished my bachelor degree at Michigan State University, which was amazing and I loved it, I ended up screwing up some paper work, requiring me to wait a whole year before starting my whole year of student teaching. That was two full years before I could actually start teaching. “I could get a Masters in that time!” I thought, but not at MSU unfortunately. They didn’t have a “1-year certification + Masters” program, but some other schools did. Instead I applied to HGSE, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a few others. After getting my acceptances, I narrowed it to HGSE, and another, less intimidating school visited and came back torn. My Dad weighed in with very terse fatherly advice. “You don’t ‘not’ go to Harvard.” I ended up going to Harvard.

So I went to HGSE, and it was a little elitist, it largely wasn’t. It was largely amazing, I met some of my best friends, cut my teeth in the teaching, and met the woman who became my wife! There was some discord that year about how some people in the program faced different treatment. A program asst director heard the frustrations and offered this advice, “If you don’t like the way an organization is going try to change it, if you can’t change it, then you got to move on.” During the program some other students and I sat down and came up with a proposed change to the program that we thought would help. It might not have fixed it, but I like to think it helped a little bit.

First off #MTBoS is not Harvard. #MTBoS does not promote 1% acceptance rates, I get it, it’s a bad analogy. Sorry about that. Bear with me.

#MTBoS may not intend to be elitist, it’s not Harvard AT ALL, at the same time it can freak people out. So you mean to say the person that you saw speak at your district’s PD session is there? Just chatting away about daily stuff with the world?!? Of course that is crazy. At the same time ny outsider of any conversation asks the question, how do I jump in, how do I join, how do I engage with this? So a problem could arise. If I have placed those people on a pedestal because of their talent and track record, I’m going to conflate the question of “How do I join with them?”, with “Am I as talented and established as these people?” So then the question errantly becomes “Am I talented enough to join?” or “Does my track record warrant my joining?” No one is asking those questions, but it exists in the heads of people on the outside of anything. Of people about to go to Harvard, and people about hit the send button. If this is happening in the minds of people on the fringe of the #MTBoS it certainly isn’g because people in the #MTBoS are making basking in their status as an “elite” group. Just yesterday at Twitter Math Camp, there was a whole conversation about how not “elite” and deliberately welcoming they are trying to be. So if something isn’t working, despite all of our best efforts, the next step it seems is to unpack the reality of why it isn’t working. That conversation is important whether that was the intention of Dan Meyer’s post or not, and will need to include the amplification of voices that aren’t often heard. Any scenario without a conversation, where we can surface any feelings of elitism being felt by the fringes of our community will not help at all.

Side note: I’m giving this whole talk about #MTBoS and in the process I ended up downloading every tweet that ever was posted to #MTBoS. I’m going to talk about it tomorrow but if anyone wants to like analyze the information in hopes of helping this conversation, feel free. Just so you know, the replies, retweets, and likes data didn’t work, and there is a chunk missing from January to February of 2015

Get your 2017 blogging off on the right foot with #MTBoSblogsplosion

Happy 2017 #MTBoS!! With every new year comes the opportunity to commit yourself to positive habits. If you navigated the series of tubes to this post, then you probably are interested in writing about math teaching and learning, or supporting those who do. For people who plan to start 2017 blogging, or people who want to them on, I present a individualized, flexible initiative, to support writers and streamline process for readers who follow along. It’s the #MTBoSblogsplosion!

Why #MTBoSblogsplosion?

It’s been shown that the practice of writing reflective helps one think deeper and helps the brain make connections. The collective blog posts can form an accurate snapshot of teaching and education in a world where the realities of the classroom can be lost beneath messages from people outside of education. When initiatives like this take place, it affords the opportunity for writers and readers to have real conversations, helping to strengthen the bonds that make the #MTBoS such a wonderful place.

What is the #MTBoSblogsplosion?

Simply put, bloggers will decide the kind of blogging they can commit to, then they will blog, and all of it will be shared on social media with the hashtag #MTBoSblogsplosion so others can follow along.

You can think about it as a 3 step process. Step 1 is to make a commitment to a realistic amount of blogging. Maintaining work-life balance isn’t easy, and the #MTBoSblogsplosion isn’t trying to force that to be much harder. Choose the kind of blogging commitment that makes sense to you. Start with a regular Frequency such as:

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Twice each fort-night
  • Three times a week unless my kid doesn’t go down for their nap on the weekend
  • Something else?

Then you may want to choose a duration, or how long you want this to go. Maybe the month of January would work for you? Maybe you want to take it through February vacation, go for it! Do you only want to dip your toes in the water and go for two weeks? That’s also great!

Finally, you may want to focus your writing. Here you want to think about whether you want to document what is going on in your class, maybe you want to write about the different tasks that you’ve been working on, maybe you want to discuss your new role as department chair. It may help people to write with prompts, if so you can do that. Here are prompts and some other ideas:

  • The 2016 Blogging Initiative blog prompts are here. Great for beginners!
  • Teachthought.com has a full month of prompts around teacher gratitude
  • Summaries of books and NCTM Journal articles
  • Taking a picture of student work each day
  • Isolating and describing a memorable teacher-student interaction
  • Describing classroom activities that you would like feedback on
  • Are there other prompts?

If it doesn’t help you to have a focus, then don’t pressure yourself, feel free to leave it open.

So now you’ve got a commitment. You’ve decided an amount, a duration, and a focus. Step 2 is to share your commitment. Twee this out as a nice sentence so readers can know what you’re trying to do, and cheer you on! For example:

  • “Starting today I’m going to blog twice a week until Feb 1 about ways I can support my students. #mtbosblogsplosion”
  • “This month, I’ll write posts every school day (even if they’re short) about teaching and learning. #mtbosblogsplosion”
  • “For my New years resolution, I’m writing twice monthly, about a book or article that I’ll read,#mtbosblogsplosion”

After that initial tweet comes Step 3, start blogging!  Each time you post, tweet out a link along with the hashtag #mtbosblogsplosion.

And now the final step… Step 4 is to read and support others. The best part of initiatives like this is the positive energy and support you can get to reach your goals. Help generate and spread this energy by reading and leaving comments for other #MTBoSblogsplosion posts. This is a step that people can do even if they skipped the first 3 steps.

 

Why was I not blogging this whole time???

My class today ended pretty much exactly like it ended the last time. That class also ended exactly like that lesson from the previous year. They all weren’t very good, and I can’t be surprised.

Planning for my classes this year feels like foraging through the wilderness for the first time since I started teaching a decade ago. As an administrator, I only teach one class, 3 days a week. I did this last year, but I wasn’t teaching math. This year it still feels like I am throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks even when I have done these things before. The weird thing is these lessons have been used over and over for years, it has been difficult for me to get in a rhythm when teaching them. Some materials I have date back to before I used google drive, yet when I teach it I end up making all sorts of mistakes. I’ll emphasizing the wrong things, I’ll drive the class into discussions we need to avoid, and I often don’t see really interesting follow-ups and extensions until after class is over.  Pacing has also been off almost every class, forcing me to rush the lesson’s conclusion and leaving each class with regrets.

It’s not all sadness and rainstorms. Kids are passing my class, some are even excited to come. Other teachers still look to me for ideas for their class. This isn’t a diatribe about how I feel I’m a terrible teacher. This is a reasoned analysis about why I’m not a better teacher, and why this blog is also the first step towards becoming a better teacher.

A place for talking about teaching and learning

After walking away from today’s class I remember thinking how come everything felt so clunky? Why did I wind up in the same spot that I had in the last lesson? Why did the clunky group work structure from today go as poorly as the group work in a similar lesson from last unit? How am I not learning about my teaching?

During my time as a 5-period-a-day teacher I could learn through my clunky first period. My classes would get better through the day, and then I would go home feeling like a champion. My growth was just built into the schedule. Now that I am only teaching one class I am realizing that I need to take a more deliberate approach to my growth as a teacher.

Anyways, I’m walking away from today’s class, feeling upset about how it went, and I thought to myself “I need a place to think about my teaching,”  before thinking:  “Duh! You’ve got a blog!” If I had been blogging about my classes this whole time I would have been able to reflect back on my old classes! If I had a regular blogging practice during the day I would have an outlet for my lesson frustration! And, if I ever do figure out how to get things done well ahead of time, I could get feedback on ideas from all the teachers in the #MTBoS! (I really did think through all of this stuff, btw, as if it wasn’t staring me in the face the whole time).

Why didn’t I think of this earlier?

Blogging about my teaching seems stressful, especially when I had a day that was bad. Pushing the submit button has gotten hard lately. This year I have more partial posts in my “Drafts” than I have actual Class Logs (Clogs). Having a new job, and a new baby has given me less time for writing, but if I have time to write drafts, or write posts about non-teaching related stuff, I can’t write anything about what I’m teaching, or what I plan on teaching? Other bloggers like Michael Pershan make it work with similarly aged children. Justin Aion has been blogging for years and he has two kids. It seems like time for me to spend more time writing and thinking, and then thinking and writing.

To get started I want to do one of those one month challenge. I think seeing as how December is right around the corner it would make sense to start now and start doing it every day. I want to make time during the day to write some mathematical thoughts each day. I may also write some thoughts about administration or other things in order to keep the momentum going, but I should be able to start something. This daily plan should work, maybe it is even worthy of some kind of hashtag, but maybe I can talk about that tomorrow since I’m going to be writing.

 

My First #MTBoS30 Post, And My 100th Blog Post!!!

I’m pretty excited about #MTBoS30, it was only 2 years ago when my blog was less than a month old and I decided to take this challenge on. At that time I started doing #MTBoS30 because I wanted blogging to become a regular practice. Now as I am posting this my 100th blog post(100!), I find myself approaching the 30-day blog challenge with the goals in mind:

  1. Establish blogging as a regular practice,
  2. Allow that practice to inform and improve my teaching
  3. Support other bloggers out there that are doing the same thing.

Establishing A Practice

There a number of reasons why I want my blog to be a practice. Not a journal, not a scrap book, and certainly not the definitive resource for all the world’s math education needs. It can’t be all of those things, for a lot of reasons. What I do want to get in to is why it can be a practice.

Teaching is a difficult job and it already has so much day-to-day chaos involved, it is hard to stay grounded. This year I am adding on to that the ball-of-whirling-overwhelm that is being an administrator, making each commute home feel extra exhausting.

The blog for me needs to be a place where I take a second to remind myself that all of this stuff that I am doing is worth something. I want to pull whatever positive nuggets out of my crazy days, like a prospector pulling nuggets of gold out of, you know, those trays full of murky water. The nuggets of gold are there, the moments of wonder and sparks of brilliance are scattered throughout, all day long. I just need to get in the habit of putting on my boots, and my little prospector screen-tray thing, and get those nuggets out and into the world so they don’t get lost down river.

The Practice Should Help The Other Practice


Did you ever play the game maelstrom? It’s where you move around in a spaceship and shoot meteors before you crash into them. The game starts and you’re grounded, and all you have to do is swivel in either direction while shooting. I was good at this part of the game. At some point, you have to use your rocket boosters to avoid a meteor. These boosters lazily direct your ship in any direction, but not responsively enough to stop on a dime and avoid a meteor.  So now  you have to not only worry about what direction to swivel and shoot, but also what direction your ship is headed in. Once the game gets hard, you always have to use the rocket, you always have to learn how to control what you’re shooting at in the short term, but also where your ship is drifting in the long run. To be good at maelstrom you have to be good at both your long-term direction, and moment-to-moment meteor blasting. I suck at this part of maelstrom.

As we approach May every year, I feel like I’m the spaceship in that game maelstrom that has been set adrift and can’t get back to normal. The daily or at least regular practice of blogging can help me keep my spaceship in the middle of the screen, maybe all the time in the middle. It can help me sort out what I just finished doing and also help me clarify what I am going to do next. Having a practice of pulling out the important ideas and being able to look at all of them over time could help me with that long-term thinking that evaded me in middle school. In that sense my blogging work is a actually a part of a larger process of me being able to do my best teaching/adminstrating work, but not my best work in and of itself (although on some days I think my writing might be pretty good). 

Diving in to the community

My favorite part of the #MTBoS30 is also all of the community. Knowing that there are a lot of people in the same struggle as me is always helpful. I hope to let people know that I appreciate their work by commenting on all of the blogs that I read, and I hope who ever read mine feel free to do the same (even if the comment is like 3 words or whatever).

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Late to the Party – Kicking off the 2016 Blogging Initiaitve

I’m late to the party by a week for the 2016 blogging initiative, but here’s my post nonetheless. After looking at how my 2015 ended, it feels strange just sitting at my computer and writing once more. Participating in this will be a good chance for me to get back in touch with my forlorn teacher-blogger side, and pave the way for the different way in which I’ll have to write for 2016 and beyond.

Looking back at 2015

Just how did my 2015 end? Here’s an image from “Your site in 2015“, a colorful summary of my blog posts generated by WordPress. It shows a grid representing the days of the year and green squares to show that one or two posts were made on that day. Looking at it I immediately noticed and wondered a couple things.

Posting Patterns2

What I first noticed was that the left hand side of the grid has more green squares. It’s like looking down on earth from space and comparing an urban area and a desert. Well, the dearth of posts has a lot to do with what happened on two dates, whose squares are sloppily circled with Microsoft Paint. The first circle was May 31st the birth of my daughter, Julianne, and the second circle August 31st, my first day as an Assistant Principal. Both things require a great deal of effort, and mental energy, things that I also needed for blogging.

I still wondered about why I stopped blogging. On one hand, taking care of Julianne and learning a new job is time consuming, so I physically couldn’t write because I was doing other stuff. On the other hand, I wasn’t teaching math, and I wasn’t even a teacher, so even if I could write, I might not come up with relevant things to say. Technically I was teaching a computer science class, but it just wasn’t the same. (Starting in February I am going to be teaching a math class, which you’ll hear more about in upcoming blog posts!)

Blogging was important to me, and I did try to keep it up. Over the summer I did lot of personal with 750 words, and on another blog focused on developing systems. Despite all these efforts I haven’t been able to get into a regular system of writing, I still think I have some relevant things to say here, and I miss blogging and reading blogs. After thinking about it for perhaps a few more days than I should have, it seems like time I get back on the blog again.

Kicking Off the Blog

I, Carl Oliver, resolve to blog in 2016 in order to open my classroom (and office) up and share my thoughts with other teachers (and administrators). I hope to accomplish this goal by participating in the January Blogging Initiation hosted by Explore MTBoS.

You, too, could join in on this exciting adventure. All you have to do is dust off your blog and get ready for the first prompt to arrive January 10th! click here!

MTBoS Blogging Initiative

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